Addressing anti-hunting sentiment

A large black bear helps himself to birdseed.
A large black bear helps himself to birdseed. For the CDT

Hunting comes to the forefront each fall. Articles about the sport and photos of hunters with their trophies find their way into the pages of many Pennsylvania newspapers, including the Centre Daily Times. Sometimes, the stories even make the front page. This is natural, because hunting is big business in our state, with many license-buying participants.

Unfortunately, the prominence of hunting in the fall and early winter also helps to spawn negative letters to the editor. Hunting offends some people. A case in point: In mid-November, outdoor writer Tom Venesky penned an article for the Times-Leader, in Wilkes-Barre. The article was about Devon Woolfolk harvesting a 502-pound bear with a bow and arrow in Luzerne County. Venesky’s article was reprinted in the Centre Daily Times. Locally, the article spawned at least two negative letters to the editor.

These letters express important feelings, of which all hunters should take note, and to which they should be able to respond politely and intelligently. We hunt at the pleasure of the vast majority of people who do not hunt. One should always remember this — that is, if you want to continue to hunt. It is our job to help others understand what hunting is all about.

I am a hunter, but when I write about hunting or make hunting-related posts on social media, I take care to be sensitive to the feelings of non-hunters. In writing and sharing photos, I always communicate respect for the game animal. I never show blood. If you care about hunting, this should be a priority for you, too.

Perhaps your attitude is, “I don’t care what other people think,” or you convey through your photos or words posted on social media the image that you “just like to kill stuff.” This is a problem — it turns people off, and it helps to fashion non-hunters into anti-hunters.

I hunt because I like to hunt, not because I like to kill animals. There is a difference. Yes, I kill game animals during the legal seasons — hunting was part of the family culture in which I was raised, and my family had many dinners from the game that we brought home. However, killing is not my reason for being in the woods. I love being in the outdoors, to experience all of the wonders that nature has to offer.

So, what do you say to the person who demonstrates through their letters or spoken words that they do not understand hunting? Let me pull a few quotes from those letters.

“The truth is that an animal has no chance in front of a hunter armed with a compound bow or a gun,” wrote J. Dunlap of Bellefonte.

On the surface, this is true, but the letter-writer does not understand that it was a successful “hunt” that put the bowhunter in front of the bear, and then skill that results in a successful shot. In Pennsylvania, only about one out of 50 hunters — or 2 percent — gets a bear each year. The chances with a bow are much lower. Hunting is about the hunt, and shooting an animal is only a small part of a hunt.

Paula Williams-Hutton, of Philipsburg, wrote, “Bears are beautiful creatures. They are usually not destructive toward property.”

Bears are beautiful creatures, but apparently this letter-writer has no idea how destructive that they can be. On the website of Venesky’s own paper, one reader thanked the hunter.

“Thank you Devon. I have a feeling this is the bruin that has been targeting our trash cans the past five years. He destroyed two trash cans ... lots of other times he just had fun strewing trash over our yard. [It happened] more times than I can count.” The damage stopped after the hunter shot the bear.

Any farmer I have asked about bears usually dislikes them because of the damage that they do to corn fields, oats and orchards. I talked with one non-hunting gentleman at the Huntingdon bear check station in November. He was there because he was hoping that a hunter would shoot the bear that had been raiding his chicken coop and killing his chickens.

I live in the middle of the woods by choice and I tolerate a lot of animal damage. Just on my property alone, bears have destroyed over $300 worth of bird feeders and a plastic barrel filled with duck food. One fall, a bear picked my pumpkins and then just rolled them around, apparently playing with them. The claw marks on the pumpkins made for a great conversation piece, but their value as Halloween jack-o’-lanterns was zero. Another time, a bear flattened the fence surrounding my garden. On still a different occasion, a bear destroyed my small peach tree to eat the fruit.

The length of bear hunting seasons is based in part on the number of bear complaints that the Pennsylvania Game Commission receives — and it receives many.

This brings us to the most important question raised by Dunlap and how it could be answered — “I have but one question to ask about this killing: Why?”

It may seem counterintuitive, but if you have ever enjoyed watching a bear in the wild, or a deer or elk, you should thank a hunter. These animals thrive in Pennsylvania because of hunters. Hunters have purchased well over 1 million acres of wildlife habitat in Pennsylvania. How many acres have the Friends of Animals, the Humane Society or other anti-hunting groups purchased? Zero.

Hunters also fund the Game Commission — the agency that has officers to enforce wildlife laws and protect animals. The Game Commission receives no general tax dollars.

It was not too long ago that bears were considered vermin in most states, and they could be trapped or shot any time of the year by anyone. Hunters lobbied to have them protected and managed.

Pennsylvania’s bear population was estimated at 2,000 to 3,000 in 1915. Now, just a little over 100 years later, we have 20,000 bears. Without hunting, the bear population would double in two or three years. Without laws to protect bears, their population would diminish.

Considering all of the damage that bears can do, just how many bears might Pennsylvania safely support? How much crop damage can be written off? Do you want a bear killing farm animals, raiding your garden or destroying your bird feeders?

Hunting is part of nature. It provides healthy “organic” food for hundreds of thousands of people in Pennsylvania alone, and it is the best way to control the bear and deer populations.

Whether they know it or not, the letter-to-the-editor writers need people like you and me to hunt. If you care about the future of hunting, I hope that you, like me, will respectfully and politely take time to help them understand. Our sport depends on it.

Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com