Roy MacGregor October 29 1979


Roy MacGregor October 29 1979


Roy MacGregor

In the space of a few hours on Saturday, my father saw death from two sides. In the afternoon, near a deserted potato farm to the east of Ontario’s Algonquin Park, he watched with woodsman’s pride as I used the Christmas present he had given me, a Remington .410, to sheer the upper skull off a male partridge, killing the bird instantly. We returned with our game in the evening, only to find that Tiny, my father’s calfhigh mongrel, had been attacked and killed by a timber wolf. Tiny, 10 pounds of lick and bluff, never had a chance. And it made the old woodsman very sad.

But let it not be said this partridge is without his own mourners. His passing will be noted from one ocean to the next, by the Fredericton-based Kindness Club that believes “hunting is a relic of the past”; by the Greenpeace Foundation in Vancouver, where the argument is simple and succinct: “Hunting is killing.” The bird will not return from the dead, no matter how spirited the keening; he will, rather, become one more digit among the six million or so living creatures of Canada that will fall to the guns of autumn, 1979. In the end, his death will have only the weight of his feathers when it comes to stunting the vast popularity of hunting in the civilized ’70s. This country’s 790,000 hunters in 1961 doubled to 1,438,000 in 1975 and, according to a recent Weekend Magazine poll, now includes fully 10 per cent of the current population of 23,597,600. The number of hunting licences has risen by approximately 720,000 in the past two years and such licences vary from giving rights to half of a moose in Newfoundland to fully 10 deer per hunter on British Columbia’s remote Queen Charlotte islands.

To kill an astonishing

number of the country’s most natural resources (see graph, page46),these hunters will spend upward of $500 million on everything from shells, guns, moose calls, thermal underwear, hard liquor, guides, accommodation, airplanes, CB radios, four-wheel-drive vehicles and even birth-control drops to make sure the bitch hound doesn’t come into heat during the deer hunt. And yet, perhaps because of the trees, it remains the hidden sport.

The late Canadian author Gregory Clark referred to it as “my form of lunacy.” A hunter in New Brunswick last week told Maclean 's he liked hunting because “you don’t have to wash your face.” Whatever the appeal-good clean fun or fondling a gun—personally letting the blood of a living creature has quickened the hearts of man since (and probably long before) Genesis 1:28 gave him “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” But what is new about hunting is the rise of an international antihunting force. Earlier this month members of Greenpeace went to B.C.’s 1.67million-acre Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Park and, using a helicopter and threats to throw themselves in the line of fire, disrupted trophy hunters moving in on the caribou herd. “We know the caribou herd is declining due to hunting,” says Greenpeace President Patrick Moore. “They’re taking the strongest, most dominant males—the lifeblood of the population.”

A somewhat similar situation exists in Manitoba, where the Conservative government of Sterling Lyon decided this year to open up Spruce Woods Provincial Park to elk hunting despite a reasoned brief from the Manitoba Naturalist Society arguing that

doing so would result in a 50to-75-percent death rate among the park’s 150 or so elk. The society’s president, Phil Horch, remains convinced the hunt was permitted solely because of intense pressure from the hunters. “Hunters are being catered to out of all proportion to their numbers and to the disadvantage of other recreational groups,” says Horch. “The elk hunt has nothing to do with complaints of crop depredation. It’s strictly to make hunters happy and it isn’t making a lot of other people at all happy.”

It is all too easy to create an image of the hunter as evil, greedy, inconsiderate, possibly even dim-witted. On Oct.

1 near Keswick, Ontario, a fall fire destroyed 2,000 acres of farmland andbush lot. That same day six hunters were charged with arson, the police claiming they set the fire deliberately, merely to drive frightened deer into their telescopic cross hairs. On Lac St. Louis near Montreal on an autumn weekend, six sails were torn by shotgun blasts: the sailboats had thoughtlessly tacked too tight to the duck blinds.

In Manitoba, late this September, a Portage la Prairie farmer discovered two hunters ignoring his NO HUNTING signs, asked them to leave and was shot in the arm for his troubles. And that doesn’t even touch upon the ludicrous accounts: two years ago in British Columbia a young woman had a horse shot out from under her; the year before that, a proud hunter pulled his van into a game station and asked the officer on duty what he thought of his moose. “Not much,” said the officer. “It’s wearing horseshoes.” Actually, it was a mule. And in Kitchener, Ontario, this year, Joe Herzig Jr. demanded that the elementary-school librarian remove The Gnats of Knotty Pine from the shelves. It is a children’s book, an imag-

inary tale of gnats defeating “horrible hunters” who arrive on vehicles with OGRES written on their licence plates. The librarian refused to remove the book. Field & Stream magazine calls the act “comparably obscene” to her placing pornographic material within reach of small hands.

