At John P. Boerschig Ranches, they ‘do have an organized Black Buck hunting package. This hunt is available at our Brackettville Ranch, which has excellent accommodations with all the comforts of home.’
Is it ethical to hunt feral pigs for fun? James Valentine thinks so.
He dislikes the idea of breeding blackbucks for hunting in a commercial hunting park. Or rather, as he put it, he doesn’t ‘get’ it. He invited hunters to ring in and explain the attraction. But of course no one was game to defend the blackbuck scheme; only a bunch of affable and reasonable sounding blokes pointing out that it’s fine to hunt pigs because they’re pests.
If I was hoping for some thoughtful teasing out of the ethical issues, I was disappointed. Evidently in a great hurry to stay friends with the affable, reasonable sounding blokes, he endorsed their hobby cheerfully, and seemed content that he’d identified the relevant ethical test. It’s moral to hunt pests. In fact he decided, though I suspect he was being facetious at this point, that it was also OK to hunt leopards, because it’s risky (leopards know how to sneak up on hunters from behind). They didn’t discuss hunting for food, though I’m confident that James would have approved of that too.
But it can’t be that simple. Suppose your dog has to be put down, and the vet begs you to let him take the poor creature out in the back yard and shoot him from an upstairs window. The dog had to die anyway, so why not use him for a little fun? Perhaps that one’s impossible to be objective about. Suppose instead that an entrepreneur wants to buy the strays from the pound and use them in a target shooting activity for paying customers. Everyone wins, don’t they? The rate-payers earn revenue, the entrepreneur earns an income, and the shooters have some fun. It would be important to set it up so that the dogs didn’t know they would be shot, or feel any pain, but that could be guaranteed to an acceptable level of certainty.
If you don’t find that idea as abhorrent as I do, read no further. I won’t convince you. Even so, perhaps you think the problem with the example is that shooting the dogs is unnecessary. Perhaps hunting is ethically justified when it’s the only way to kill animals that need to be killed. Well, suppose your cat is fatally wounded, but is still mobile and escapes into the scrub. The only way to put him out of his misery is to stalk and shoot him. There are two volunteers, both equally skilled at stalking and bringing down animals in the bush. One is a zoo-keeper who loves animals, and would hate shooting your cat, but knows it’s necessary; the other is a guy who just loves stalking and killing animals. Which will you choose?
But the pigs are not our pets, our friends, the hunter might protest. They are our enemies: it’s a war. Well, in the first place, it isn’t the pigs’ fault. They are not enemies in any morally relevant sense. Killers, on the other hand, will always demonise their victims as a way of easing their own consciences. Even if they were knowingly and wilfully invading our territory, when did the justice or necessity of war mean that killing the enemy was supposed to be fun?
Perhaps it depends on what we mean by fun. What if shooting things is fun only in the way that shooting clay pigeons is fun. It’s the test of skill that’s thrilling, the killing itself is distasteful. If that’s your only argument, I recommend clay pigeons or — if you want your prey to consciously elude you — paintball.
So what about shooting actual pigeons and ducks? Will I dare to be holier than thou on that question? Well, it’s the potential for pointless maiming that’s the main problem here. But even if a clean kill could be guaranteed in every instance, it could only be justified on the basis that birds are lower on the scale of sentience than dogs or pigs — that they are more like their clay counterparts than like higher mammals. I don’t know exactly where to draw the line, but it seems clear to me that it’s wrong to kill animals for fun, even if fun isn’t the principal motivation. For example, I wouldn’t even recruit kids to kill cane toads if I thought the particular kids would get a kick out of it, nor even if they had a painless method.
Hunters have no trouble portraying their critics as naive, soft, sentimental, interfering, hypocritical city slickers. We want abattoir workers to do our dirty work, we don’t understand the destruction feral pigs do in the bush, we can’t accept that the thrill of the chase is basic human nature, etc, etc. However, a hunting sympathist who is prepared to go beyond name calling, who prefers sophisticated apologetics to soothe his conscience, only need google “ethics of hunting”, and he will uncover a stack of essays on this very subject by urbane and civilised hunter-philosophers.
This guy turned his little girl into a keen deer hunter, even though she
eats no other red meat. She reasons that deer live a wild, free life and are then killed by a hunter, quickly and cleanly, without suffering, and converted to food. It all meets her strict ethical standards, from the quality of the deer’s existence, through the motives of the hunter, the speed of the kill, and the reverence for the game.
Then there’s this loveable grouse hunter, who surely is moral responsibility personified, since he teaches ethics and environmental philosophy at Cornell University. He refers to
…that pang of remorse: that momentary sense of pity and fear, of attraction and repulsion at what they have done-regret for having killed, but gladness for having done it well
And if you want endorsement from God himself, or a next best thing, here’s a priest:
I, like millions of others, venture into the outdoors to spend time with God, family and friends, while being surrounded by the beauty of Our Lord’s creation — and yes, at times I respectfully harvest food from that creation to sustain my life and feed others, as it was intended…Those who truly love the outdoors have a deep respect for all of creation and take an active role in keeping our precious alive and healthy for future generations…And it’s not out of selfishness so that we can “have more things to kill”, as some would say, but rather our concern flows from a hyper-awareness of the intrinsic, life-sustaining aned soul-nourishing value of these great gifts.
So there you go. Who would dare to argue with someone who was hyperaware? Actually, it was Fr Classen who broke the spell that the other folksy philsopher-hunters had begun to weave. What a pile of pious, self-congratulatory grandiloquence, all to make himself feel better about sneaking up on gentle beasts of the forest and blasting them with his rifle. ‘Respectfully harvest’ belongs in a euphemism competition.
This guy, to his credit, honestly acknowledges that the food argument doesn’t fly, even if the food itself does. He says:
The intention of hunting is not to kill per se, but to derive pleasure from the attempt to do so; and often, if not most of the time, the hunter’s attempts to kill an animal will end in failure. This likelihood of failure is necessary to maintain the tension and enjoyment that arises from the game’s fundamental uncertainty.
He rejects the arguments that hunting is justified by the fact that it’s a means to obtain food or way of getting close to nature:
There are other ways to get close to nature than hunting. One could choose to play cards with friends and family if that is ones goal. One can eat meat without killing animals by hunting. Each of these putative justifications for hunting miss the point that the goal or purpose of hunting is to hunt. Hunting is an elaborate, rule-bound game for pursuing and killing an animal. And because the game in this case is a physical one, sport is the accurate philosophical concept to be used in association with hunting.
If the aim of hunting is food or nature conservation, leave it to the farmers, game-keepers and professional exterminators. If it’s for the thrill, and you are happy to subordinate the rights of the dumber creatures with whom you share this planet, then go ahead and have your thrills, but be aware you’re on the same ethical level as Bob McComb, and that the tide of civilised opiniion is against you. Otherwise, take up nature photography.