Two complaints this week about hunting.
Ralph Rillon of Seabrook, Md., enjoyed a recent article on Canada goose hunting, which he found informative, but then characterized his view of a goose hunt this way:
"How can civilized people find sport in hiding like savages, luring (geese) with their own sounds, then shoot them from the sky and find some sort of pleasure from this?"
And Mike Galloway of Arlington suggested that I "please refrain from endorsing the brutal, malicious, careless ways of the hunter."
Galloway added, "When someone destroys something man-made they call him a vandal; when they destroy something God made they call him a sportsman."
Rillon and Galloway raise issues that will not be resolved as long as civilized humans and wild animals share the same earth.
But having recently returned from a successful hunting trip, I feel in a frame of mind to defend hunting, even though it probably won't do a thing to bridge the gap between those who hunt and those who oppose it.
Monday, two friends and I stood around a camp stove on a farm in Washington County, Md., smelling the aroma of peppers, onions, garlic, rabbit and pigeon meat sizzling in olive oil.
The farm owner had said he had a problem with pigeons taking over his cattle barn and asked us to shoot some if we could. But he said he was trying to foster development of quail, and if we bumped into any he asked us not to shoot at them.
Our real interest was rabbits. Tom Hardesty brought along two fine beagles, Sweetie and Lady, who spent the morning sniffing around the fence rows and bawling when they struck a rabbit trail.
There's nothing particularly pretty about the shooting of a rabbit. There is, however, something surpassingly good about a day spent tramping around farm fields that are turning winter brown. It is nice to follow dogs working at something they do by instinct. Wild rabbit meat is as good as any game and better than anything you can buy at a store.
So when a rabbit jumped out of a thicket and lit out across a field, none of us worried about the implications of shooting, except to make sure we didn't shoot each other. In a long morning we jumped nine rabbits and killed five.
While the olive oil was heating we sneaked (like savages) around back of the barn and when the pigeons took off we all shot, but got only two. We skinned one rabbit and breasted both pigeons, washed and cut up the meat and put it in the pan with the vegetables. We had some smoked bluefish, a fine appetizer, and in half an hour the pigeons and rabbit, hunter style, were done. The meat was tough but wonderful.
After lunch we tried the pigeons again, got three more and cleaned them and the remaining rabbits. We hunted that afternoon on a different farm but never raised another bunny or bird.
So you have three men leaving for the country at 5:30 a.m., walking to exhaustion and taking home for the trouble three pigeons and four rabbits, cleaned for future meals. This, we all agreed, was classic success.
If that qualifies as "brutal, malicious, careless ways," then I'm guilty of endorsing it.
As to why "civilized" people find sport in hiding like savages and luring and shooting game animals, I can answer only for myself.
By hiding like a savage, I have been able in the last few years to observe eagles in a flying mating dance; wild turkeys courting; deer browsing. A chipmunk walked up my leg; a red-tailed hawk lit in a branch 20 feet over my head.
By trying to duplicate the sounds of wild beasts I've learned a lot about the language of ducks, squirrels, turkeys, owls, geese, deer, woodpeckers, hawks and innumerable songbirds, so that the woods to me are a familiar chorus. Like any language, it's just a good thing to know.
To destroy "something God made," as Galloway put it, is perilous practice. It's comforting to know that the Washington County farm, like most farms, has been hunted for scores of years, but the rabbits and pigeons, deer, doves, quail (we hope) and occasional pheasants are nonetheless there every fall.
It's not hard to understand why people resent the sight or idea of armed people going into fields and woods to surprise defenseless wild animals during hunting season. But it is wrong to think hunters are threatening any game species.
On the contrary, hunters who hunt by the rules are patrons of game animals. Through licensing fees, they support state agencies which monitor populations, health and reproductive success of game. Through taxes on equipment they support federal agencies that do the same. Through waterfowl stamps they pay for surveys and improvements to duck and goose habitat. Through membership in clubs and organizations they work to improve or protect habitat.
Hunting is so carefully overseen by government agencies today that it's almost impossible for legal hunting to have a detrimental effect on a species. If population stocks decrease, the state halts the season, or reduces it.
The real and lasting peril to wild animals, both game and nongame species, is human development.
When a woods lot is chopped down for a mall, the habitat that supports rabbits, bluebirds, chipmunks and squirrels is gone, never to come back in our lifetimes.
When a river is dammed for a lake with trailer lots, a campground and an RV center, the beavers and muskrats, eagles and wood ducks look for someplace new to live. But there aren't any new places.
When a roadway is cut, the game departs. If the woods grow back the state uses poison to defoliate everything within 10 yards of the road, compounding the damage.
Hunters do what they can to stop the crashing charge of civilization. Through books and magazines and newspaper articles they share their conservative view of the way resources should be protected.
It's interesting that the majority of complaints about the heartlessness of hunting come from people in urban areas. Sometimes I think it's a guilty conscience, because these places once were the pleasant homes of birds and beasts, and now they are asphalt and bowling alleys or sterile suburbs.
People who live in the country, close to the land, recognize the timeless appeal of hunting, its value as a way to learn about the land and the things that live on it, and the harmlessness of hunting for food in respectable moderation. They also recognize the stupidity and aimlessness of those who hunt solely for the pleasure of killing.
Anyone who eats meat and who tastes wild rabbit or deer or ducks will recognize that this is something put on earth at least in part to feed man.
If it is indeed wrong to "destroy something God made," the next time you're out in the country, curse a condominium.