BEWARE OF WOLVES in sheep’s clothing—or mowing the lawn on a Saturday afternoon.
The people who want to stop us from hunting and fishing look more like us every day. You can hardly distinguish them, in fact, except when they start beating their tambourines and telling us to quit killing defenseless animals in the magical world where animals are all friends.
It’s a slow but steady process, this growth of anti-hunting sentiment, and its origin is difficult to finger. Maybe it goes back to Bambi, when wildlife first talked to moviegoers. Or to the first of the so-called animal-rights groups, which were then and are now just fronts for the anti-hunting movement.
We must look also, closely, at the societal blurring of the line between city and country, between urban and rural. More and more suburbanites equate master-planned communities with the wild outdoors because they saw a bunny in the yard once.
As people first migrated in big numbers to the suburbs around the late middle of the 20th century, they embraced the feeling of space around them, the elbowroom afforded by lots larger than postage stamps.
So, they saw wild animals, and those animals were SO cute. How could anyone harm those animals? Why can’t we just leave those animals alone?
The answer to that last question is this: Because the house you built out there in what once really was wild, open ground—but for the cows and barbed-wire that displaced the cute animals, which now are eating your flowers.
And the animals that eat those animals. Your home used to be their home. You chose not to leave them alone from the day your slab was poured.
I live in suburbia, too, but I recognize my place in it. I’ve had to rescue more than a dozen snakes, some venomous, from the shovel. I’ve helped turtles over curbs. I’ve waited while acclimated pigs and deer took their darned time crossing the road. I get it, and I accept the responsibility that comes with it.
Suburban sprawl hasn’t stopped, either. Some of the finest waterfowl hunting ground in North America, the Katy Prairie west of Houston, is now a series of sprawling developments interrupted by malls and strip centers.
Across the country, forests and prairies are being divided and subdivided. Lakeshores are being bulk-headed and turned into waterfront neighborhoods. And not everyone who moves toward the woods or the water does so for better access to hunting and fishing.
Quite the opposite, in fact, is increasingly the case. These newcomers to open spaces love nature, they’ll tell you, but they neither understand nor are especially interested in the management of their natural neighbors.
When 10 or 20 or 1,000 acres of woods and grassland get developed, that much land is rendered mostly uninhabitable for whatever animals once lived there. Resident wildlife—all of it—suffers.
Not visibly, at first. They’re healthy as the home and shopping centers and schools go up. Then, as 200 deer try to feed on habitat suitable for 120, they all lose a little weight. Only a biologist would notice.
Then comes a harsh winter, so severe that the cold slowly kills some of those thinner deer. Or maybe there’s an outbreak of disease in the herd that carves out a few more. And a few more, without any means of stopping the death as the toll passes its ideal number.
So, the people who enjoyed seeing deer in their yards don’t see them anymore. Since it couldn’t possibly be their faults those deer disappeared—“We fed them corn, right out there on the driveway.” They look for someone in camo and shake a finger that way.
They don’t like us, and they’re determined to stop hunters, because hunters kill innocent animals. Or so the blather goes.
Texas, thankfully, remains a well-defended fortress against most of the anti-hunting rhetoric. But as more people move here from cities and states where hunting isn’t such a strong tradition, where guns are blamed for humans’ violent acts and their parents weren’t hunters or gun owners, we’ll be forced to deal with more tambourine banging and more calls for checks on our passions.
It’ll start with innocent-seeming suggestions of shorter seasons, maybe fewer animals allowed in daily or seasonal bags. If this is not stifled, immediately, we’ll wind up with politicians—not wildlife biologists—managing Texas wildlife.
That would mark the beginning of an ugly end to something magnificent.
Even in Texas, the number is on the rise of people who dislike the thought of shooting a big buck as it slips across a sendero or plucking a fat greenhead from a flight of mallards banking hard over the decoys.
I still see a fantastic future for Texans and Americans who enjoy the outdoors, but securing that future will require each of us to keep our ears and eyes open.
Some people, right here in Texas, see things quite differently than we do. They’re not going to change their opinions, but they’re entitled to those opinions—however wrong they may be about us and what we enjoy.
They can beat their tambourines all they want, but we can’t allow them to manage wildlife here or anywhere, because their way does not work.
Email Doug Pike at [email protected]