Animal groups' criticism bounces off hunters who feed hungry

By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, December 16, 2009

During a recent deer hunt in Southern Maryland, Blaise Higgs killed a doe and then took it to a butcher shop for dressing. After setting aside several pounds of venison for his family, he donated the rest to an organization that helps feed the hungry.

"A lot of people are having a difficult time putting food on the table, so if you can help them, why not?" said Higgs, 38, a resident of Mechanicsville and a hunter since he was 6.

In the long-running dispute with animal rights advocates over the ethics of deer hunting, Higgs and other sportsmen have found what they believe to be the moral high ground: stocking food banks and soup kitchens with their kills.

One day last week, about 50 people dined on venison chili at the Loaves & Fishes Soup Kitchen, which operates out of St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Leonardtown.

"We call it 'Bambi chili,' " said Shirley Morton, a volunteer cook.

Higgs's bounty was distributed through Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, a national outreach ministry headquartered in Williamsport, Md. Steve White, a coordinator for the group, said participants in Maryland provided enough food for 497,800 meals between June 2008 and this past July.

Animal rights activists are not impressed.

"I find it offensive that people would try to justify immoral behavior by claiming that something good comes out of it," said Bruce Friedrich, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "They can't defend ruthlessly blowing away animals for fun, so they come up with these ancillary benefits."

The controversy over deer hunting has heated up in the Washington area in recent months, with several jurisdictions approving deer hunts in public parks as a way to control the herds.

But groups including PETA and the Humane Society of the United States have expressed strong opposition to the hunts, calling them cruel to animals and dangerous for human beings.

They point to the shooting death of a college student near Roanoke last month by a hunter who says he mistook the student for a deer and, on Saturday, the death of a woman in a hunting party in King George's County, Va., who was struck in the head by a pellet.

Animal rights advocates argue that sterilization would be a more effective and humane way to control deer.

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