Garry Mallard

Hunting and the Fight Against Truth Decay

Responsible hunters continue to be assailed by irresponsible Green extremists, myopic social commentators and journalists who have little or no interest in exploring, in depth and objectively, why people in the 21st century still want to hunt.

It is difficult to get ‘equal time’ and even when time is offered hunters are challenged to justify their culture and practices in ways that the anti-hunting lobby is rarely, if ever, tasked to do.  For example, hunting’s detractors are fond of citing examples of extraordinary cruelty, which they claim are intrinsic to hunting practice. But have you ever heard an interviewer ask the very simple question, “Upon what expert and objective research is your accusation of extreme cruelty based?” Of course you haven’t. It is enough that there may be a perception of cruelty – albeit born of profound ignorance – an emotive statement and perhaps even tears to punctuate it.

If necessity is the mother of invention, the lack of necessity could be considered the mother of the perception of cruelty, and we should remember that of all the life-forms on planet earth the perception of cruelty is peculiar to human beings alone. The crocodile does not consider the welfare of its prey, nor does the lion, and even in the case of human predators the definition of cruelty is ever-evolving and highly subjective. Does the Green extremist protest the Amerindian’s use of the poison dart to paralyse his prey so that it will plummet 30 metres or more from its treetop refuge to the forest floor?  Does the Green extremist mourn the death of the poison dart frog that loses its life to give the dart its efficiency?  Of course not, there are no supermarkets or styrofoam trays of meat in the jungle, so what might be considered cruel in the developed world, becomes an acceptable necessity in the jungles of South America. Moreover, the practice is considered intrinsic to an ancient culture and therefore worthy of preservation.  Greens will in fact lobby worldwide for the preservation of rainforests because the Amerindians depend upon them for their food, and voila, hunting is suddenly kosher!

Open minded objective analysis is sorely lacking in the debate. We are plagued by reports of incidents of perceived cruelty and hunter wrongdoing, in which conclusions are drawn based on ‘evidence’ so flimsy as to be farcical. I recently read a report in which it was claimed that a hunter had shot a deer on a property adjoining a state forest. The inference was clear; hunters cannot be trusted to respect boundaries, and as this amounts to an accusation given voice in the vehicle of the media, I believe the driver of that vehicle had a responsibility to ask a very remedial, yet important question, “How do you know the deer was shot on private property?”

The deer may have been found dead on private property, but as everyone save non-hunters espousing half-baked theories knows, deer seldom fall exactly where they’d stood prior to being shot. They sometimes travel considerable distances before they succumb; they may even cross fence-lines in the process, so all the position of its carcass demonstrates is where the deer died, and not where the fatal shot was fired, which is surely the issue?

In another report, featuring a disturbing picture of a joey with an arrow piercing its lower leg, animal welfare workers claimed hunters were the culprits. The sole ‘evidence’ for this accusation was the fact that a nearby forest had recently been opened to bowhunting. “What chance do our native animals have?” a rescuer emoted. What chance indeed? I could commit reams to comparing the odds of joeys surviving licensed hunter encounters in a limited number of national parks, with, say, the odds of them surviving encounters with the cars that travel the roads surrounding and traversing them. But let’s stay on track and look at the evidence we have, and we have little evidence except that revealed by the picture which accompanied the story

The joey has been shot through a part of the leg that lays flat on the ground when a macropod is at rest. This might suggest that the arrow skipped along the ground before penetration.  It is not a fatal injury, nor one that would prevent the animal from eating, and this makes it very difficult to ascertain how long ago the incident may have occurred. Its rescuers claim it took two nights – and presumably at least one full day – to catch the wallaby, which suggests that the injury did not catastrophically inhibit mobility. How far might the wallaby have travelled from the point of impact before coming to the notice of its rescuers, and from where…another private property some kilometres away perhaps?

Finally we have the clues surrendered by the arrow itself. It looks to be a very light, cheap & nasty arrow of the type readily available on eBay, but perhaps most importantly, it is a target arrow, not a hunting arrow. For the benefit of the non-hunter let me explain the difference.  A target arrow is fitted with a ‘point’ the tip of which is pointed, but in no way sharp. It is designed to enable the arrow to penetrate a paper, cardboard or a very soft plastic target only sufficient to hold the arrow in place long enough for a score to be recorded. A hunting arrow differs in that it carries a very large and often razor sharp head, intended to maximise penetration and cause as much internal damage as possible to ensure a swift kill. Whether you are pro or anti-hunting, there is one thing I’m sure we can agree on. The objective of hunting an animal is to kill it. By virtue of the point they are fitted with, target arrows are utterly inefficient and unsuitable for hunting and I know of no hunter – legal or otherwise – who would try to take game with a target arrow. So allow me to propose an alternative to the “bloodthirsty, irresponsible hunter shoots protected species in state forest” scenario, developed with due consideration to the limited evidence at hand.

