Philosophy part 4: The Morality of Killing

After reading parts 1-3 I hope everyone (hunters, non-hunters, and anti-hunters) realize that I’ve given my pursuit quite a bit of consideration.

  • I have very good reasons for wanting to get high quality meat unavailable from our industrial meat growing and slaughtering operations.
  • Likewise, I have seen that an arrow can produce a far more peaceful death than a bullet.
  • Finally, I am very selective about what species I even endeavor to pursue based on ecological and ethical reasons.

In this post I want to talk about the act of killing itself. I have killed countless mosquitoes. I have on a few occasions accidentally run over squirrels.  I bought a nice leather jacket once. Years ago I purchased a good amount of meat at the grocery store or local butcher’s shop. All of those things boil down to killing. What’s worse, it’s the type of killing that almost nobody really thinks about.

When I go hunting I make a very conscious choice to go way out of my way to try to kill an animal. I think it’s good that the direct effect of being “successful” is front and center in one’s mind as they lace up their hunting boots. When I kill a specific animal I’d say my feelings are split between gratitude for all nutritional benefit I will receive, and remorse that a wild animal died so I could get it. I’ve never seen anyone shed a tear buying a steak wrapped in cellophane, but maybe they should.

I’ve studied the teachings of the Buddha, and I can clearly understand the philosophy behind not killing anything including insects. I think it’s admirable that some people can live with this level of consciousness. The main takeaway I have from these studies is the idea of “wholly good.” It could be looked at this way: If I kill a pig and eat it, it is not wholly good. It was clearly bad for the pig, and even though I received nutritional benefit, I had to kill the animal so that was not entirely good for me either.

This is wonderful when you are sitting on a pillow and considering the way that people get their food in first world counties today. Where it starts to get tricky is when you are looking at a male black bear and considering it might kill a dozen cubs per year. It doesn’t seem to me that letting that bruiser walk is really doing a favor to their herd or the ecosystem. Killing that bear is actually beneficial for everyone but that individual bear.

As a hunter out in nature, you are faced with many questions about what you should kill and what you should let pass. One example from a couple months ago; I had a coyote right in front of me in Wyoming on the opening day of pronghorn season. Ranchers (especially sheep ranchers) would consider it a great kindness for a hunter to kill all of them that they could. Moreover getting it and it’s smell away from the animals it was spooking (the ones I wanted to hunt) would have helped me too. Alas, I never even considered shooting him. I took a few comical pictures of him dancing around a waterhole with a doe pronghorn and I’ll cherish that memory forever.

I just got back from a week long hog hunt, and when I say hog I really mean to say feral pig. A very destructive animal planted in the new world to be a source of protein for the people who would inhabit this land in the future. In essence, a “put and take fishery” except for pigs. One day I had an immature sow, maybe 75 pounds within 5 yards of me. Why would I do harm to an animal that hasn’t even begun to participate in the cycle of life? A pig twice that size would yield much more meat meaning that I could kill half as much and still eat just the same. A few days before I had a male boar just coming into his prime walk in very close to me. He was asserting himself as a alpha boar by marking out his territory, but he lacked any nicks in his ears, or deep scars on his sides common with older boars. He has all the structure to support the heavy shields that will develop with time, and the heavy layer of fat that will come as well. He’s just still a little trim, I’m guessing around 250 pounds. He walked straight into my shooting lane at 10 yards and stood broadside. My bow was ready, and I could have easily taken a shot. So why didn’t I? Because he is just coming into his prime. He might have mated a few sows already, but the gene pool hasn’t been significantly diversified since the passing of the old alpha boar that has been running that swamp since 2009. If he lives a few years more it will be great for the herd.

When a hunter has a weapon in their hand they have a great deal to consider before they ever get to the point of trying to find a shot. To me this is a process of trying to rule out a shot instead of trying to find a way to justify it. If I can disqualify an entire animal for some ecological or “health of the herd” reason, that makes things much easier. Last spring I had a big group of mature hogs come marauding into my stand one evening. There were 13 hogs in total, and since no animal was off-limits for either of the reasons above I quickly settled down to the two I would take a shot on if presented. The oldest, biggest sow would produce the highest yield of meat. She was also wise and held back in the bushes for a long time after her offspring came browsing in. The other was the smallest male, about 150 pounds. It would be a great size to eat, and given the number of larger boars present I knew he had little chance of being part of the gene pool for the foreseeable future. Neither of those two hogs presented a clean shot opportunity, and so I let them all continue on their way.

I hope this helps folks who do not hunt to understand what many of us hunters go through before we ever decide to try to take an animal while afield. For many of us it’s much more involved than what the hunting television shows would have you believe. For a little deeper look into some of the emotions I experience while afield, I would invite you to read another hunting story I wrote a while back.

Philosophy part 3: Feral and Least Concern Animals

Did you know the “wild hogs” in North America were planted here by Europeans intended to be a food source for future settlers? That’s right, we basically left the gate open on the fence so the hogs could fend for themselves until such a time that we needed them to eat.

I hunt feral pigs along the Savannah River, a location that had Spanish hogs (Sus Scrofa) planted there in 1520 by Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon. There were of course many other releases over many voyages, but I like to think that the DNA strain of these animals could go back almost to the discovery of the new world itself.

In retrospect it’s easy to see all of the damage done by releases of non-native species of different types on different continents. Just look at the feral cats and feral rabbits of Australia as a simple example. Our feral hogs have contributed to the extinction of ground nesting birds, and are currently one of the biggest threats to the eggs of sea turtles.

