Here’s an interesting question we’ve heard pretty frequently in the past few months: is hunting becoming just another form of pest control?
It’s a worthwhile query, and one that relates back to one of the key arguments that most of us use when asked to defend our sport to those who are against the killing of animals or the use of guns for any purpose whatsoever. We explain to these anti-hunters that, without us, deer and other animals would spread even further beyond the limits of their wilderness habitats than they have already.
After all, without hunters, there would be more deer-related car accidents. Without hunters, there would be more coyotes wandering onto farm property and killing livestock. Without hunters, there would be more Canadian Geese dirtying our public parks, creating unsanitary environments for our children to play, and growing more aggressive and threatening in the process. By viewing hunting in these terms, all but the most staunch animal rights activists can at least see how our sport may be beneficial to modern society. And as such, these arguments often prove to be the best weapons we have to win the hunting debate.
But there’s a problem with this argument: it potentially posits us hunters as little more than exterminators or pest control specialists. It makes us sound like the exterminator who comes into our home when we have a termite problem and eradicates the threat. And while that “pest control specialist” role certainly needs to be played, we’d wager that, if asked how they envision themselves and their sport, most hunters wouldn’t list “pest control” at the top of the list. Frankly, it probably wouldn’t even be in the top 10. Still, even TIME Magazine joined the many news outlets covering the topic with a recent cover story about “America’s Pest Problem,” in reference to the overabundance of wildlife and human interaction that’s reaching dangerous levels.
So how do hunters think of themselves? We consider ourselves sportsmen and hobbyists, trackers and marksmen. We don’t consider ourselves the garbage men or pest controllers that should be called upon whenever someone has a problem with a deer or a black bear. And while most hunters are perfectly happy to help a farmer out with a big game pest problem (honestly, who would say no to a free hunting opportunity on a slab of private land?), would we be as happy if our only hunting opportunities came in urban or suburban areas? Would we be happy if we could only hunt when called upon to take care of a pest problem?
Needless to say, the answer to that question is “no.” While we as hunters don’t mind our role as ambassadors of animal population control, we don’t hunt with the sole purpose of helping to control animal pests. Instead, we hunt because it gives us a chance to participate in a challenging sporting activity; we hunt because shooting a 30-point buck gives us a sense of massive accomplishment; we hunt because it gives us a way to put food on the table; we hunt because we love the serene escape it gives us from our day to day lives and into the wilderness; we hunt because the outdoor sportsman community is tight-knit and supportive.
We hunt for a vast number of different reasons, but virtually all of them would be threatened and drastically changed if the idea of hunting as pest control grows much further. Population control is something we accomplish, but it is not our job, nor is it our passion.