We're coming up on fall, and I find myself with a bit of personal dilemma.
In my youth growing up in Texas I did a lot of hunting, mostly small game. When I moved to the big city of Dallas the opportunities for hunting disappeared. There is very little public land in Texas, so hunting is done on private land with owner permission. It can be a big business leasing property for the purposes of hunting.
After I had moved to Vermont it was a few years before I took up hunting again. There's a sizeable hunting population here, and as there is lots of public land, plenty of opportunities. By law, you can hunt on private land without owner permission unless the landowner has posted his land. Most hunters, however, will ask permission first as a courtesy; of course, there are assholes everywhere and in the hunting community as well. But a coworker introduced me to grouse hunting and I loved it.
The problem is the first of the Five Buddhist Precepts
, which is not to kill.
As with many religions, there are various ways in which this is interpreted. It seems pretty universal that you can't follow this precept absolutely. There are exceptions for stinging insects, germs and bacteria. There seems to be some debate on killing in self-defense. And while the Buddha told his followers not to kill, he did say it was allowable to eat meat under certain common circumstances.
Many Buddhists skip the whole issue by being vegetarians or even vegans. This means killing plants, but plants don't seem to be included in the precept as best as I can tell.
And then there's what I know about hunting.
Hunting is one of the tools used in wildlife management to keep populations of game animals healthy. For some game the limits are adjusted every year due to population variations, and there are even times when hunting of certain species is prohibited. Typically, the taking of large game is done on the males only, unless the population of the species has grown too large and unhealthy.
For various reasons the number of "natural" predators has diminished greatly, and does not provide an adequate check on the populations of some game. I hesitate to use that word "natural" as it seems to imply non-human predators. But, biologically speaking, we humans are also predators. I have a friend who says, "My eyes are on the front of my head, not on the sides," a characteristic of predators.
When it comes to hunting, I tend to err on the side of caution. For example, it is legal to hunt woodcock in Vermont, but there are so few of them that I don't feel right hunting them. (And then there's the problem that I don't like the taste of them, and I do not hunt what I don't eat.) I don't try to kill every individual I come across; leave some to reproduce.
There are the personal advantages. Hunting gets me out of the house, something I need to do and don't do enough. I really enjoy being out in the woods.
Of course you could say, "Why can't you just walk in the woods without killing anything?" and you'd have a good point. If you've never been hunting, there's a difference that is hard to explain. It isn't so much about the killing; it's the zone you get in when stalking and shooting. I really can't explain it more than that.
Wild game is healthier for you; it tends to be low in fat. If you are concerned about growth hormones, or antibiotics, or the treatment of farm animals, and whatnot of grocery store meat, you won't find that in wild game.
There's the argument of mercy. Is it better for a game animal to die a slow death from starvation, predation, or the elements? Or a have quick, painless death? (Another personal habit...if I'm not sure of a clean kill I won't shoot. It's why I don't think I could hunt with bow and arrow.)
I should probably say that, when it comes to grouse hunting, I'm a pretty poor hunter. I'm a better-than-average shot when I have time to aim, but in grouse hunting you've got to be good at the quick snap shot and I don't have that skill.
These are the thoughts that have been going through my head as hunting season approaches. Given how little I get outside, and with the problems of pain, it is doubtful I'll even feel like going, and all this is just a mind game. But it's a question that hangs around the back of my head.
Music in my head: Sweet Dreams Will Come
, Nanci Griffith and John Stewart