A few weeks ago I saw something at an outdoor expo that got me thinking. Since then, I’ve participated in occasionally heated discussions about hunting ethics and fair chase over at A Mindful Carnivore, Starving Off the Land, NorCal Cazadora, and The Hog Blog.
Some discussions were about the difference between ethics and aesthetics, and about whether some of our finer distinctions really matter. Different people can see the same situation differently, and sometimes there are no right or wrong answers. (Other times, maybe there are. But not always.)
Those discussions got me thinking more about what I’d seen at a booth sponsored by Special Youth Challenge, one of many organizations dedicated to helping physically challenged young people get out and experience deer hunting or turkey hunting just like the rest of us. I applaud their work, and I support their mission.
These volunteers give selflessly and generously of their time and money. For them, it’s all worth it. I’ve heard stories of big, burly, stubbly, camo-wearing manly men getting all teary-eyed and choked up when they’ve been able to help a young hunter achieve success in the field. For the hunters themselves, it can be a life-changing experience and a huge boost to their self-esteem and feelings of empowerment.
In certain cases, however, there’s something about these hunts that begins to feel a little strange and artificial. It leaves me with a vague uneasiness I can’t quite explain. Maybe it’s just because this is new to me. After all, if we can provide these young people with a meaninful hunting experience, then it’s a wonderful thing.
Many of these hunters are in a wheelchair but still have full use of their upper body. They can wheel up to a bench that’s been positioned in a ground blind, rest their gun on sandbags, and shoot just like anyone else would. Other hunters, however, have much less mobility. They’re not able to get into a shooting position, look through the scope, and pull the trigger. They need a little more help.
In the photo below, you can see the ingenious solution. A gun or crossbow is clamped into a special stand that holds it in position while still allowing limited movement for aiming. The fixture also pivots vertically to absorb some of the recoil; the hunter’s shoulder doesn’t need to be firmly against the butt of the rifle, shotgun, or crossbow—or, for that matter, anywhere near it.
A tiny video camera is aimed at the scope reticle. The resulting image is displayed on a small screen visible from almost anywhere in the blind. Eye relief is no longer an issue. Hunters’ assistants can help aim, and they can also help hunters decide when it’s time to activate the trigger.
This happens with the help of a solenoid controlled by two pushbutton switches wired in series. It doesn’t matter which is held by the hunter and which by one of his or her assistants. For the gun or crossbow to fire, both switches must be depressed simultaneously. (In theory, for a hunter whose mobility is even more limited, one of these switches could be replaced with a device that’s actuated by biting or by blowing a puff of air.) The entire system is powered by a motorcyle battery placed inside a water-resistant housing.
As I said, I have great respect for the people running these programs, and in principle I support their mission. If I were an aspiring young hunter in a wheelchair, I might be eager to sign up. Still, after learning about the specifics, I’m left with many questions. I have no answers, only questions:
At some point, if these hunters are given too much help, does it become a less meaningful hunting experience? If so, how much help is too much? If an assistant does most of the aiming? If an assistant does all of the aiming? Or not even then?
If one of the hunter’s assistants helps with aiming and with timing the trigger release, can we be reasonably confident the hunt will be ethical and humane? And if something does go wrong, what then?
For me, one of the hardest parts of hunting is to sit all day without moving or making a sound. Even in a ground blind, it’s a skill these young hunters will need to master like everyone else. Is that alone something in which they should take pride?
How much physical connection to the act of hunting or shooting is required to make the experience meaningful? Is physical presence even necessary? If one of these young people were even more immobile, would it be time to overcome our distaste for remote-control hunting over the internet?
What would non-hunters make of all this? What about anti-hunters? Should we care?
How would the people running these programs feel about these questions? Have they heard them all before? Or, for whatever reason, are these questions rarely asked?
How would these young hunters—or prospective, aspiring hunters—feel about me asking so many questions? Is it wrong, even cruel, for me to initiate this discussion in a public place where they might stumble across it in tomorrow morning’s Google search? Or should we encourage them to consider these questions before they go hunting?
If these programs provide young hunters with a positive, affirming experience, does it even matter how “meaningful” anyone else thinks it was?
And then there’s that larger question again. How much help is too much? Or is there no such thing?
© 2011 Al Cambronne