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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Lindholdt: Trophy hunting driving away would-be hunters

Sept. 25, 2022 Updated Wed., Sept. 28, 2022 at 6:47 a.m.

Members of the Scoggin Hole big game camp gather around the campfire at the site the family has occupied in the Blue Mountains each big-game season since for eight decades and five generations.  (COURTESY PHOTO)
Members of the Scoggin Hole big game camp gather around the campfire at the site the family has occupied in the Blue Mountains each big-game season since for eight decades and five generations. (COURTESY PHOTO)
By Paul Lindholdt For The Spokesman-Review

This is an opinion piece written by Paul Linholdt, a professor, writer and former hunter. For another perspective read “Trophy hunting actually key to conservation,” by biologist Bart George.

With admirable objectivity, outdoors editor Eli Francovich recapped a survey about hunting that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife commissioned in July. We Washingtonians returned 965 of the agency surveys.

The agency concluded that “approval of legal, regulated hunting has decreased substantially.” Moreover, a mere 4% of Washington residents hunted in the past year. The agency promises to analyze those findings. As a former hunter and native Washingtonian, I have some analyses of my own.

The College of Natural Resources at North Carolina State University reported last year that “Hunting participation peaked in 1982, when nearly 17 million hunters purchased 28.3 million licenses. Today, however, only 11.5 million people in the United States actually hunt.”

Such a decline in hunters nationwide is dizzying when we consider that the nation had 100 million fewer people in 1982 than today.

Sex, race and age offer explanations. Research in 2020 by the Pew Charitable Trusts found “90% of hunters are men, 97% are white and most are 45 and older – a sign that future funding losses could be steep as more age out of the sport and as the country becomes more racially diverse.”

The WDFW results alarmed a Spokane-based organization – the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council. Its executive director, Marie Neumiller, when she heard about the vanishing approval of hunting, responded, “The hunting community needs to do more outreach.”

Her response was a head-scratcher for me in several ways. The INWC’s annual Big Horn Show, its “premier event,” is all outreach already, as I know from attending and seeing its sad horn displays and games.

Big horns and antlers are the trophies that so many hunters chase and crave. Around the American West, thousands of pickup-truck drivers fetishize antlers and horns with window decals. In Asia, horns believed to enhance potency and vigor are powdered and eaten or taken in drinks.

If the INWC hopes to promote more than trophy hunting, it would be wise to dump the name of its premier event. The falling approval of all hunting overlaps with disapproval of trophy hunting. In trophy hunting, souvenirs made from animal parts memorialize the experience.

Trophy hunters leave a bitter taste. Everyone knows about the dentist in Minneapolis who shot Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe in 2015. His guides lured the semi-tame animal out of the park where it attracted tourists. We also know about Jimmy John Liautaud and his namesake sandwich chain. Liautaud has been hunting rhinos, elephants, lynx and zebras for more than 20 years. He gained bad fame by posing on a dead elephant and flashing a thumbs-up. A 2019 boycott of his shops ensued.

To try to outlaw trophy hunting in the U.K. and the U.S., people are supporting alternative groups and projects such as Ban Trophy Hunting and Born Free. Unlike the sacred right to bear arms, the right to kill big animals for sport and trophies enjoys no constitutional guarantee.

One of the reasons I gave up hunting is the dirty conduct I saw. Protected species such as owls and grebes were slaughtered, the carcasses of legal species let go to waste and plenty of shots fired illegally from roads.

This newspaper reported on a robotic deer that national officials see the need to deploy on private lands to bust poachers. It twitches its head and tail like an undercover female detective sending out come-hither vibes.

At a symposium in Paris, I spoke alongside an Englishman who wrote a book that championed foxhunting. He and I locked horns hard. In his favorite sport, costumed men on horseback and hounds kill wild foxes. English author T.H. White, who wrote the great novel “The Once and Future King,” saw men dig up a fox and toss it to hounds that had chased it to its burrow. A circle of hunters “screeched them on,” he noted with sad disapproval.

Early in this millennium, Scotland, Wales and England banned the sport of foxhunting. Late in the last millennium, by popular vote, we Washingtonians banned baiting and hounding of cougars and bears. Those unfair and unsustainable practices continue nonetheless as “management.”

My misgivings about hunting extend beyond trophies and hounding. Slob hunters, or illicit shooters, chafe me most of all. My friend Rich Landers and I traded views in these pages in 2014.

Rich pointed out that conservation efforts suffer massively when license revenues are lost. That fact ought to concern everyone who cares about ecological sustainability in these United States. For the sake of the environment, I agree, we need to keep the ethical hunters on board.

A major problem facing hunting since 1982 is a lack of access to prime wildlife habitat. Illicit shooters mean fewer acres of private lands will be accessible. Who wants to enable poaching or undergo property damage?

The downward trajectory of hunters is easy to puzzle out if you have much experience afield. The rising cost of gas, shells, licenses, tags and guns compounds the supply-chain shortfalls that grew from the pandemic. Those shortfalls raised the cost of shells and made them difficult to get.

Fred Zitterkopf is a hunter, a Vietnam vet, a retired military engineer and a volunteer for the INWC in this region. He works out at my gym where we met. One in every three hunters, I said to Fred, is a scofflaw. He told me I was wrong, and I yielded to his authority.

Fred’s solution is to get away from it all to remote counties like Pend Oreille in Eastern Washington. That massive pocket of undeveloped lands borders vast tracts of British Columbia to the north and the wilds of North Idaho to the east. Some 58% of Pend Oreille County is federal land. Those same public lands right-of-center commissioners and legislators would sell to the highest bidders to bring in commerce and increase the tax base.

Aristotle wrote in his “Nichomachean Ethics,” “As well as plain, unthinking brutishness and vice, which are the opposite of virtue, people may also do wrong through incontinence, or a lack of self-control.” There lies the nub of a conundrum: Some hunters have too little self-control.

As I considered this topic, I promised I would not offend friends, generate enemies or advance a holier-than-thou attitude. I would not scold, dictate, guilt-trip or impugn.

A favorite line from Shakespeare’s plays appears in “Twelfth Night.” There, Sir Toby Belch poses the question, “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” In other words, it is fruitless to impose one’s values, no matter how virtuous, on others.

Hunting will continue, no matter what. The best we can hope is that it is done ethically, sustainably, and by diverse people besides us white males.

Paul Lindholdt is Professor of English and Philosophy at Eastern Washington University and the author of the forthcoming book “Interrogating Travel.”

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