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No Need to Hang Animal ‘Trophies’ on Walls

…..my past trapping is now the thing in life that I most regret.  `

As for myself, as a boy growing up in rural Ohio, I’m sorry to say that I trapped muskrats when I was 10-11 years old. Getting up in the dark of winter and checking my traps, some of which were over half a mile from home, was an enjoyable experience. I did this in the dark walking cross-country, including over and under barbed wire fences, with a flashlight, making it back home in time to get ready for school and catch the bus. I got a dollar per pelt.

But back then, as now, ALL my hours spent in nature were wonderful. In retrospect, I was only able to enjoy this trapping experience because at that age, I had no empathy for the animals I was trapping. I’d given no thought to what it would be like to be an animal that can hold its breath for up to 12 minutes and is suddenly, and innocently, struck by excruciating pain and held underwater minute after minute, finally gasping for breath but doing so underwater. I can now vividly imagine the panic and fear I would experience in that scenario, and my past trapping is now the thing in life that I most regret.

I was hunting rabbits and squirrels when I was ten. My father, to his credit, ingrained in me that you never point a gun toward anything you don’t intend to kill, that you never assume a gun is not loaded, and you never take a shot that might wound an animal that would get away and suffer a slow death. I gave up small game hunting when I was out of high school, but bow hunted for deer until my mid-twenties. One morning at dawn, in Virginia where I was teaching, I had a doe walk to within ten yards of me before it sensed me. For a few seconds, we looked each other in the eye . . . before it dashed off through the woods.

At that point, it finally occurred to me that I loved the hunting, but not the killing. I had enough money that I didn’t need the meat. I bought a good camera and telephoto lens and for the past nearly 50 years, I’ve done my hunting with a camera. And as much as I enjoyed the hunting I did with my father, I wish now that he had put a camera in my hands as a child and not a gun. The photographic trophies I have now are priceless. And I don’t have to brag about my past hunting exploits – I have the pictures to prove my hunting and shooting prowess. Shooting an animal a hundred yards away with a high powered rifle and scope is easy and proves nothing.

I now live in Western Washington State. I have mountains, sunrises/sets, and myriad natural beauty to ‘hunt.’ There are no hunting seasons and I don’t hesitate to shoot dozens of shots at any species of animal I come across. I shoot without guilt or reservations. In effect, I practice “catch and release.” Instead of taking a beautiful wildlife experience and ending it quickly with the loud blast of a gun, I now move with so much patience and respect for my wild brethren, that I often find myself photographing wild animals that accept me as part of their world. They do me the favor of ignoring me while I capture moments I’ll be able to enjoy the rest of my life and share with others. Back when I hunted with a gun, my views of wildlife were usually seeing their backsides fleeing the scene. In their world, I was a menace.

Now I cannot see the attraction of using animals as targets for bullets. There’s nothing heroic about killing. In areas where there are no large predators, like back East, deer in particular need to be culled to keep from destroying their own habitat, but where there are cougars, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, bears, etc., populations of ‘game’ species do not need to be ‘managed.’ Mother Nature has been doing that for hundreds of millions of years.

Someday perhaps we’ll become civilized enough to get beyond wars, violence, and killing our fellow humans and animals. Perhaps there will be little interest in hunting and when necessary, certain animal populations will be controlled with some form of birth control. People won’t need to hang animal ‘trophies’ on their walls; they’ll hang their own favorite wildlife photos. In the meantime, people of a higher aesthetic will have to recruit fellow ‘soldiers of peace’ to make a better world. As Henry David Thoreau said over 150 years ago, man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.
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