Hunters are the backbone of rural society. People who live in cities and suburbs rarely appreciate that fact. I thought of this in relation to my own land and was reminded when Chrissy’s sister Diane visited a friend who lives in western Virginia. The friend owns some forest land in the Shenandoah. Local hunters watch over it, make improvements and generally take care of the place. She was a little surprised at the role of local hunters. I used to be too, but not anymore.
The hunters on my land have been there for generations. Much of what I know about the land comes from them. They knew how long the roads had been in place. They remembered when the streams had flooded and when they had gone dry. They had experience of fires and storms. And they loved the land and understood the relationships with the animals on them.
Deer hunters are working to create better habitat for the animals they hunt and improve the herds. They always have done this. Much of the county’s wildlands were conserved by hunters. Lately the equations have changed a bit. The burgeoning wildlife and especially deer population has shifted emphasis from any deer to quality deer. Hunt clubs are actively managing the herds through selective hunting, feed plots etc. I get a magazine called “Quality Whitetails” from an organization by the same name that provides a place for the exchange of information and experience. It is very interesting the things hunters are doing in the conservation field, literally out in the field.
Another big factor is development and urban encroachment. A generation ago, there were a lot fewer deer and they were spread over a bigger area of undeveloped land. Today deer populations have grown to almost nuisance levels in some areas and this is exacerbated by the fragmentation of the forests. This is another reason to emphasize quality of the herds over mere numbers. The numbers problem is no longer a problem.
Hunting keeps people closer to the land. One of my friends down in Southside Virginia spends most of his free time working on conservation projects on land his hunt club leases. He helps restore wetlands, makes wildlife corridors etc. He has helped a lot on my farm, at no cost to me since we work in our mutual interest. This guy doesn’t hunt very much anymore in the traditional sense. He just really enjoys the conservation and wildlife management aspects of hunting. Most of the hunters I know enjoy the sport more for the insights it gives them into nature than the actual shooting deer, which is only one part of a full-year, multi-year effort.
The numbers of hunters has been declining over the past decades. There still are enough, but if the trend continues, this will be a serious threat to the health of rural communities and the rural environment. Somebody else – probably at taxpayer expense – will have to do what as work hunters do joyfully and for free. In fact, they actually pay to do it.
I am not a hunter myself, for the same reasons that the number of hunters has been declining. I was a city kid, with no hunting tradition. I am also a terrible shot. I support hunting by working with the hunt clubs on my farms and supporting some hunting organizations, such as Quality Whitetails, that provide hunting education and advocacy.
Beyond the environmental benefits, hunting has a long tradition in American culture. It is very different in the U.S. than it was in many parts of the world. In Europe, hunting was a rich man’s sport. When the ordinary people hunted, it was usually called “poaching,” especially when talking about bigger game, a crime that was severely punished by the aristocrats. Besides just wanting to keep the animals to themselves, aristocrats sensed the fundamental democratizing nature of hunting. Besides giving the common man access to weapons and the training to use them, hunting allowed individuals a personal connection with nature, unfiltered by the hierarchy of the old world. It also provides a means of support. One of the older hunters down near the farms told me that when he was young, hunting wasn’t just a hobby; it was needed to put meat on the table. One of the things that impressed former-peasant immigrants to the early America was that they COULD hunt. They were the owners of the land and didn’t have to kiss the ass of the local baron or “his” deer and elk untouched in the forest where only the fat-cats could hunt.
So this is my paean to the pastoral pursuit of hunting in our great America, whether it is deer, turkey, geese, quail, ducks or bears (yes we have a few on the farms now). We should appreciate what hunters and hunting have done for us.