Staats: caring deeply for the animals you hunt

by Will Staats

I learned to hunt and inherited my passion for nature from old Vermont woodsmen in Addison County. The woods were part of their lives. They spent some portion of every day in the woods, hunting, trapping and hunting with dogs. I spent my childhood learning from them. 

When I was 17, I lived in a log cabin on a mountain and trapped for my living. This experience gave me a vital understanding of wildlife ecology and led me to pursue a career in wildlife conservation. I’ve also lived a rich life as a woodsman, a hunter and trapper.

In my mind, these activities are complementary. Wildlife biologists, hunters and trappers understand the need to protect wild places. 

I cannot convince you to like or agree with my cultural hunting traditions. Respectfully, I don’t understand the joy of running a 6-mile loop on a wooded path or careening down trails on a bike — trails that cut through good wildlife habitat. But I don’t tell you not to do these things. 

If you were curious about my love of the woods, I’d tell you that a hunt endears me to the wild places where I’ve trapped a beaver or tracked a buck. These places imprint themselves on my soul and I would do almost anything to protect them. There are non-hunters who also have spiritual connections to wild places, and I respect them. But for me, this connection involves hunting, often with my beloved dogs. This is my culture. For many of us, it is how we raised our children. 

You say, “Times change. Your traditions must stop. They involve unacceptable pain and suffering of animals.” I understand this concern intensely. Hunting involves death, and often some measure of suffering. I care deeply for the animals I hunt and take no pleasure in the act of killing.

Hunters and trappers have always embraced new technologies and methods that make these practices more humane. We should and have evolved. Taking an animal’s life demands respect. It is also important to note that many of the very best hunts, particularly with hounds, end in no death at all. 

There is so much talk these days about the value of diversity and respecting cultural traditions. But it seems that these values only hold for certain people, and certain cultures. Will you also admonish the native peoples of Canada or Vermont and tell them their century-old traditions of survival and respect for nature are wrong and must be stopped? 

In the course of these legislative arguments about hunting, there has been indifference toward the people most knowledgeable about these practices and those who have the most to lose. There has been little attempt at even the appearance of curiosity or interest or respect for who we are and what we do. 

In fact, there has been active hostility. Opponents of hunting have likened us to white supremacists and serial killers. As a state that identifies so strongly with progressive values, the hypocrisy is stunning. 

And while we bicker, the real problems facing our wildlife grow. As a biologist, I have sat on the witness stand, testifying against massive energy projects that would have huge impacts on wild spaces, often proposed by companies from out of state. I was not joined in those rooms by anti-hunting activists, but the trappers and hunters I know had my back. 

And as climate change progresses and more people migrate north, we will see more development encroaching on the last of Vermont’s wild spaces. Additionally, with our changing demographics, I’ve seen a growing intolerance of wildlife. I’ve rescued bears off private property and faced countless indignant homeowners who don’t understand that they’ve moved into what has always been good bear habitat. 

These are the major problems we face, and the education and advocacy needed to protect wild places will require all of us to work together, and soon. It will require tolerance of difference. It will require working with people you don’t agree with and don’t understand. 

If you force out the hunters and trappers whose practices you don’t like, if you snub your nose at their lifestyles and culture, you will be forcing out some of Vermont’s strongest and most loyal wildlife advocates. And you will be sending the very clear message: ‘Your cultural traditions do not matter. All that you have learned over generations about our wilderness and wildlife does not matter. You don’t belong here anymore.”

Traditionally, Vermonters have respected the privacy and different ways of their neighbors, with the mutual certainty they’ll pull each other out of a ditch when the day comes. It has made this place civilized, and it is a tradition worth saving. 

We don’t have to like each other or share the same values. But we must find common ground in protecting our wild places before it’s too late. And maybe if we concentrate on this shared mission, mutual respect and understanding will grow.

