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Why do you hunt – part 1

Education - breaking down a deer

Why do you hunt? 

It’s a question hunters are often asked by their non-hunting friends and colleagues. If that person eats meat, the question is often posed as ‘why do you hunt when you can get meat from the supermarket’ and non-meat-eaters generally pose it as ‘why do you hunt and kill any sentient being’.    

While I cannot answer for every hunter on the planet, I can clearly articulate the reasons I hunt, and why, as a family, we believe so strongly in the hunting lifestyle that we’ve chosen to run a hunting business. Hopefully in the process I can provide an answer to both of the questions above. 

There are probably hundreds of things our family likes about hunting, and just as many types of hunts we may undertake – meat hunts, crop protection hunts, wildlife and management culls, conservation hunts, predator control, and yes, even the dreaded trophy hunt. But the question was not what, when, or how, but why. Why are we motivated to kill an animal?

The answer can be broken down into three parts – to pursue a more ethical food source; to be part of nature and not just a spectator; and because it’s the responsible thing to do. 

Today, I’m going to talk about the first of those reasons. 

To pursue a more ethical food source

In our modern world – at least here in the West (what happens in other cultures is a topic for a whole different post) – few people need to hunt for food, as many non-hunters love to point out. Yes, we do have supermarkets that stock a wide variety of food choices for us, and that cater to almost any dietary choice. But that variety and choice also comes at a huge cost – to the environment, to people and yes, even to animals. We’re not trying to demonise supermarkets or the mechanised food industry at all. It is what it is, and there are days that we’re very thankful that we can call past the supermarket on the way home from work and grab all the ingredients we need to make a meal from the one store. In the past, it may have taken us several hours to achieve the same result, visiting all the individual specialty stores to pick up our key ingredients. Supermarkets have changed our lives and made things a lot easier. 

However, if we are trying to determine the most ethical way to eat, a supermarket scores pretty low on that scale. Here in Australia, the two major chains (Coles and Woolworths) have been heavily criticised for their unconscionable treatment of suppliers, their unethical labour practices, and their monopolistic behaviour – traits I’m sure supermarkets all around the world are just as guilty of.

Food is shipped from all over the globe to ensure consumers have the variety and choice that they demand. Seasonality has almost become a foreign concept. People want to be able to buy their favourite foods all year round, rarely stopping to think about the carbon footprint of the entire supply chain of the foods they choose.

Then there is the waste. 

Every day, supermarkets throw out tonnes of food. In fact, it’s believed as much as 50 percent of all commercially produced food ends up as waste – or around 2 billion metric tonnes per year! There are dozens of reasons why there is so much waste – from overstocked product displays, expiration dates, damaged packaging, outdated marketing and promotional offers, and unpopular items. But at the heart of it all is our desire for cosmetic perfection. We want our food to look ‘Instagrammable’, our fruit and vegetables to be uniform, and free from blemishes. And the beating heart of the supermarket industry is the factory farming that has become so unpopular – and for good reason. 

Again, I’m not trying to demonise the industry, or point the finger at farmers. In fact, I strongly believe that farmers are the heart and soul of any society, and like the rest of us, they are just trying to make an honest living. The problem again goes to our societal demand for choice, convenience and perfection. The only way that supermarkets can keep up with consumer demand, and offer a variety of choices at an affordable price is to make the supply chain leaner, faster and more efficient, and the supermarket supply chain stretches all the way back to the farmers, who have to pursue bigger harvests in record times for dwindling profits. 

As a journalist, I wrote articles highlighting some of stringent conditions farmers have to accept to supply the major supermarket chains. Often, farmers are contractually obliged to grow or provide the maximum harvest the chain ‘may’ require at any given time, but the chain themselves is under no obligation to actually purchase that amount. Even worse, the farmer is often contractually forbidden to sell the surplus to any other supplier, which leaves them no choice but to destroy the excess. When supermarkets enter into price wars on food items, it is often the farmer left with reduced profits, not the chain. But this is an article on hunting, not on supermarkets and their unethical practices. I mention this mostly to demonstrate why society is becoming disillusioned with the industrialised food industry, with many making conscious decisions to find more sustainable and ethical food sources. 

Sadly, our desire for ease and convenience has resulted in another major problem for society – we have raised an entire generation that has lost the connection we once had to our rural, agricultural backgrounds and who now have no idea where their food actually comes from

Not too long ago, it was common for most households to have a vegetable garden and some chickens in the backyard, even in Suburbia. If you grew up in a rural region, you would have probably had some sheep, pigs and cows that ended up on the dinner plate as well. Growing up in a large family, my mother bought our milk straight from the local dairy and as kids, we loved to go on the milk run with her so we could watch the cows being milked in the barn. Even at school, we used to go on excursions to the local farms and milk the cows ourselves, turning the rich cream into butter with a marble in a jar. My generation knew that the meat we ate came from an animal, and that the animal had to die so we could eat it. In fact, there was probably very little that made its way to our plates that we didn’t know the true source for because we ate so little processed foods. 

Now let’s just get one thing straight – I’m not 103! I’m 46. This was commonplace less than 40 years ago. 