In October the Canada geese come

down from James Bay in chevron waves, their calls in the distance not unlike those of children at play. Before dawn, where the throat of the St. Lawrence River tightens, hunters cut through the fog with spotlights, placing decoys, silhouettes, huddling quiet and frozen into their blinds with their wooden calls and 12-gauge pump shotguns. On this particular morning the mist lingers on the Canadian side, the Canadian hunters cursing the muffled tattoo of fire from the clearer American side. But suddenly four geese cut through the fog in a diamond formation, suddenly there, exquisitely graceful. “Now!” Graydon Spencer, my hunting companion, whispers as they float slowly over our blind. Both guns explode. A flank bird folds, then drops. Suddenly, without grace. Suddenly dead.

But there is also the responsible hunter. “We might get one and we might not get one,” Spencer had said the night before as we huddled on a bitterly cold van floor. “That doesn’t matter. It’s seeing them that’s the best part.” When we did get one, he raced from the blind before the downed bird hit the water, high-stepping 100 feet into the frigid river to make sure the bird was dead, not wounded. It was the only bird fired at all day, though hundreds more flew within sight but

not range. “Never aim at anything,” the Kenata, Ontario, shipper said later in the day, “unless you can kill it and you really want to eat it.”

Like small mould that ruins good bread, the tainted portion of hunters has a disturbing effect on the larger body. Little attention is paid to such things as the 1974 Saskatchewan study that found an impressive majority of hunters believed a day of bird-hunting without finding game was still a satisfactory experience. “I’ve never had an unsuccessful hunt,” says Rick Morgan, executive director of the 18,500-member Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. “But there are lots I return from empty-handed.” There are hundreds of thousands of hunters such as these two and like John Carlyle, a 33year-old teacher from Winnipeg, Manitoba, who has hunted with his family since he was young and continues to hunt as an adult “because of the outdoors, and definitely because of the skill involved and the thrill of the chase.”

Jim Strachan, of Boisetown, New Brunswick, has hunted for 40 of his 54 years simply because he likes guns and loves the woods in autumn. “I don’t even have a particular desire to kill anything,” says Strachan. Another longtime hunter, George McKnight of Prince George, B.C., says, “I shot my first deer when I was 13. It was food for the family I was staying with. Food is still part of the reason I hunt, but that’s only one aspect. There’s the being there, the outdoors, the companionship.” Two hunters who have already killed their moose this year are Réal Ouellet and Ron Morand, both from Ear Falls, Ontario, who were hunting separately but arrived in the same day at the Red Lake area checking station. “It’s a challenge every year,” said Ouellet. “And I’m always ready for that day.” Morand, who killed two moose, claimed: “It’s not the killing. It’s getting out in the fresh air with my friends—and drinking a bit of whisky.”

None of that sounds harmful, but it remains that hunting has a severe image problem. It is caused by what the responsible hunters call “the slob”— someone whose irresponsible manner is compounded by the fact that he carries a weapon capable of tragic destruction. Buried inside the Oct. 1 edition of The Winnipeg Tribune, a two-paragraph item begins: “A 12-year-old girl died following a shooting incident Sunday near Elphinstone . . .” But it is not just shooting at other people that concerns the responsible hunter: it is shooting at anything that moves or makes a sound, from cattle to hydro transformers. The contempt with which irresponsible hunters are viewed is demonstrated by

the action of Rick Morgan last November, when he turned up four hours late for a federation meeting. He had just spent half his day tracking down, cornering and arranging the arrest of two “hunters” he saw firing at crows from their car window.

Much of the blame is placed on the lack of strict testing to acquire a yearlong hunting licence. In Germany, a hunter is a graduate of a severe sixmonth course. In New Brunswick, it is simply a matter of placing $4.50 on the table for a deer licence. In 1974 British Columbia became the strictest, requiring each new hunter to take a 20-hour course, and the results speak for themselves: in 1971,16 people died in hunting accidents; last year, only three.

But it will take more than testing to change the public view. What isn’t regarded as sexistemdash;“Do your wife a favor,” an ad reads in the current Outdoor Canada magazine, “leave home for a week”emdash;is traditionally perceived as unnecessarily evil. The Romans “hunted” wild animals in the amphitheatre. The life accomplishment of John George II, of Saxony, a 17th-century nobleman, was the personal slaughter of more than 40,000 deer. He was almost matched by Ireland’s Sir St. George Gore emdash;how appropriateemdash;who is best remembered for his 1854 hunting trip to the United States where, during one encampment only, he quickly dispatched 6,000 buffalo and 105 grizzlies.

