Aldo Leopold pioneered “land ethics” in the first half of the 20th century. Inspired by Leopold, his fellow professor at the University of Wisconsin, Van Rensselaer Potter, coined the term “bioethics” in the second half of the 20th century (1970). Both terms have a powerful social and personal component. Both terms connote an integration of values and the environment. So, too, do “hunt ethics,” an integration of values and an action based upon biology and the ‘land.’
The hunter has affection and awe for all of nature’s creations, perhaps more so than any other human observer, for the hunter must read the most subtle signs of his quarry, its habitat and its behavior, to be successful. If successful, respect and regret are dominant sensibilities. The hunter’s moral responsibility is linked to the purpose for which the quarry is killed. Is it for food? for the human joy of the chase? to build a tangible repository of memories? or to test the civilized human self against an amoral and harsh natural world? Buried within us, too deep for memory, but only under a few layers of civilization, lie the ancient instincts of the hunter/gatherer who makes no distinction between the artificial and the natural and who is entirely focused on the chase. Our Paleolithic era was millions of years, our Neolithic just a few millennia.
Today, triumph and power of possession have become common values for some sport hunters. By 2008, these latter values “triumph” and “possession” seem to infect the ethos of such hunters and their fraternities, especially the Safari Club International (SCI) and what became more recently, the Grand Slam Club/Ovis (GSCO). (Both of which I am a life member.) These values serve only the goal of the “collector” where the “award,” not the animal, becomes the trophy and the animal is nothing more than its “score.”
The image of the hunter as a morally responsible human was seriously vitiated in the public consciousness in the mid 20th century by the Bambi saga. Written by Felix Salten in 1924 and animated by Walt Disney in 1942, it featured a “depraved male” murdering “doe-eyed innocence.”
In fact, the trope projected nothing more than a sentimental and romantic anthropomorphism, crying out against man’s very nature and his products of a scientific materialism, one of which is the gun. Bambi was a falsification of man and his place in the rest of nature, never forgetting that man himself is part of nature. Yet it was a very lucrative perversion for Disney and a damming defamation of the honest hunter.
In fact, such a hunter has a love affair with nature and his quarry. Such a hunter reawakens, even recreates his biological center - all five senses fully and sublimely engaged.
Yet, one must acknowledge that the trophy, the score, and the adulation by fellow hunters and fellow travelers represent for many trophy hunters the primary, even the only reason to hunt; hence “to collect.”
It must be asked, Can this residue,...