Lately, hunting has been a great way to feel sick to my stomach.
First, I’ve been reading a lot about sheep hunting, as I plan to hunt bighorns in one of Montana’s unlimited districts late this summer. They’re the only places in North America where anyone can buy a tag in the spring, and go hunt sheep later that year. Everywhere else requires either a lottery application, usually with a less than 1% chance of being drawn, a semi-astronomical fee to book a guided hunt, or being a resident of relevant Canadian provinces or Alaska. The Montana unlimited districts have a quota, usually 2 or 3 rams, with the season closing 48 hours after those sheep are reported as killed.
In some respects, sheep hunting needs to be this kind of esoteric, elitist exercise. There aren’t that many sheep in North American, at least relative to deer or elk, and an increasing number of hunters who want to pursue them. Sheep, and to a lesser extent goat, hunting seems to have become the epistemic equivalent of peak bagging; it takes place in hostile environments and thus provides a unique experience, as well as lending itself to obsessive list-checking.
It’s the economics associated with the management which bugs me. In Alaska or Canada, non-residents need a guide to hunt sheep. These hunts seem to run between 15 and 20 thousand dollars. While I have no doubt it is money well spent, I also have equal certainty that these hunts could be done DIY for a tenth the cost, bush plane flights included. Lower 48 hunts also have considerable costs associated with them. Most places require consecutive years of application to build up preference points. In some states the associated fee is a reasonable 20-50 dollars. In others it is closer to 200 or more. Then there is the cost of the tag itself, which for a non-resident ranges from 750 dollars here in Montana up towards 2,000 dollars in the southwestern states.
My objection is basic: while these fees may be justifiable, they are not reasonable, and the guiding provision in Alaska is nothing but xenophobic nepotism. It’s sad that in the 21st century we’re still fighting Robin Hood’s battles.
My second source of bile with respect to sheep hunting is the trophy obsession. Last week I read Duncan Gilchrist’s Montana: Land of the Giant Rams, which all sources said was a vital source of information on the unlimited districts. The chapter on that subject was very helpful, but almost every other page in the book cannot go half a paragraph without mentioning Boone and Crockett scoring. Often the reader could be forgiven for thinking she is reading a math textbook. Again, simply put, such all-encompassing focus on horn size just bugs me.
Lastly, and more generally, I shot a snowshoe hare while out turkey hunting yesterday evening. I saw the lagomorph that morning, but with nothing but nitro turkey loads was loath to shoot, least the 2 ounces of #4 flay the critter into oblivion. That evening I packed a few #8 target loads, saw the hare in the same area (they seem to have superlative camouflage and small home ranges), and at 40 yards, from the lower barrel with a full choke installed, held the Citori a bit high. Exactly two pellets hit anywhere other than the head, the hare flopped backwards, gave a dozen kicks, and expired.
Besides being extremely tasty if cooked well, snowshoe hares are amazing creatures to examine by hand. Those massive back feet are attached to enormous lower back muscles. The tenderloins, sitting low and inside the ribcage, are almost as large as the thighs, while the ribs and front legs are light and delicate.
I was elated to have the luck to see the hare again, and the skill to spot it early and make the shot. Walking up to it, I a wave of sickness exactly two notches above my enthusiasm washed over. I do not think it is wrong to be so happy about killing something, but I do think that having that happiness unclouded by the gravity of what you just did would not be a sign of good character.
Issues aside, I’ll keep hunting, because being in touch with that conflict, which underlies existence as such, is nothing but good. When I cleaned the rabbit I left the head and guts on a stump at the edge of the thick brush. When I passed back 90 minutes later, no turkeys seen, everything was gone.