The federal government provides a printout of the average Canadian hunteremdash;98.5 per cent male, 31.5 years old, better educated than average, twothirds married, three-quarters with kids, two-thirds urbanemdash;but it fails to consider the hunter who lifts his sights from a cow moose thinking there might be a calf in need of her, or who donates the $14.5 million Ducks Unlimited will spend on some 211 projects around Canada this year, each one protecting the threatened habitats of the waterfowl population.

The dilemma is that any clear picture is muddied by the war between hunter and anti-hunter. When Paul Newman speaks out for the American Friends of Animals, deploring the waste of wildlife, Field Stream fires back in an editorial, accusing Newman of wasting valuable gas by racing around in useless circles. The lines have been drawn and hardened beyond reason, and all because there has yet to be an acceptable answer to what the 19th-century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham once posed: “The question is not can [animals] reason, nor can they talk, but can they suffer?”

“In order to eat,” Gregory Clark once wrote, “you have to take a life, whether

a dove or a potato, a lamb or a peach.” Anyone who has ever seen cattleemdash;more disturbingly, hogsemdash;in a slaughterhouse knows there is terror, pain and a fight in any animal’s death. But death, the final answer, remains more an original question, and all talk of hunting must shift uncomfortably around it. The governmentsemdash;which prefer the word “harvest” to “kill” emdash;are, without exception, much in favor of hunting, for reasons both economical and concerning wildlife management. “Blood from a deer,”

says F.J. Payne, manager of Wildlife Resources in the Nova Scotia department of lands and forests, “is not much different than blood from a steer or blood from a rat.”

“It’s all because of Walt Disney,” says Rick Morgan of the Ontario hunters group. “You know, wildlife taking on a personality. We call that ‘the Bambi Syndrome.’ But it’s a heck of a lot better to die from a hunter’s bullet than from overpopulation, disease and predators. It’s not so cute to see Bambi

starving and down on his knees.”

“In the end,” says Tom Hughes, Morgan’s executive counterpart at the Ontario Humane Society, “it all boils down to the fact that sport hunting results in millions suffering by crippling, wounding, lead poisoning, bad hunting practices.” Even some expert hunters will admit to a 50-per-cent “cripple loss” for ducks and geese. And the U.S. government estimates that up to three million ducks, geese and swans die a slow, painful death each year by eating lead shot—part of the 12 million pounds of missed shot that fall each year in the marshes and rivers of North American w waterfowl country. z

There are, of course, counter-arguid ments. Prairie farmers have millions of g dollars worth of crops destroyed each £ year by migrating waterfowl and it is d now not uncommon to see acetylene ex| ploders strategically placed in fields to § simulate shotgun blasts every few min00 utes. In Oak Hammock Marsh outside Winnipeg, some 250,000 geese are expected to land this year for feeding; last year they caused $300,000 in local crop damage and it got to the point where the government was forced to pay “scarecrows” $40 a day just to sit in nearby fields and fire blanks into the air.

There is also the question of food: if

someone kills for food, he is certainly not the same as someone who kills for antlers. But it is rarely cheap food—ask any of the 800 hunters who paid $800 each for three days of goosehunting at the government-aided Cree camps on James Bay this fall. “Anyone who kids themselves that they hunt for food is crazy,” says hunter John Carlyle.

“You could eat filet mignon for less.” He’s right: a Toronto hunter who goes to Northern Ontario and bags a 1,200pound bull moose will pay about $5 per pound for his meat.

Frustrated hunters sometimes say

that trying to explain the pleasures of their own sport to a non-hunter is much like trying to describe sex to a eunuch.

As always, it is best left to the people themselves to say what it is they feel. “I hunt as a student, not a missionary,” says Ottis Logue, a Fredericton consulting engineer. For him it is the sights, smells, quiet and companionship of the woods. As for hunting’s bad image, “It’s completely distorted by a vociferous minority who picture people like me as monsters who chew the heads off animals. I think hunters are some of the best conservationists.”

Logue is a hunter. He knows it is his lot to preach only to the already converted. And he and all the other two million or so Canadian hunters would appreciate what Reg Simpson, of Brockville, Ont., meant when he talked about the five Canada geese he bagged on the shores of the St. Lawrence two weeks ago. “I’ll not likely see another day like this in my life,” Simpson said as he cleaned and hung the last of his limit. A hunter would nod in agreement. An anti-hunter would add one thing: nor will the geese.

With files from Peter Carlyle-Gordge in Winnipeg, David Folster in Fredericton, Ann MacGregor in Toronto and other correspondents