Hunting your own food: A liberal converts

Hunting your own foodGrowing up in rural Wisconsin, I was an always outcast during hunting season. I did not see the point in killing deer when Food Mart had plenty of good meat. I formed opinions about hunting based on stereotypes and ignorance.

It was easier to maintain my position in college. Radical thinkers, vegetarians, falafel carts…all a stark contrast to my small town. I aligned with liberals who shunned hunting.

Yet, I ate meat. I cut back due to the tumbleweeds in my wallet, but never have I been a vegetarian.

Can you say hypocrite?

The sister factor

When my sister moved to some serious acreage and began to hunt her land, it messed with my mind. The negative stereotype I relied on to support my point was in jeopardy. Here was my number one gal, a wildlife ecologist with cupboards full of organic food, downing a ten-point buck on her back forty with pink arrows.

My sister, a pro on biodiversity and environmental issues, asked this omnivore, why is it easier for you to swallow a farmed animal than a hunted one?

The hunting hybrid

We replaced hunting with ranching to meet growing population needs. Hunting opponents now argue we don’t need hunting for sustenance. I grew to believe farmed meat was the more ethical choice.

Enter Food, Inc and other probes into the food industry….

My sister represents an emerging “hunting hybrid”, the blend of traditional hunter and liberal environmentalist. The hybrid acknowledges a cohesive relationship exists between hunting and sustainability, and advocates for both. I now recognize hunting as a viable, low-impact option for free-range meat.

Forgive me, hunters from my past. You probably knew this all along.

Bad press

Destructive hunting does happen and it gets all the press. I used to employ these stories to prove my anti-hunting point.

Most hunters I know are smart, humble folks who respect animals and the earth. People who say, “If you do not feel sadness and gratitude for the life you took, you shouldn’t be hunting”. Hunting is not the chaotic bloodfest opponents portray. It is usually calm solitude. My sister, an avid yogi, says hunting is the closest she has come to a true meditative state.

Stereotypes work both ways. Not all liberals hug trees. Lots sit in tree stands.  Hunters AND environmentalists tend to get misrepresented by a small, annoyingly vocal minority.

Common ground

With the arm strength of a newt, I do not hunt. My mister draws the bow. I still have my opinions. I support hunting that puts food on the table, not heads on the wall. I prefer bow over gun hunting. It’s quieter and evens the playing field.

But I am proof that we can change misguided opinions, not stubbornly cling to them. I learned much from both worlds.

Hunters want to protect the ecosystems they hunt in. They are locavores who feed their families free-range meat. They maintain a fading cultural tradition. Environmentalists have valid concerns about the consequences of messing with nature. Examining these does NOT always imply a threat to hunting rights.

Both worlds strive for habitat preservation. And I’m a big fan of common ground. Let’s give this shared interest more press.

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About Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson is a freelance writer with nearly 20 years of experience in community health education, non-profit program management and mental health counseling. Amy works on projects that promote greener, healthier living through pragmatic approaches. She is an avid fan of reality therapy, small town farmers markets and dishing out home cooking with unsolicited advice. You can also follow Amy’s adventures in realistic wellness.

  • Jennifer

    Bravo! …Not all liberals hug trees. Lots sit in tree stands….LOVE that line…

    • Jeffrey Davis

      I liked that line too Jennifer!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Jen! You inspired me.

  • weston

    It seems to me (a non hunter) that an arrow shot animal will suffer a  more painful death than a bullet shot animal. And both will suffer far greater pain than a farm raised animal.

    • Anonymous

      I believe all three rely on the skill of the person killing the animal. Both bow and gun hunting require an accurate hit on the vitals. Any well-trained, patient hunter (gun or bow) will deliver the most humane death. Are there untrained hunters out there? Yes. They get all the press.

      But I’d like to see some info that supports the claim that hunting WILL cause more suffering than farming livestock. I’ve seen slaughterhouse and feedlot practices that make me shudder. Livestock is usually loaded into trucks, rendered immobile and bolt stunned into unconsciousness prior to slaughter.

      We assume this will all be done correctly and humanely. Are we so sure it is? It is hard to determine which practices causes more suffering.     

  • Shane

    I was raised a hunter. I grew up to be a raging liberal environmentalist. Now I’m both. It works. It blows some folks’ minds, but it’s quite harmonious.

    As far as the suffering involved with bow hunting deer, it goes like this - 

    A bullet kills with energy, shock, and massive trauma to vital organs. An arrow kills by cutting a big hole through vital organs and causing extremely rapid loss of blood pressure and oxygen supply.

    You shoot your arrow through both of their lungs. They almost always run right away, but immediately start losing proper oxygen supply to their brain. A brain can only go about 8 seconds without oxygen, it’s the most metabolically expensive organ by far. However far they can run in that amount of time is how far they go. Deer are very fast, so that can be over 100 yards, but is usually much less. I’ve heard of deer running into trees after being shot…as in they are dead on their feet. They almost always lose consciousness before they are technically dead.

