Friday, January 22, 2010

A little Friday surliness...

There are very few things - in terms of material possessions - for which I have an abiding weakness: nice shotguns, high-end fishing tackle, books, gun dog puppies, that sort of thing. I've just never been much of a gearhead or trinketeer. I like simple, quality, aesthetically pleasing stuff that works, even if I can rarely afford it.

I guess that's why I've never been much interested in attending any of the hunting and/or fishing trade shows. SHOT is, of course, going on right now and I did pitch the idea to my editor of attending the show and blogging about it. He wisely declined. Well, he said he loved the idea but budget constraints, you know. In truth, I'm sure he realized having me attend the SHOT show would be like sending Abbie Hoffman to cover thr annual meeting of Corporate Capitalists For A Deregulated Future (I just made that group up, BTW, so don't bother Googling it...).

So once again I'm sitting here at home, monitoring the non-stop SHOT show coverage on all the major hook-and-bullet websites, and once again I can't help but feel that SHIT show is a perfectly appropriate nom de guerre for this circus of the stupid, the unnecessary and the inane.

Trade shows overwhelmingly highlight products no one knew they needed, offer nifty solutions to problems no one knew they had and urge us to spend money we probably don't have on shit we definitely don't need (OK, so I paraphrased that last line from a passage in Fight Club...)

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not completely anti-trade show, I'm not anti-progress and I'm not anti-new product. But here's the problem I have with many of these products: they add layers of ever-increasing complexity and technological dependence to an activity in which we should be stripping those layers away as fast as as we can.

There's been much discussion recently (and good discussion, I might add) about the ethics of hunting. Many very intelligent, thoughtful people take the position that anything that helps the ultimate goal of killing an animal quickly is ethical because hunting, parsed to its element, is about killing something. Baiting, crossbows during bow season, etc. Because these things help us kill animals quickly and more efficiently they are, by definition, ethical.

Now I'll save the issue of baiting for a future blog post, but I don't necessarily agree with the argument because I think the premise on which that argument is based is flawed, and in my rambling, seni-coherent way I'll try to explain why.

The way I see it there is a fundamental philosophical and practical difference between modern hunting and traditional subsistence hunting and the two simply can't be reconciled without recognizing those differences. What are they? Well, they're legion, but I think it all boils down to means and motivation.

It is true that the ultimate goal of traditional subsistence hunters was, of course, to kill something, and to kill it as quickly as possible so those who make the "any means possible is ethical" argument do have a point. To a point.

However, those traditional subsistence hunters had absolutely none of the modern conveniences that we are afforded. They relied on their woodsmanship and their wits. It was, by necessity, a raw, primitive, thoroughly atavistic experience. Now would they have traded that experience for the almost-sure thing that modern hunting tries to be? Probably, but that's not the point, is it?

To me, replicating that raw, primitive, thoroughly atavistic experience is the point,  the ultimate goal of modern hunting. It's not just the killing something that puts us in touch with whatever it is that compels us to hunt. If that were the case I'd go get a job in a slaughterhouse. But of course whether you agree with me depends on where your beliefs happen to fall on means versus motivation. The experience is the motivation for me, and how I kill something is just as important to me as the actual act of killing it.

And that, in a nutshell, is my problem with where modern American hunting is heading. It seems no one really cares how they kill things anymore, just so long as they do. And it seems that every new product that gets rolled out these days reflects that mentality.

(This is a severely truncated version of my thoughts on the subject, but for the sake of brevity I'll save the rest for later)

Now I recognize this could be debated endlessly and that my personal reasons for hunting open me up to a slippery slope of counterpoint, the old "if it's the experience you're after why not use a spear" argument. Fair enough. That's what debate's for, and let me make it clear that I'm not saying my way is how it should be. I'm just lamenting here, I'm not suggesting that lament be codified into law.

And I will be the first to admit there is a tinge of personal snobbery coloring my argument here. So much of modern American hunting "culture" as it were, is simply a reflection of how tacky, cheesy, cheap, superficial, torpid and willfully ignorant our larger culture has become.

But I guess that's fodder for a future blog post. Back to SHOT and our gear and convenience-obsessed hunting industry. Perhaps I wouldn't be so down on it if it featured less of the tits, the tramps, the tasteless, the tactical, the technological and a little more of the timeless, the tested, the trusted and the truly useful.

But then again, it wouldn't be there if there wasn't a market for it. Someone out there's gotta be buying this shit, right? Maybe I'm just being - in the recent words of a magazine-based editorial critic - a "douchebag."

Ehh... probably.

***At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, the guys over at F&S just posted a new SHOT show update, and damn it, some of it is pretty nifty. I'm nothing if not inconsistent..." *** 


  1. You're a douche, but your our douche and anyone who says you're a douche is just jealous of your talent.

  2. What you describe, Chad, is exactly what Galen Geer posted in his initial ethics diatribe. In short, "ethics is nothing more than the tug on your sleeve."