The author is a wildlife biologist living in Victory, VT. Republished from FYIVT.COM

10 replies »

  1. I have to chuckle at the folks that say stop hunting, trapping, eating meat. What’s next No fishing? Have they ever given consideration to what will happen with the Animals that are no longer hunted, trapped, eaten or fished? Do they think that they will stop breeding or do they expect the farmer to care for them for free? Should we start a game welfare system to see that all the game animals that were once eaten are fed all winter? I give up the world has gone looney

  2. Many Native Vermonters who know the land, hunting, trapping, farming, gardening, etc. didn’t pay attention to one important thing as time went by over the years, and it was to stay on-top of the Political Climate of the State. Currently, there is a huge lack of Common Sense, a strong departure from God and the Constitution. Therein lays the open door for Emotionalism, Socialism, Marxism – all the “ism’s” that destroy what is Good. Vermont’s roots of being a Rural State and being Free has been eroded over many decades by not acting in Offense to the flood of Socialists and power-grabs in the government arena, be it Montpelier or Local Towns, Villages, School Boards, etc. (i.e. “selections” not “elections”), and ignoring God. Now, the fruit of Evil has come to the forefront. The solution is to come back to God, to the Constitution and Common Sense. It’s time to Save Vermont and Take Back our State!

  3. Well stated though leaves lots of room for alternative viewpoints, if this were a “real time” debate. Just for starters, not supporting trapping per se – is not akin to disrespecting cultural traditions. Cultural traditions in Vermont abound, as they do in many locales/regions, and I cannot think of another I abhor or even dislike other than that specific example. I’m also not anti-hunting in general – though I personally would not have any interest in engaging it. I realize it serves a function in terms of providing sustenance and I both understand & respect that.

    I also have never personally engaged in any hostility towards anyone in VT (or elsewhere) nor do I sanction doing so. I merely express my own opinions freely & openly as all should feel free to during civil dialogue.

    As far as a growing intolerance for wildlife…that pretty much, IMO, negates anyone’s claim to opposing hunting – if they simultaneously cannot tolerate sharing their property, or this world, with other living beings. I cherish the sights & sounds & lives of these creatures & to have the nearly sacred opportunity to spy a wildcat hunting for itself outdoors is a spectacle one remembers with

    As far as attempting to use the example of jogging along a trail in the woods as an analogy to using traps to “hunt” wild animals, it’s not the most effective as those same trails are also used for logging (tradition), sledding (tradition), four-wheeling (tradition), etc.,

    The author also neglected to describe exactly how the innovations in technology have created a more humane manner to trap an animal in the wild, as I would be interested to learn of it. I do know of learning of people’s domestic dogs and cats losing limbs and even their very lives to traps set in the woods, and their accounts can be found on line; and I can’t imagine the pain & suffering both the animal & the family who loved it went through during such an ordeal.

    I imagine there is much at stake for both “sides” of the trapping debate albeit I agree that Vermont citizens ought be the “deciders” here in hopefully some kind of mature, civil, potential compromise and not a group of kids similar to the kids who demanded the Burlington Police be defunded two years ago – and certainly not to the exclusion of folks like Patrick Finney who was apparently obstructed from providing his voice in this – and likely NOT accidentally.

  4. Very nice. Except for the obvious, which is the writer is lumping trapping in with hunting and claiming wildlife advocates are ‘ANTI-HUNTING’. This is as untrue as it gets. The vast majority of wildlife advocates support honorable hunting practices; those which call forth REAL knowledge of ethical hunting practices, using the animal in it entirety, with respect. This fear-mongering must stop. Trapping is inhumane. Wanting to preserve it because it’s “tradition” doesn’t make any sense at all. It was “tradition” to believe a person must be bled to make them well. As time went on and more was learned, people realized this practice produced untold, lingering suffering to the patient and bleeding the patient was discontinued. People used to believe animals (and babies) didn’t feel pain, so trapping was seen as being a benign practice. Now we know so much more about animals and understand that trapping induces indescribable suffering to the animal. Is cruelty “tradition”? We are better than this. Wildlife advocates support science-based policy which supports our environment and our wildlife, and that does include hunting, that’s not a question. Spreading lies in order to scare people into waving pitchforks at anti-TRAPPING advocates, claiming they want to take away the right to hunt is childish and isn’t the way to go about reaching consensus and compromise.

  5. To whom it may concern:
    I am 65 years of age and have lived in the mountains and hills of Southwestern Central New Hampshire all of my life. I am an expert at hunting, trapping biogeochemistry and forest ecology, as well as many other disciplines.

    Hunting and trapping is a critical conservation-related wildlife management tool for sustaining healthy populations of all species, and is carefully monitored and maintained by State and Federal agencies at the advice of scientists of great wisdom and the highest degree of integrity.