    As far as initial pain, deer plow through briars all day like it’s no big deal. Broadheads are razor sharp, and they usually go all the way out the other side. Think about being cut with something extremely sharp. The pain is non-existent at first, and much less than if you were cut with something not-so-sharp. Apply that to a deer, and the pain is minimal. They literally don’t know what hit them most of the time. By the time they realized they’ve been penetrated, if they ever do at all, things are already getting black.

    Every once in a while, you’ll watch your arrow go in and out (remember to follow through before you look up or move the bow.), and they’ll just stand there, apparently thinking “What the hell was that?”. I’ve watched on just kind of mill around, then fall over dead.

    With a gun, sometimes death is instant. The shock is tremendous, the bullet carries a lot of energy. The impact itself can knock them out cold. Sometimes they bolt and make it a little ways, though. Since bullets travel faster than the speed of sound, they are often dead before they are aware of anything amiss.

    I find either option preferable to almost all slaughter techniques, which range anywhere from brutal and horrible to merely cringe-worthy.

    I also think it’s important to consider more than just the end itself. Consider the life leading up to the end. Would you rather be caged livestock, or free to roam anywhere and do anything, eat anything you want, every day?

    Also consider the deer’s other death options. Freezing to death or starvation, often simultaneously. Deer don’t simply die of old age peacefully. They get too weak to make it through the winter. Their teeth wear down to nothing, if they make it that long. They get to slow to evade predators. Predators have no sense of a quick, clean kill. Quite the opposite. Have you ever watched wolves hunt and kill? Gut wrenching. At least they’re big and strong. Being killed by coyotes has to be the worst. A cougar will paralyze their pray with a powerful strike or a bite to sever the spinal cord, and sometimes begin to feed before death comes. More options include being hit by a car. Deer, being unbelievably tough, often survive what would kill a human instantly, instead, they die slowly.

    I don’t want to say you’re doing the deer a favor by killing and eating it, but hunting is not nearly as horribly as so many imagine it to be. And that’s the key word. Imagine. Try it. It’s fulfilling. Not the kill itself, that truly can be a sad moment. It’s the whole process before and after. You feel a part of the Earth, and you really are, as much as you can be these days.

    • Jeffrey Davis

      Shane, thanks SO much for this incredible comment. I had never thought of it in so many different ways. The alternative end of life options for the deer. The speed of death. The health and quality of the animal’s life — and its meat — from living free in the wild. Amazing points!

      • Shane

        Thanks, and my pleasure.

        Not only do I consider hunting a more human form of consumption than livestock farming due to the better lifestyle of the animals, the benefits show through in the final product. Not only is venison all natural and lacking whatever it is they put in beef, it’s more healthy in the first place. Deer eat a very wide variety of foods, and that nutrition is passed on to you.

        It’s higher in protein, lower in fat, and provides more vitamins and minerals. It actually has a touch more cholesterol, but I’ll bet you anything that if someone substituted wild game for modern meat, they would see their health improve greatly.

        I also believe there are nutritional/health qualities in wild deer meat that farmed meat lacks that can’t exactly be tested for in a lab.

        I can’t quite explain it, but being raised on venison made for a healthy, smart, athletic kid. I feel like the quickness of the deer was passed on to me.

        Now, I can only eat so much “factory meat” before I feel a bit ill. I can eat deer or wild game all day until I burst, and feel quite well.

  • wanderingyogi

    I find it interesting that you mention your sister is an avid yogi. One of the precepts of yoga philosophy is ahimsa – nonharming; hunting definitely does not fall under that. I wonder how she would respond? Also, I find it disturbing that she sees the taking of a life (which hunting, however you explain it, is) as a way to meditate.

    • Jeffrey Davis

      I hear what you’re saying wanderingyogi, but is the harvesting of a living, growing plant to consume it not taking a life as well?

    • Anonymous

      wandering…I know it’s an odd combination. Like any philosophical belief, yoga comes with “rules” that are up for interpretation. I would consider ahimsa to primarily include malicious intent to harm, or harming something for no valid reason. I’d also like to quote Shane, when you are out in that woods, “You feel a part of the Earth, and you really are, as much as you can be these days”. Taking the animal is only part of an entire process that involves quieting your mind and body to a point where you feel you are part of the landscape. What makes THAT part of the process not acceptable meditation? 

      • wanderingyogi

        Amy, I do see your point, and actually just read a post about interpreting ahimsa as “loving kindness and compassion” ( Seems like your sister shows that. Feeling a part of the eart sounds amazing and I can definitely see that as meditation, its the killing that I am really not cool with.

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  • Glen R.

    I’m glad I found this post. Growing up most of my life in the major Chicago metro area, most people I know are anti hunting. I myself am an environmentalist at all levels, I support other-then-human animals rights as much as I do human rights, and I had been a vegan for 2 years and vegetarian for 5.
    Now my significant other & I are proud hunters who have a garden fresh vegetarian diet part of the year and white tail the other part.
    I think its pretty safe to say we are all someone else’s food at some point.

    thanks again for sharing :)

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