This is probably a good time to mention Conservation Status. If we look at the wikipedia pages for these two animals we will notice a big difference between them. The Green Sea Turtle is listed as being Critically Endangered, while the Wild Hog is listed as Least Concern. Often I’ll hear non-hunters say something like “all of God’s creatures deserve to live.” I think it’s a beautiful sentiment in principle. On the other hand, does that one hog get to eat those 200 eggs and not only kill 200 turtles before they hatch, but also push an entire species closer to extinction? While we estimate that hogs are responsible for 1.5 Billion dollars of damage in the USA every year, I don’t think that comes close to the real cost when we look at destruction of native flora and fauna.

Considering that I am not a vegetarian, I consider my choice to hunt destructive feral animals and to eat their meat as the highest possible good. I’ve had some wonderful debates with people who identify as vegan anti-hunters, and even they are quick to understand the seriousness of this particular problem.

As with all things that pull at our heart strings, discussions go downhill when we start talking about animals that we consider “cute”. Let’s consider the Black Bear. Here is an animal that many consider cute, or to have human-like traits, but it is also listed as Least Concern. There is no chance that black bears are going to go extinct, their range is actually increasing in size at a startling rate. Bear hunters sometimes get a dose of anti-hunter hate for the idea of killing one of them. I suspect they don’t know enough to consider that mature male bears can kill a dozen cute little baby bears each year. Why would a bear do that? Research has shown that sows can go into heat immediately after losing their last cub. It appears that male bears will kill cubs just to have more opportunities to have sex with their mothers. I’ve never pursued bears as quarry before, but after what I’ve read on this subject, and after having eaten a good deal of wonderful bear meat, I could see hunting for mature male bears someday.

It’s easy for me to come to the conclusion that hunting feral animals is both good for the environment and for my own sustenance. It’s also easy to see where selectively harvesting animals in the Least Concern category can also be beneficial for far more than just my own selfish interests. So where does one draw the line? Clearly I’d never hunt a rhinoceros. Would I hunt something that was Vulnerable? Near Threatened? By understanding that Near Threatened is really just a category for a species in decline, the answer is no. Least Concern is a broad category that includes animals expanding at a rate that could make them a concern in the opposite direction!!!

I believe as an educated and aware hunter I can make both a positive impact on the ecosystems that I hunt in, and I can nurture my body at the same time.  Wild animals do not get injected with hormones or other chemicals. They do not get penned up and force fed genetically modified foods. The quality of the meat available for those who are willing to work very hard for it far surpasses the very best meat commercially available at any price point.



Humans are not outside the food chain, and some of our rash decisions have had massive negative impacts on the natural world. We must do our best to live well in this integrated world.

Philosophy part 2: Why I Bowhunt

In Part 1 I talked about why I feel driven to eat wild game instead of commercial meat. Today I’m going to describe my path from rifle hunting to bowhunting, and hunting with a longbow specifically. This was a very conscious decision based on my personal ethics.

I grew up just down the road from Paul Schafer, but I never met him. Most of the hunters I grew up around felt that bowhunting was an immoral way to pursue big game, so I didn’t have a chance to socialize with any bowhunters to learn what it was really about. I really wonder what turns my life might have taken had I met Paul when I was a young teenager.

During the years of hunting with rifles I cleanly and swiftly killed several animals. Actually recounting them now, all of them were killed with a single bullet and recovered within 100 yards. While my personal successes were text book, I was on several hunts that didn’t turn out nearly as well. I saw other hunters miss shots for various reasons. I saw hunters get bad hits requiring long tracking journeys, a few included lost animals. I saw three occasions where wounded animals were kicked out of beds and additional shots were required to bring them down.

Twenty years later I realized that I could no longer support modern “farming” systems. I knew I would have to return to hunting for my own meat or become a vegetarian. I found myself at a moral crossroads. One option was that I could go back to hunting with a rifle with that big BANG noise and the animals getting hit with a projectile so hard it can damage a great deal of precious meat. Another option seemed intriguing to me, converting to bowhunting. As for becoming a vegetarian, I was determined to avoid that if at all possible.

Bowhunting wasn’t an easy choice for me given my well ingrained prejudices against it. I invested a lot of time researching how bowhunters go about the pursuit, and even more time dissecting hunting stories from the point of the shot to the recovery of the animal. Most of what I read provided very little helpful information. I watched several videos posted online, and most of that was initially useless as well.

As time went on and I read more and more about bowhunting, I realized two things started to become clearer. First, is that the guys shooting old wooden arrows with 2 blade heads seemed to get more consistent “pass through” shots leading to a faster death. Second, the guys shooting longbows and recurves sometimes shot animals and they didn’t seem to know they were hit. The more research I did on quiet “traditional” bows and heavy arrows with super sharp two blade heads, the more confident I became that this was the most ethical way to kill an animal. I purchased a longbow and began learning the skills needed to bowhunt ethically.

With my longbow I have shot through animals that didn’t know they were hit. More commonly, I see animals look at where the arrow hits the ground than towards me and the sound of my bowstring. My game recovery distance has averaged HALF of what my rifle shot animals ran with that big dose of adrenaline after the gunshot.

With my personal experiences over the past several years, I am now confident I made a great decision to become a bowhunter.  I believe that my bow and arrow are more humane than any slaughter house practices, or the bullet from a gun. This is why I am a bowhunter.