To non-hunters, hunting can seem odd. You journey into nature, surround yourself with a harmonious choir of the delicate offspring of a roaring natural mystery — songbirds singing arias, elk dialing long-distance, chipmunks clearing their throats — and shoot them.T
Take Mike Janeczko. He calls himself an an “old hippie”; he smoked a joint or two, had long hair and protested Vietnam. But because he sometimes hunts, other “old hippies” call him other, less-friendly names.
“If you hunt, and you live in Boulder, you’re just a no good rotten SOB,” he says. “They hate our guts. I get into these hostile discussions every time I go out to dinner, ‘How could you possibly shoot those poor, defenseless birds?’”
These two camps — the hippies and the hunters — seem irreconcilable, and destined for endless civil war. But in this hunting season, it’s worth asking: is there anything in the middle? Wildlife managers say there has to be.
Hunt too much and you wipe out the mastodons. But if you hunt too little, there’s damage, too. The reason is that there aren’t enough predators. And without enough wolves and coyotes to naturally cull them, a herd of deer can multiply twenty-fold in six years, according to studies. Their overgrazing ruins the land for decades; then the deer themselves starve. It’s a paradox: in order to help an ecosystem thrive, hunters have to shoot a few “poor defenseless animals.”
“The reason we really have a lot of wildlife in North America, and lots of other places don’t,” says Jennifer Churchill of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, “is because we managed the wildlife and decided to hunt them.”
You thought hunting died a long time ago, along with handlebar mustaches, penny-farthing bicycles and knitting? It’s coming back. Between 2006 and 2011, hunting participation among Americans increased nine percent, said a 2011 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “There’s a real groundswell from people who are reconsidering hunting,” says Churchill. Some of the gains in participation were due to the recession; we were so poor we had to literally shoot our own food. But a research company called Responsive Management found that the reason most commonly cited for interest in hunting was that it is a source of natural or “green” food.
Logical people realize that, if you eat meat of any kind, you’re killing poor defenseless animals anyway, only it’s by proxy. And you’re not killing wild animals who live free in the world — you’re killing farmed animals, who live like prisoners. Delicious prisoners, prisoners that pair well with chimichurri — but prisoners all the same.
Vegetarians are changing their thinking. At least three hunting books have been written lately by these hippie/locavore types, with names such as The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance, Girl Hunter and Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner.
Hippies are learning to hunt, and not just for thrift store bargains.
The best example of this trend that I could find was a young Latina woman named Karla Gonzales. How peaceful is she? She runs a domestic violence and sexual abuse support center, and literally thinks that “not giving someone health insurance is a form of violence.” If she saw a spider killing a fly, she might try to slap a restraining order on him.
Up until two years ago, she thought hunting was “disgusting” and “disrespectful.” Then things changed. She was studying for her Masters degree in Gender and Ethnic Studies at CSU when a friend told her hunting was ethical, spiritual, and honest. Gonzales suddenly found herself with a rifle in her hand.
Initially, she had no idea how to use the damn thing. A series of comical mistakes on the shooting range, such as trying to aim with the wrong eye, left her bruised on her shoulder and her forehead, although it’s hard to say that mistakes can be truly comical when firearms are involved. But here’s what’s new: when she came to class in Gender and Ethnic Studies, and people saw the bruises and learned that it was from hunting, everyone in her classes supported her.
“Hunting is a lot more accepted now than it ever was,” says Bob Radocy, president of Gamelines Archery Club in Boulder.
When will this trend blossom in Boulder County? Maybe never. Hunting is outlawed on Boulder County land. And the dearth of a robust hunting culture in Boulder County has fostered deer populations that are too large, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has reported. Tim Brass, a hunting advocate, says that too many elk live on county land, and have trashed native plants and harmed farmers’ fields. Boulder County needs more hunters, he says, not less.
And why shouldn’t hippies go hunting? Don’t you get dirty? Don’t you bypass the Evil Big Food corporations like Monsanto? Doesn’t it often require missing work? Can’t you eat granola? Isn’t it part of the paleo diet? Isn’t it organic, local, low-carbon? So why shouldn’t foodies put down the creme fraische and pick up the aught-six?
Anyway, Gonzales figured out where to point her gun. She figured out how to aim it. She figured out where the deer were. On a trip to southern Wyoming, Gonzales drew a bead on a doe. She pulled the trigger. She felled her. And just like Davy Crocket… she cried like a little baby for half an hour.
“It was horrible, it was horrible,” she says. “It wasn’t nice. The poor thing — the eyes were open.”
So maybe this trend has limited appeal. But Churchill says she’s seen far more women hunters lately. And even if most women and hipsters will never take up hunting, at least the thinking is changing. For sure, Gonzales’ has shifted. “It has helped me not to be that extreme to think that [hunters] are all a bunch of idiots,” she says. “[My hunting partners] were super cool and very ethical. Not all hunters are stupid. Just some of them.”
Doesn’t that sound like healing? Isn’t that coming together? Inter-cultural harmony — isn’t that the kind of hippie stuff that Boulder County loves?