Monday, April 30, 2012

Growling Conscience

There is a photo floating around the Internet. A photo taken in Idaho and featuring a wolf caught in a leg trap. As is generally the case with leg traps, the animal is still very much alive, and very much sentient. Snow covers the ground, and in a ten foot circle all around the wolf, the snow is tinged unmistakably with the color of blood.

In the forefront of the photograph is the trapper. He is wearing a grin from ear to ear. His smile indicates that he is clearly proud that the trap he set, here in the chilly wilds of Idaho, has done its job.

But the image seems terribly incongruous, an exercise in polar opposite emotions. Clearly evident joy offset by plainly obvious misery, and what's worse, is that the latter is the reason for the former.

As an avid hunter, I am aware that a successful hunt, speaking in the utilitarian sense, inevitably means that a living creature, with blood coursing hot, will experience pain. What's more, if I have arranged myself in an appropriate place, and if my aim is true, a life will end. If I am targeting birds, sometimes more than one life. This is part of the powerful realism that hunting provides; namely, a stark reminder of what it means to eat meat. I believe very strongly that more meat eaters (people like you, reading this) should experience first hand the taking of a life that you intend to eat.

But as a hunter, my first responsibility is to the animal I seek to harvest. It is up to me to ensure that the task at hand is done quickly, effectively, and with as little suffering as possible. A fast and clean kill is of utmost importance, it is how I define a successful hunt. A shot that seems likely not to kill, but to injure, is not a shot I take. Better to go home empty handed and with a clear conscience, than to go home with thoughts of an animal lost, wantonly wasted, at my own hands.

Trapping is not hunting and trappers are not hunters. But while the means to the end may be different, the fact that when done effectively both hunting and trapping lead to the same end, means that the two activities are linked.

When a goose lands crippled into the decoys, as is sometimes inevitable, an ethical hunter clears his mind of anything but a swift kill. There is no time for photos, for celebrations, for anything, until that animal's suffering has been ended. It should be no different for trapping; the fact that this trapper found the time to snap a photograph, to allow an animal's suffering to go on, at best, a few seconds longer, is unjustifiable.

There is no defense for the existence of this photo. For ethical hunters, we should all pledge to distance ourselves, to shun the company of those who find this behavior acceptable. Whether it be a refusal to hunt with them, or kicking someone out of a club or lease, our conscience should not be asked to tolerate such a direct affront to common decency.

The same standard should be true of trappers. Traps should be checked frequently, and trapped animals should be quickly dispatched. Trappers who fail to abide by these reasonable codes of conduct should be ostracized by the trapping community at large. Yet, that community has, by and large, defended this image, mostly behind the flimsy sham that there is nothing strictly 'illegal' taking place in the photo. But there is a law being broken, a basic tenet of humanity clearly violated.     

You can see a copy of the grisly image here.      


Eric C. Nuse said...

Steve - Well said. The scene is especially grisly due to the blood on the snow. I understand that someone other than the trapper took a pot shot at the wolf and wounded it. Even more reason to put it down quickly.
Trapping is very highly regulated and a necessary activity to manage furbearers. I guess as this picture illustrates you can try but you can't legislate stupid.

River Mud said...

Absolutely correct, Steve. When the business is killing, there can be no doubt, and no apology, for that inevitable end.

But prolonging that end for one extra moment for extraneous reasons is unacceptable.

I often say that hunters - not anti-hunters - will be the end of hunting. Trapping is certainly no different.