Hunting is an activity many consider a traditional food-gathering ritual. Others consider it a slaughter of innocent animals. Some consider it merely a sport and therefore we have the term “sport” hunting and “trophy” hunting as opposed to “subsistence” hunting, which is hunting for food and your main source of protein. Regardless of what it is called, it involves the sanctioned killing, traditionally, of free-ranging wildlife.

I say traditionally simply because this modern game farm culling of semi-domestic, genetically mutant deer and elk critters from a high seat or ground blind or even out the window of a vehicle, while apparently where the tradition of hunting is headed, does not qualify as hunting in my viewpoint. That’s unless the hunter is mobility-challenged. It has more in common with a shooter paying a farmer a fee to go execute a member of his herd while the cow, or pig, goes about its well-choreographed daily routine. Or legalized poaching.

Wild, these exotic and semi-domestic critters are not. Sometimes it’s even worse. I’ve heard of instances where “outfitters” have purchased domestic porkers at public auction and then turned them loose on a hog-tight, fenced 80 acres out behind the ranch for the unsuspecting to “hunt.” The rougher the country the hogs have to live in, the more “authentic” the experience. Texans are good at this.

I was told of one northern California outfitter who regularly turns a bunch of auction-bought pigs loose in the hills adjacent to his property and then feeds them with a regular routine every day. He pulls into the property, then honks his horn before unloading the piggy treats. Naturally, when the critters heard his truck coming, they all ran towards it to be first for chow. I understand that several “charging porkers” were shot by well-heeled nimrods this way.

Wasn’t it Sir Alfred Pease who wrote that pastimes that did not include personal danger and the occasional shedding of the participants’ blood should not be considered sport? This is one of the gentlemen who guided President Theodore Roosevelt on a portion of his African safari back in the early 1900s. Sir Alfred also lost a close friend, Lord Albert Gray, if memory serves, to a lion that Gray was trying to shoot with a 6.5 Mannlicher, that rifle-cartridge combo being the newest hot-rock for big game back about 1900.

From what I’ve read over the years, the technique these early Africaners used to kill lions for “sport” was as dangerous as it was challenging. As dedicated of horsemen as any American cowboy, they chased and harassed the lions on horseback until the lions became irritated enough with their shenanigans and turned around to fight. When the lions finally stopped and turned, the hunters dismounted and, rifle in hand, waited for the lion to charge. I understand these hardies waited until the lion was close enough to shoot accurately, before they put in a killing shot. In Gray’s case, the little 6.5 Mannlicher cartridge didn’t stop the lion and as a result, it was lions one, hunters zero.

As far as hunting being dangerous to the participants, there are a variety of things in our mountains and back country to be of concern like freak weather fronts and storms, forest fires, the hunter’s physical condition, grizzlies, avalanches, poison ivy, stinging nettles and falling off cliffs in the dark, or simply just slipping while walking and breaking an arm or a leg or both. If the hunter is lucky, maybe it’ll only be a sprained ankle. On a more civilized note, there are bad horses, incompetent guides and lousy camp cooks and limited cellphone reception. Did I mention grizzly bears?

If that’s not bad enough, hunters also need to worry about their companion hunters or even complete strangers putting holes in their hide by mistake. Ostensibly that’s the reason for wearing blaze orange, but many suspect, as do I, that the real reason for that regulation is to make it easier for game wardens to spot hunters afield and keep an eye on them. Regardless of how it makes you feel, some folks just need constant monitoring. As a result of a few individuals’ errant behavior, all of us have to pay the piper.

As far as active hunting dangers go, there are even the animals themselves. There are big bears and their smaller cousins, the black bears, some of which kill folks to eat them rather than just to mess with them a bit. There are bull moose and even more dangerous mama moose with kinder, starving cougars and socially emboldened wolves, venomous reptiles, outhouse spiders and ticked-off hordes of hornets. Even the gentle wildlife creatures we bump into while out wandering through the woods can flat get your knickers in a twist if pressed hard enough, even ordinarily innocuous prey animals.

Every year there are numerous reports about buck deer, usually whitetails but occasionally mule deer bucks, even mountain goat billies, that have turned the tables on their human antagonists and slain them. While the bucks have their obviously dangerous antlers to defend their lives with, those usually pale in comparison with the slashing hooves of an enraged or badly frightened female of the species fighting for its life or defending its young. They can slice you up like a waterfront mugger.

All too often certain naive people retain as adults the concepts of wildlife innocence we observed as children and learned from being brainwashed by early Disney wildlife films and cartoons depicting all wildlife as carefree, innocent, frolicking, flower-children types. Understand one thing: all wild animals can be lethal and, at all times, should be respected. Even the lowly rabbits and hares. Give them their space.

Even more importantly, never take the prey animals lightly. Just this year, elk hunter Mark David of Hillsboro, Ore., was killed by a bull elk he’d been hunting. The previous day he’d put an arrow in the big guy but lost it when it turned dark while he was tracking it. The next day Mark and the gent on whose land he was hunting went back out after it. When they found the wounded bull, Mark placed another arrow in it.

Instead of running away, the behemoth charged his persecutor and fatally gored him with its outsized antlers. The elk was later tracked down and killed, but this incident underscores the importance of respecting wild critters. Especially wounded ones. Approach wounded critters very carefully and be prepared for anything. Also, make certain the critter is dead before you start to handle it. An awful lot of “dead” critters weren’t. It doesn’t have to be a grizzly to tear you a new one, especially when wounded.

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