Over in last week's Isthmus, you'll see the cover story I wrote about chronic wasting disease, which now infects one in five male deer just west of Madison and is spreading. CWD essentially turns a deer's brain to Swiss cheese. It's a horrible way to die, and I try to explain why nobody seems to care.
This may seem odd coming from a hunter, since I was out in the woods last weekend for the opening of gun deer season with the intent of killing a deer. This calls for an examination of the ethics of hunting.
Here's how we hunt at the deer camps I go to: we sit. That's pretty much it.
Now, we certainly scout where we sit, and there is lively year-round debate about exactly where to sit and which way to face when we're sitting. For years, my friend Jordy and I have debated the relative merits of moving one stand back thirty yards from where it has been the last fifteen years or so. I sometimes point out that if we move the stand to where we saw deer last year, the deer, who are smart, might just move to where the stand was the year before. This argument is greeted with blank stares from my friends. We go on debating exactly where to place our stands.
About ten years ago, we even stopped doing deer drives, in which hunters walk in a line about fifty yards apart hoping to move deer toward waiting hunters at the other end. I don't regard that as particularly unethical, but we stopped doing it mostly for safety reasons.
My point is that the style of hunting that most Wisconsin deer hunters use is as natural as it can be under the circumstances of human-impacted land. You count on the natural wanderings of the deer to bring one near enough to you to shoot.
Now, that means that some years you see few deer and none come within range. Most years I never squeeze the trigger. And when I do, I'm careful to make sure that the shot has a very good chance of killing the deer immediately. I'm so careful that my hunting friends mock me for "catch and release deer hunting."
But when I do get a deer, I climb from my stand, walk over to the deer, set down my rifle, and offer up a little prayer. I'm not a religious or even a particularly spiritual guy, but I think it's appropriate at that moment to pause and take in the solemn fact that I just took a life. It's not something to be done lightly or with glee. The fact that the deer is roughly the same size and weight as a human being is more cause for sobriety at that moment.
Then I get the deer processed and all the meat is consumed by me or by friends.
Now contrast that style of hunting with the canned hunts that I learned about as I did the reporting on the CWD story.
What happens at these deer farms is that "hunters," many wealthy, fly in from all parts of the country. They hunt in an area surrounded by a high fence to keep the deer densities up. They're taken out to a blind with a guide. Deer bait is nearby. When a genetically enhanced buck (with ludicrously large racks that you would never see in the wild) walks to the bait, the guide instructs the "hunter" on whether or not he can shoot. And he advises him on what that shot will cost him. In some cases, for especially large trophy bucks, that single shot can cost the guy $10,000. I suppose they can take the meat, but for these "hunters" that's not the point. The point is the trophy antlers.
This violates the concept of "fair chase." Where's the sport in shooting a genetically enhanced freak buck attracted to a salt lick? In my view, this isn't hunting at all. It's a video game with real blood.
Moreover, these dense deer farms are breeders of disease. In fact, some experts believe that CWD was imported to Wisconsin accidentally by a deer farm.
Canned deer hunts are ethically questionable and biologically unsound. In my view, there should be a discussion about shutting them down.