    These tools are also an integral part of our Northern New England heritage, providing a sustainable supply of meat, fur and feathers, in addition to bringing in much-depended upon millions of dollars to the region annually, to ensure a vibrant economy. Perhaps the most important contribution is the immeasurable, non-financial rewards for those who participate and are influenced by these endeavors.

    Without these tools, over-population, disease and starvation would prevail, many of which can transfer to humans from the animal reservoirs, and many of those are incurable, ultimately leading to death (the black plague, rabies, roundworm disease, etc.).

    The self-appointed armchair experts know little about wildlife beyond what they kill on highways or what they further eliminate by destruction of animal habitats through housing developments, ski slopes, golf courses, creating views and huge lawns for their massive trophy homes, etc.

    Along with the environmentally destructive footprint of development, follows a large use of chemicals that are not environmentally friendly.

    This is a classic problem of city-people or city-minded people with a huge population and a small lack of knowledge, who deal with opinions and passion, yet they can out-vote country people who have an intimate connection with the land and base their decisions on facts, the truth and sustainability.

    In haste and respectfully submitted –
    Delbert L. Harris III

  6. I came to Vermont three decades ago from Greene County, NY – not exactly any bustling metropolis no matter what region of that county you lived in. My husband hunted & I had numerous friends who hunted as well. I never skied a minute in my life OR played golf……not even miniature golf, mind you…..the courses too oft resemble landscapes one might hallucinate about while reading “Alice in Wonderland” or even the Timothy Leary Project whilst on an acid trip. Housing developments are touted by the democrats in order to force their “diversity” on the masses who obviously cannot decide for themselves who they wish to associate with and who they don’t —— and to place yet more criminals & unemployed & addicted individuals in this state who can’t possibly be shoe-horned into the already overflowing third world-type trailer parks & converted motels dotting the landscape here.

    Huge lawns & massive trophy homes? I suppose if your personal definition of “massive” is a 1530 square foot home without even a single car garage…. I mean, golly, this has even necessitated me to go out early in the morning every time it snows to clean off the ‘ol Rolls Royce Phantom Solid Gold myself. As far as using “chemicals”? I have always chosen to hand pick each teeny deer tick off my dogs with my own hands every day several times a day rather than slather the ever-popular toxins found easily at local retailers all over them. I steer far clear of products such as “Off” in the warm weather to fend off the mosquitos and instead choose to endure the mild headaches I do as I practically drench my clothes over & over with nearly constant sprits of all-natural repellent until I reek like a 138 pound Citronella candle.

    Yes, yes, it’s “The world against Vermont” as some appear to consider “their” state the last bastion on the face of the earth where hunters & the hunted exist, correct? Well, not exactly because I hear that the vast regions of wilds still remain extant in locales in states such as Montana, Wyoming, the Dakota’s – not to mention the badlands of Australia or Big Game hunting in Mozambique. There’s even open hunting seasons in parts of NJ far from Trenton, and as long as we’re discussing the hunters & the hunted here – try the South Bronx or Bed Sty NY —– where the season never ends!

    As far as trapping goes, simply because the “self-appointed armchair experts” – otherwise known as compassionate people – believe that trapping specifically causes undue & unnecessary suffering to wild animals, as well as to the numerous domestic animals who have bought caught, literally & figuratively, in their snare, doesn’t make them incompatible with residing in rural environs nor does it have ANY correlation to their personal finances or their “sport” of choice, if indeed they have any. I myself really appreciate lawn tractor racing, though I believe the sport will surely meet its ruination, before it even becomes remotely popular here in this state, once the legislators soon altogether outlaw gas engines so Vermont can save the world from changing weather patterns.

    I’m still awaiting to hear, btw, how advances in technology have paved the way for a kinder, more humane way to have a living creature slowly bleed out, suffer in agony until its last breath, or attempt to gnaw its own leg off to escape the torture it experiences from the trapping device. Perhaps if man had not decided a century ago or thereabouts – that natural predators such as the Catamount or the wolf needed to be exterminated in New England, the ecosystem might not be suffering from the effects of the diseases, etc. which you mention causing hunters to feel the compulsion to trap animals to resolve the very problems that humans themselves are guilty of creating.

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