Original blog on Huffington Post:
This morning, I went for a walk on the beach. And from the bay, mere moments later, the muffled crack of guns. Three months of the twelve-month year, the shooting is a near-constant feature of being near the shore. The noise, which reaches into each room of my home, starts at dawn. Especially on weekends, in the predawn darkness I lie in bed hoping for the sound of heavy rain or wind enough to keep duck hunters home.
Unlike duck shooters, deer hunters perform a service. Absent wolves, the white-tailed deer that were once shot almost to extermination in our region have in the last few decades come back in such force that they create intense pressure on seedling trees and native shrubs, hazards to drivers, frustration for gardeners, sharply increased rates of Lyme disease, and such severe competition with each other for food that winter starvation likely causes them more suffering than a lethal gunshot. In short, deer hunting does some good. Plus, I’ve never heard of deer hunters intentionally leaving the deer they’ve shot. As far as I know, they’re all after meat.
Contrast duck hunters. I have seen duck hunters make no attempt to retrieve ducks they’ve killed or crippled. I have seen them throw ducks they’ve shot—but do not want—into the bushes and brush. Or just leave them on the beach among their spent shells. I have also found half a dozen hunter-killed wild geese tossed into the woods beside the road. I have found dying long-tailed ducks struggling after being shot (including one whose eye had just been shot out), while the “hunters” were standing in plain sight just a few hundred yards down the same beach, shooting at birds flying by, utterly disinterested in retrieving the dying birds or ending the suffering they’d inflicted. That time, they were shooting only about a hundred yards from the nearest houses, which is legal, but a clear public nuisance. Everything else I’ve just described is illegal, but where I live, it’s common.
Another time, I saw a boat motoring rapidly across the surface of the bay, charging groups of sitting waterfowl, with a shooter in the bow blasting at all the ducks trying to get airborne ahead of the fast-approaching hull (also illegal).
Apparently, they think all this is fun. I hate it.
Who does this? Not your average person. Average people who have indoor things to do, or who need to go shopping, people who like to be warm in winter, who don’t like to be wet when it’s cold out, who don’t like to keep still while their feet and fingers are uncomfortably numb; such people register low among the ranks of duck-hunters.
The edges of civilization, be it remote locales or mere shorelines, attract people who are not average. In winter, outside, it’s really only nature lovers and nature hunters. There’s some overlap in motivations: getting away from average people is one. Getting nearer to the seasons, and to the wildlife, are others. I share them all.
I am, by predisposition, a hunter. I used to train hawks and hunt with them, mainly for rabbits which I—and the hawks—ate. As a pre-teen I was fascinated by the possibility of hunting deer or birds. When I was 12, I shot a grackle with a pellet-gun. It never occurred to me that I might hit a bird and fail to kill it. Astonished, I saw the bird attempt to rise, and, disabled, drag itself into the undergrowth. Thus ended my personal interest in guns. I’m an avid fisherman, and I consider fishing to be merely hunting for animals with gills.
But fishing disturbs neither the neighbors nor all the fish in the area. It depends on the fish being able to feed undisturbed by the very boats that seek them. Duck hunting, though, frightens ducks from their best feeding locations and forces them to use up more of the precious energy they need to survive the cold.
On admittedly thin evidence, I believe the capacity for pain is higher in warm-blooded animals like ducks and people than it is in fish. Hooked fish act agitated. But crippled birds seem to really suffer, to show true misery.
Duck hunters I have known personally are likeable, admirable people. Some even devote their life’s work to wildlife conservation. Some hunting groups’conservation dollars are based on the idea that more ducks overall will mean more ducks to shoot, and that both are beautiful things.
But other duck hunters—the ones I most often see—strike me as slobs. In my region, they’re most shooting bay- and sea-ducks for fun, not for meat. They like to kill them but don’t want them. It’s target practice using living targets. Their mess and the wasted birds; there’s no excuse for it. And unlike deer hunting, which benefits people, the land, and the surviving deer, no justification for duck hunting rings true.
Yes, duck hunters pay for a lot of conservation. So do conservationists who don’t kill ducks. I invite the former to join the latter. There is too commonly in waterfowl hunters a blind spot for the suffering inflicted. And the waste.
What is the answer? As a lifelong advocate of fresh air and taking kids outdoors, my recommendation to those interested in this form of recreation is: stay inside. On the couch. Eating sugar and watching sit-coms and reality shows and playing video games. Safely indoors, out or harm’s way, develop your capacity for humane treatment of animals. If you must interact with animals, play with a puppy or get a parakeet. If you must go out, I suggest you challenge yourself to take up birding, which requires vastly more skill and knowledge, but still gives you an excuse to buy nice, warm boots and a cool camo jacket, and to get wet and cold anyway.
But if that just isn’t you, put yourself under house arrest where you’re less a menace. Or—go deer hunting.