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Silly stunts harm hunters' rights

With steelhead fishing unpredictable, ice getting iffy and the spring walleye runs still a week or so away, a lot of outdoors people are getting restless looking for things to keep them occupied.

However, I would heartily advise everyone to avoid replicating the "outdoors" activity dreamed up by the Elstonville Sportsmen's Association in Pennsylvania, a shoot in which archers paid $12 to fire arrows at live, farm-raised turkeys tied to bales of straw.

I read about this "shoot" when the dolts who organized it were first charged with animal cruelty in January. I read about it again last week when their club was fined $400.

Millions of people across the country who don't hunt probably also read about it in their newspapers or saw it on TV newscasts, reinforcing their mental picture of us hunters as a mob of Elmer Fudds or backwoods bozos.

While some hunters might think that shoot was funny, they're missing a crucial point: Those cretins in Pennsylvania moved us one small step closer to losing hunting rights by alienating the big mass of people who don't hunt but don't mind us hunting as long as we do it "fairly" and relatively "humanely."

You could argue that nonhunters may overreact emotionally to what those Pennsylvania club members did. And I'd agree that killing turkeys at that shoot was no less humane than much of what I've seen done at slaughterhouses.

But I'd also respond that a similar emotional response was largely responsible for Michigan losing its dove season last year. When that issue was debated before the November vote , hundreds of people e-mailed or called to say they opposed a dove hunt because killing those little birds was somehow unmanly or too easy, although few may have known anything about dove hunting.

Amazingly, a large number of those respondents identified themselves as deer hunters.

Hunting triggers a lot of emotional responses, especially in a country where people have less contact with animals than at any time in human history. The average American today is an urbanite or suburbanite for whom a squirrel or starling is the closest thing to a wild animal he or she is likely to see. Meat is a virtually bloodless product that comes in small, neat packages and bears no resemblance to the furred or feathered critters from which it is produced.

A nonhunter pushing a cart in a supermarket just doesn't connect that hygienically wrapped turkey breast in the basket with a big bird being killed, whether by an arrow or after its throat has been cut in a processing plant.

Consciously or unconsciously, nonhunters often base their concepts of wildlife on the cute, talking creatures in animated movies, or the pap on cable TV shows. In their own way, they are just as clueless about hunting as the goofballs who held that turkey shoot, but that doesn't disqualify any of them from holding opinions and voting on them.

Even we hunters debate concepts like "fair chase," and there are many within our fraternity who dislike the very idea of game ranches, where animals are killed behind fences. But "fair chase" is an emotional concept defined by the human brain, not the laws of nature.

So let's put aside any notion that emotion won't or shouldn't play a role in the future of hunting, or that we hunters can simply ignore the feelings of the great nonhunting mass. They are the people who get to vote on whether we can hunt.