Today, it’s not uncommon to ask a child where milk comes from, and for their answer to be ‘the supermarket or in a bottle’. Oh, there’s some vague knowledge that the cow is the ultimate source. They may have even watched it on a documentary but it’s unlikely they’ve ever witnessed the process first-hand. As for meat, while many families still consume it and it forms the basis of many kids’ diets, we shelter our children from the ‘harsh’ reality that animals died to produce that meat. Hollywood doesn’t help. They won’t even show animals eating other animals, which is exactly what happens in nature.

Why do you think we’re seeing such a massive upswing in teenagers and young adults becoming Vegan? It’s not really because they prefer vegetables or soy burgers – any parent knows the constant battles we faced with getting kids to eat their veggies. It’s because, when they finally discover the truth, they are horrified – almost like finding out in your 20s that Santa isn’t real! 

Unfortunately, the ‘truth’ they are told depicts the very worst of a particular industry or practice – factory farmed cattle in giant feedlots being led to their slaughter, the fear in an animal’s eyes as it awaits death in an abattoir, battery hens in tiny cages that have never seen the light of day, animals being abused by psychotic workers… You get the picture. You’ve probably seen the PETA campaigns for yourself. Notice that they never show the local farmer raising free-range chickens? They never discuss that, in Australia, 98% of all cattle and sheep are grass-fed. If they are given grain at all, it is only for the last 90 days of their life – and only to meet consumer demands for marbled meat. And let’s not forget that organisations like PETA are not above telling outright lies to win over our youth, convincing them that any animal product – even milk, eggs, wool and other things that don’t result in death – are baaaaad! 

So these are some of the reasons that, we as a family, have consciously chosen to extricate ourselves from the mechanised food industry as much as we can and to pursue a more local, sustainable and ethical way to source our food. 

We have set aside some space in our backyard for a vegetable garden (and in the process have learned how hard the fight is against nature, pests and animals to get that perfect harvest to the table). We prefer to shop at smaller, local food stores and farmers markets instead of large, chain supermarkets (though, like everyone with a busy schedule, we still occasionally succumb to the desire for convenience). And we hunt and fish as our primary meat source. Our freezer is full of wild-caught fish, crayfish, ducks, venison, kangaroo, buffalo, scrub bull and even donkey. We derive around 80 percent of our meat through hunting and/or fishing, and 15 percent is locally farmed. Only about 5 percent of our meat comes from chain supermarkets.

We don’t do this because it’s cheaper or easier. If you want easier, the supermarket does most of the hard work for you, killing, gutting, and butchering the animal and then presenting it on a neat little polystyrene tray.

And hunting and fishing can be pretty expensive pastimes – though it is possible to do both on a shoe-string budget. Truth be told, we probably spend far more time and money sourcing our food than we ever did before we made the switch.  

But we also couldn’t be happier. 

Why? Because we wholeheartedly believe that wild-harvested game meat is one of the most organic, sustainable and ethical meats you could possibly choose. Take deer as an example. They live wild, roam free, eat only what their bodies tell them to, and procreate according to their natural rhythms. Wild deer don’t require cultivated land. They don’t require isolation from other animal species. They are completely free range. They’re not given growth hormones and antibiotics. When they are harvested by a hunter, it is a quick, humane death. In fact, you could argue that hunting is more humane than nature, and certainly more humane than animals being bred for slaughter, living their entire lives in captivity only for 50 percent of their bodies to end up on your plate while the other 50 percent gets wasted!  

Red stag and his harem

In that regard, hunters are probably more closely aligned with Vegans than anyone admits. Most hunters agree with the ideal of doing less harm. We just have a different idea of what ‘less harm’ means. Everything that lives eventually dies and becomes food – us included. Animals are a food source – for each other and for us. There’s no getting around that. Even if we gave up eating animals, we’d still kill them in their millions. In fact, more animals die for non-food purposes than for food but that’s a whole different story.  

For us, we practice less harm by choosing wild harvested meat over farmed, and eating what we kill – within reason. The vast majority of animals are edible. It’s only personal taste and cultural norms that dictate what meat people prefer to eat. With deer, antelope and other big game, we mostly hunt the older animals that have finished breeding and are often in their last season, as we believe this is important for conservation. Most of the time that is males, but we also take older females who are long past their prime. The meat may be slightly tougher than younger animals, but most of that is negated with proper handling, ageing and cooking.

Hunter and guide

Hunting for your food is not easy. In fact, because we primarily ‘spot and stalk’ hunt, it’s bloody hard work! Drive to the shops and return with food in hand, guaranteed. Head out into the bush to go hunting and there’s no guarantees, but that’s what fair chase hunting is all about. The animal has as much chance to evade us as we have of successfully hunting it. There have been plenty of hunting trips that we’ve come home empty handed. We also know plenty of hunters who have never had a kill, despite going out every season. 

As hunters, we do what we can to increase our chances, spending months working on our fitness and our improving our skills. The gym becomes preparation for the walk in and the carry out. The shooting range ensures we can make an ethical and humane shot, whether we are hunting with a rifle or a bow. 

If we are successful, we then begin the laborious task of field dressing the carcass and transporting it back to camp. Anything left behind becomes food for carrion birds and animals, and goes back into the soil. Once we get the meat home, we butcher it ourselves, utilising as much as we possibly can. The meat, organs and bones becomes food for our family, friends and pets. The hides we tan and use for soft furnishings around our home. And yes, we honour the animal at times by putting his head on our wall – not as some symbol of power or ego, but to remember the experience and everything that came as a result of that hunt. 

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