Doug Peacock, inspiration for Hayduke and author of the excellent Grizzly Years, has continued to solidify his place as one of the most divisive and intellectually cheap writers on wilderness issues in the 21st century. First it was this article two years ago, conspicuously lacking in detail and conspicuously abundant in name-calling and deliberate mis-characterizations. Now there is this op-ed for Outside, which raises several points against the proposed delisting of Grizzly bears in Yellowstone from the Endangered Species Act. The concerns over food sources being altered by climate change, and especially the limited genetic diversity available to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem population are valid, but today, with the knowledge of hunting I’ve won in the past three years, I can’t take a person like Peacock seriously when he dismisses the integrity of state wildlife management with phrases like “trophy bear hunt.”
The phrase “trophy hunting” is itself all but meaningless, and today an almost certain proxy for “I don’t like it, but can’t or don’t care to go into specifics.” Approximate comparisons would be calling someones writing or art derivative, or calling a person or thing crazy. There are plenty of things in state wildlife management which can reasonably said to be objectionable, but failing to specify (why) for instance Wyoming lost the ability to govern their wolves (their hunting regs were ludicrously liberal and openly hostile to the species) one abdicates their right to critique.
If/when Grizzlies are delisted, and if/when (for example) Montana gives out too many tags in the inevitable hunting lottery, there will be grounds for objection. The most compelling argument for delisting is that Grizzly bears have met the population target set for them, and that in the GYE said population has been stable for over a decade. The credibility of the Endangered Species Act is dependent upon the process of protection having both a beginning and an end. If additional what-ifs are used too often to delay what was originally agreed upon, the ESA will end up with even less support than it currently does. Some folks will always hate the idea of the ESA, just as some folks will always want to see all large non-human predators extirpated, but living in fear of the extremes is no good guide.
But back to trophy hunting. In the 21st century, and in the 1st world, all hunters are trophy hunters. Even someone killing does for food will retain memories, and likely photos, that will sit on the literal and metaphorical shelf. There is a difference of degree, in comparison with a Dall Sheep shoulder mount whose hunt cost 25,000 dollars, but not kind. The challenge in hunting is the reward, and often that challenge is enhanced by artificial means. In this there is little difference between holding out for a bull elk of a certain size, when many, smaller elk are in abundance, and choosing to climb a peak via the fifth class wall rather than the 3rd class ridge. Summit photos and a loose piton serve the same function as dead animal skulls. People tend to object more forcefully to bear hunting because bears are more human-like in their actions, and grow to a greater age, than ungulates and small game. It’s also easier to call bear hunting “trophy hunting” because in some states (e.g. Idaho and Alaska) one is not required by law to take the meat out of the field. Presumably Montana at least will apply the same rules they have for black bear meat, where the quarters and backstraps must be taken, to Grizzly bears.
What hunting needs to articulate is the morality of cheating trophy experiences, when doing so is acceptable, and when doing so is not. An experienced mountaineer can probably justify the occasional use of a helicopter to shortcut the approach, and all but the true purist will use cable cars and ski lifts, when they exist, for similar purposes. Provided one does not always use technology to avoid hiking, and has plenty of miles and summits won purely with sweat and effort, occasional discretion’s can be forgiven. Something similar ought to be fine for hunting. After all, the reason road hunting works is that many of our favorite hunting targets are drawn to the traces of human settlement. Trying to divorce hunting too far from this is artificial, but at the same time hunting will always be at base a wilderness pursuit, and the many hunters and paradigms of hunting which ignore or try to consistently cheat that fact deserve nothing less than ridicule. Just don’t dismiss it as only trophy hunting.