    There's nothing "wrong" with your perspective. in fact, it's exactly what we need to recognize in this discussion. Each of us hunts according to his motivations, and ethics at that level are dependent on those motivations... which differ from person to person. You can't (or shouldn't) legislate that. I would like to see more people recognize that.

    Beyond that, I'd propose asking the following questions:

    Does it harm the resource or the habitat?
    Does it put humans or property in danger?
    Does it kill inhumanely?

    The conversation is convoluted, and the issue of public perception can't be completely dismissed, but we need to keep perspective in this discussion where right and wrong are almost completely subjective concepts.

    As far as SHOT and the marketing of gadgets and gizmos, it does seem a little troubling. But at the same time, most of us there are looking for the precious stones in the rockpile... we recognize the crap for what it is, usually.

  3. I've been to SHOT once and canceled going twice since then (long stories). It was fun - I got to see new gizmos, talk to manufacturers, meet movers and shakers, see if there was anything new out there that rocked my world. As a new hunter, I'm still collecting all the clothes, gear and gizmos that I'll deem essential some day (which means much of what I'm collecting will go to the back of a closet). Like Phillip, that means I'm looking for gemstones in the rockpile. So for me it was cool.

    But I see your point, and it's not just about SHOT or about hunting gear. Our entire economy is geared toward manufacturers making new shit every year so people will feel compelled to keep buying from them, even if they really have everything they need. It's a trend I find troubling too. Even one of my favorite anti-factory-farming farmer-writers - Joel Salatin - preaches a fair amount of this in his how-to books: Don't just raise and sell chickens and eggs. Create chick and egg products. Do farm tours. Set up a corn maze. It's how you make a living at that stuff apparently. But I'm pretty sure if I raise chickens, I'm just going to sell chickens and eggs.

    I kind of think it'd be nifty if we got back to buying really basic stuff and not feeling the tug of "this year's model" anymore (not to mention buying flour, sugar, baking soda and other stuff and actually COOKING). But I think we lost that battle a long, long time ago. I'm guessing centuries, even though the pace seems to have gotten more frenetic in recent decades - who can afford to have a clunky old five-year-old computer?

    That said, you should get to SHOT one of these days. It's like going to the state fair. You don't have to love it, but it's nice to check it out at least once.

  4. Actually, I have to confess my SHOT show criticisms are a tiny bit hypocritical (and that hypocrisy gets more obvious when it comes to fishing gear. That may be a future blog post...).

    I do have a fondness for good, functional gear and as far as highlighting that type of product, I think SHOT would be a blast.

    And of course not everything every manufacturer rolls out is a gimmick. I thought there were some neat new ammo choices (I think I'll try to find some of that Fiocchi Tundra...)

    So I'm not an anti-progress Luddite, and as you said, I'm sure most attendees recognize the crap for what it is, but man, how can you not make fun of a "tactical" ballpoint pen?

    On hunting ethics, Phillip, it took a long time for me to realize that fact, that people hunt for different reasons, they have different motivations and they view hunting through different economic, cultural and social filters.

    When I was a bit younger I thought there were easily definable parameters for what constituted fair chase and ethics. And not surprisingly, I thought those parameters should be uniformly aplied to pretty much everyone, because of course, I thought everyone should think like I did. Folly of youth and all...

    But I've slowly come to realize that hunting isn't the same thing to everyone and never will be.

    I still have my biases, I still have my opinions on what I think is right and wrong, what I think is ethical or fair chase. The difference is, however, that now I apply them only to myself.

    And you make a good point with the questions you pose, specifically, "does it harm the resource or habitat."

    Now putting aside my opinion that some forms of single-species management are, in the long-term, a bad thing, it's obvious that, say, modern deer hunting certainly isn't putting a dent or having any adverse affect whatsoever on the resource.

    Do I like some of the trends and practices? No. Would I choose to hunt that way? No. But with white-tails literally everywhere (at least in my region) it's hard to argue a strict interpretation of "fair chase."

    So on the macro level I think the popular notion of ethics and fair chase has a direct relationship with the status and distribution of the resource itself.

    And on the micro level it remains what it has always been: as you said, that "tug on the sleeve."

    What I really lament, truth be told, is the disappearance of thoughtfulness as an integral part of the hunt, the notion of hunting as a fundamentally philosophical pursuit that occupies a unique niche at the intersection of pure primitive impulse and reason.

    But then again, lots of guys don't want to naval-gaze when they hunt. They don;t want to dissect their motives. They just want to hunt because that's what they do. If they don't want to recite a soliloquy over their buck, who am I to judge?

    Hell, I'm that way myself. If I had to characterize myself, philosophically speaking, I'd say I occupy that quivery middle ground between maudlin self-reflection and unrepentant hillbilly atavism.

    Debating the ethics of hunting is, ultimately, about as clear-cut as debating the nature of human condition itself (which in a way, it is) but it's fun nonetheless...

  5. Rather than blather on about my own views (which are of little moment to anyone other than myself) I'd really like to read the UN-truncated version of your musings.
    As for the SHOT show...who cares?