Hunting connects us to nature and promotes conservation

Illustration by Killian Goodale-Porter

Adelaide Verdugo-Thomson, Contributing Writer

Have you ever willingly woken up before dawn? Without the buzz of other people, the world is incredibly intimate — there’s only you and nature.

Hunting provides space for these moments, allowing us to truly learn about the animals that scuttle through the forest and the rivers that pass through it.

Perhaps this seems like a strange topic for me, an unsuccessful hunter, to be speaking about. After all, hunting has had its own juicy helping of controversy from trophy hunting to animal cruelty. As an ex-vegetarian, I’ve gotten my fair share of eyebrow raises and questions about my decision to hunt.

Yet from my very first hunt, I reveled in the cold, still air as I concentrated on the task in front of me. The hunt took place at a Wildlife Management Area, or WMA, a protected land reserved for outdoor recreational sports. While waiting to hear a squirrel, I sat against a tree and closed my eyes. The air was sweet to breathe in.

Even though I didn’t take a single shot the first time, as I watched the squirrels’ bushy tails wiggle and wave as they chased each other, it felt as though I had gained access to their unadulterated private lives. Instead of hopping from lampposts or running atop fences, the squirrels were in their natural habitats. At that moment, I realized how vital hunting is to having a healthy relationship with the natural world.

Despite the fact that I’m no longer vegetarian, my opinion on meat has stayed the same: the industry is cruel.

The word cruel has its roots in the Latin word crudelis, meaning “unfeeling.” By distancing ourselves from the hunting of animals, we have removed our feelings from the equation. The slaughtering occurs in large, gray factory farms with few windows and a rotten stench. Society is quite happy to just ignore the vulgar nature of the meat production process because it has made consumption so easy.

Indeed, we are quite comfortable with distancing ourselves from things we deem as ugly, including the death of animals. When we distance, we devalue livestock because they are no different from any other form of produce. The meat cheapens and so does our relationship with the natural world.

I argue that hunting for meat is in harmony with the natural world. To do the killing yourself forms an intimate bond between human and animal; there is true appreciation for the food on our plate.

The first time I saw a squirrel being shot, I teared up. It centered me to the moment and I became acutely aware of how appreciative I was for the squirrel. Without it, I wouldn’t have come to such a serene forest, witnessed its playful nature, or had food for the evening. At that moment, I made a vow to ensure that the squirrel’s life was not wasted.

Despite hunters being 3% of the Virginia population, they have contributed $14 billion to conservation through taxation on guns and ammunition thanks to the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. Hunting does not exist without healthy habitats and healthy wildlife; thus, conservation is a top priority.

Hesitancy around hunting comes from a lack of understanding. As more people flock to urban areas for job opportunities, it may be harder for people to go out and hunt at WMAs in rural settings. However, hunting clubs could be established in urban areas to create a sense of community among urban hunters. By having a community, people can carpool and learn from one another.

Those who are interested in hunting can also find online communities. The website MeatEater has numerous articles on hunting, fishing and homesteading. The website Hunter-ed has courses to help you get your hunting license. Hunting communities are popular on various social media platforms as well; it just takes some searching.

While some challenges related to hunting are simply accessibility, others are social and political. Loose gun laws have heralded backlash from communities during times of violence. Pew Research Center found that almost 70% of gun owners say they own a gun for personal protection. There must be more nuanced conversations around guns and the reasons why guns are purchased. Having proper firearm education in a country where firearms are legal is essential. 

Those who are against firearms can still hunt. Bowhunting is a popular alternative to hunting with a firearm. Bowhunters use a bow and arrow to hunt game, and often get early access to hunting seasons. 

With all the options to hunt today, accessibility is slowly growing. Meateaters should try hunting.

Humanity in eating meat has been lost with the mechanization of raising and slaughtering animals. We can return humanity to it by inserting ourselves into the process.

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