Mountain lion on cliff edge, trapped by baying hounds.
 
Photograph lion juxtaposed with photograph of lion hunter, hounds, and dead lion.

Double Cross

Guest Commentary by Constantine Chuchla:

For those with a trigger itch, trophy hunting fulfills that enigmatic urge to connect with nature. Obliterating nature while claiming a respect for it is the ultimate double-cross.

Trophy hunters claim to be true sportsman, heroically conquering beasts while promoting wildlife conservation. Not quite. This ego-driven and bloody pastime destroys natural ecosystems and goes against everything it means to be an outdoor enthusiast. Humans should observe and appreciate nature while preserving its integrity. By interfering — killing and removing animals for trophies — the system begins to fall apart. Obliterating nature while claiming a respect for it is the ultimate double-cross.

Photo of hunter, hounds and lion carcass.

The yelping of the hounds pierced the cold, crisp mountain air, shattering the silence of the wilderness. The dogs would run for miles over the rugged terrain until their exhausted and stressed quarry finally sought refuge in a tree. Their baying alerted the sport hunter and his guide to the location. The high-powered rifle made it an easy shot and brought the cat tumbling through the branches until its lifeless body hit the snowy ground with a thump. The cougar, well over 150 pounds, would make a fine trophy.

Trophy hunting is a sport, a form of recreation. It's a pleasurable (although at times, demanding) pastime for its advocates. For those with a trigger itch, it fulfills that enigmatic urge to connect with nature. The goal of the trophy hunter is not sustenance, but rather victory over an opponent. The quarry, facing the reality of the struggle for survival on a daily basis, is now pursued by an adversary for whom the hunt is a game.

Over the years, I have read many accounts of the prowess of "big-game" hunters. The tales of pursuit resonate with the same theme: the challenge of outwitting wildlife in its own habitat, on its own terms. The hunter is honor-bound to do so in a respectful manner.

Not quite.

All outdoor enthusiasts have a relationship with the natural world. There are choices in the relationship that can be broadly categorized as respectful and non-respectful. Traveling to wild places to observe wild animals in their natural habitats is a meaningful experience for those with an interest. Killing and removing animals from natural systems for sport while espousing a respect for them is the ultimate double-cross. Such killing perverts the relationship. Each animal removed as a trophy is a stolen piece of nature. Trophy hunters are not visitors, they're takers.

The pursuit of game as trophies is a pursuit of vanity. It is a self-indulgence that amounts to a bravura by those with a predilection to kill wildlife.

Often, observers of a stuffed trophy extol the magnificent beauty of the animal. The true magnificence of that mountain lion was its presence in its environment, a functioning organism, fulfilling its niche, not as a sterile trophy-room fixture. The size and health of the predator was testimony to its success in its role, intimately connected to its landscape. Now, in a mimicked life pose, it will adorn a suburban trophy-room of a person with no connection to the land from which he "took" his trophy. What a waste!

There are situations where trophy hunting can serve as a wildlife management tool. An example would be the need to hunt black bears in New York State because of their expanding population coinciding with an increasingly limited habitat due primarily to human activity, land development and human population growth.

Booking trips to remote areas where wildlife is not in conflict with humans and is an intrinsic part of that ecosystem's natural functioning is not a management tool. There, ecological relationships do not require human interference.

In essence, there is a balance of nature. Taking animals out as trophies in areas like that is taking something that does not need to be taken. There, trophy hunters are interlopers: nature takers.

Aldo Leopold, who helped to develop the idea of ecology in the first half of the 20th century, coined the term land ethic. It's the idea that we should all have a respect for the land and its occupants as a community of interdependent components. It's much like the classic Native American outlook concerning the land.

Leopold's ecological awakening took a long time coming and he himself advocated and participated in killing predators. His famous story of extinguishing the fierce green fire in the eyes of a female wolf that he shot while she frolicked with her pups in a New Mexico stream has become a classic in wildlife literature. For that wolf and her pups, his land ethic came too late.

As the U. S. human population continues its exponential growth beyond 300 million and the world population approaches 7 billion, ecosystems continue to become more biologically indigent. For those systems that are left functioning naturally, it seems a violation of trust to plunder their parts. A guest should not steal from the host.