A child, given a cheap archery set for Christmas or a birthday, enjoys shooting targets on private property owned by her mum and dad. One morning she spots a wallaby eating mum’s veggie patch and, grabbing her bow & arrow from her bedroom, she takes a pot-shot that is well outside the effective range of her little fibreglass kiddie-bow. The arrow falls short, but maintains enough momentum to skip across the ground, just managing to penetrate the joey’s leg at ground level. The wound, while painful, is not catastrophically debilitating, and mother and joey hop away. Joey is found some days and perhaps many kilometres later, by animal welfare activists. Because they believe that an end to hunting on public lands is an outcome devoutly to be wished, they have a stake in considering only one of a dozen possible scenarios; namely the one that suits their agenda. The rest is history.

Do I consider my scenario more likely that theirs? I do! Not because I believe it is correct, but because it is every bit as possible as the alternative, and because it was developed in consideration of the available evidence, or at least the lack of it, and that’s the basis upon which all guilt or innocence must be determined.

Where am I going with this? I’m glad you asked!

Put on the spot, often during a media ambush, we have become unnecessarily defensive in our responses to allegations of hunter cruelty and illegal practice. There is no need to be. Rather, it is essential that we become skilled at listening carefully to the allegations and, instead of expressing indignation we should adopt the approach of challenging the media and others to justify their manufactured scenarios and fanciful notions. We should calmly suggest considered and plausible alternatives and, based only on the available evidence, challenge our accusers to demonstrate why their assertions are more plausible than ours.

There is a well known maxim in legal circles, “he who seeks equity must do so with clean hands.” The hunting fraternity could do worse than to adopt this maxim in the struggle for hunters’ rights. In a nutshell it means, don’t whine about injustice if you’ve also been unjust, and I think this particularly applies to the intemperate statements some of us make in blogs and online discussion groups. This is where I get controversial.

I am both pro-hunting and pro-hunting on public lands and over the last few months I have become a frequent visitor to discussion fora. I have lost count of the compelling arguments I’ve seen lost, unnecessarily, by ill-considered, intemperate and totally self-indulgent comments lobbed like grenades into otherwise productive discussions. Make no mistake, the anti-hunting lobby and the media haunt blogs and threads looking for violent, inflammatory statements to justify their portrayal of hunters as gap-toothed, inbred, banjo-playing rednecks straight off the set of Deliverance. And all too often we accommodate them by reading from the script. We will lose the battle for as long as we believe that our only threat lies from without!

We should keep in mind at all times that our objective is to sell a product that a large percentage of the population doesn’t want to buy. This is a huge and complex responsibility that will take time and patience, and there is no room for self-indulgent outbursts that can only serve to undermine our hard-won progress.

If we are to convince the voting public that we are not monsters, we must conduct ourselves in a moderate and responsible manner in all our activities, not just in the field. This includes ensuring that we leave no smoking guns of sadism or intolerance on the net that may be used against us.

Finally, we must guard against falling into the trap of commenting on topics we are not sufficiently familiar with to offer sage advice. This is particularly relevant to the debate about whether the public will be safe in NSW national parks that are opened to hunters.

It is tempting to make all sorts of assurances, but we cannot be drawn on the topic, simply because there is so much that is yet to be settled. We don’t know how many hunters will be permitted in a national park on any given day. We don’t know how many hunters might be permitted per x-hectares of bush. We don’t know how parks will be signposted or how their closure for hunting will be managed and conveyed to the public. The list goes on…  What we do know is that the bodies responsible for developing policies to ensure public safety are aware of the controversy surrounding hunting in parks, and they have everything to gain by ensuring that policy is robust and serviceable.

It is in our best interest to share our thoughts and ideas with bodies such as Game Council NSW and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and to give them our full and active support as they strive to ensure that in the long term, hunting on public lands is revealed to be safe and therefore sustainable for many years to come.

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