Legitimate hunters, particularly Nebraska’s recent mountain lion hunters and the winner of a Safari Club auction, have been unjustly criticized and misunderstood. The Nebraska hunters were called killers by a senator from their own state, while the auction winner, who will hunt a black rhino in Namibia, has had death threats. Understanding the roles hunters play in conservation and the purpose of these hunts might ease this tension.
It appears that there are three main contentions with these hunts: 1. The animals that will be hunted are beautiful, and as such, shouldn’t be hunted; 2. There aren’t very many of them, so they shouldn’t be hunted; and 3. The hunting methods used aren’t sporting. As an experienced hunter, I would like to address these misperceptions.
I’ve had the good fortune to hunt successfully some of nature’s most beautiful creatures, starting with a Nebraska icon – the ringneck pheasant. There are few birds as colorful and statuesque as a male ringneck pheasant. Hunters are captivated by this beautiful bird and fascinated with its canny behavior, and they will travel from all around the country and spend thousands of dollars for the opportunity to hunt it. The same thing could be said for Nebraska’s two deer species: the whitetail and mule deer. These are beautiful and graceful animals, and they are challenging to hunt. We don’t hunt these animals because we want to eradicate them. We hunt them because we enjoy being around them, and we hope to give younger generations the same opportunity. If we thought that hunting them would hurt the species’ survival, we wouldn’t do it.
With every license we buy and much of the equipment we purchase, we contribute to government efforts to preserve wildlife and protect habitat. In addition, hunter-funded groups like Pheasants Forever and the National Wild Turkey Federation create sanctuaries for wildlife. Hunters are directly responsible for the resurgence of some species, like the wild turkey and whitetail deer.
Nebraska’s mountain lions have made a huge resurgence in the state. There is an established population in the northwest corner of our state, so that’s where the majority of the hunting is done, but they are all over the state, being captured in Omaha and spotted everywhere between. Not every mountain lion spotting makes the newspaper. Just this past year, a trail camera on land I hunt near Burwell captured the image of a mature male lion, not just a juvenile looking for a new territory. The Game and Parks has chosen to take a few out of the population to minimize conflict with humans, as well to ensure as survival of the species.
In the case of the black rhino, while it’s true that the species is endangered, that’s not due to hunters. Rhino poaching is an enormous problem in Africa, as demand in Asia drives desperate people to profit by killing these creatures and taking their horns. The $350,000 paid at the auction will be donated to the Namibian government to fight the poaching problem. In this way, one rhino will be sacrificed to save several others. Furthermore, the hunter isn’t able to take just any rhino. He must take one of the older males that wildlife managers have determined is past breeding age, and even more importantly, a threat to other rhinos in the area. The animal taken will be in his last days, and a bullet will be a much better way to die than sickness and starvation.
Lastly, Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers and others have criticized hunting mountain lions with dogs and shooting them out of trees. Those who have experienced this will say that keeping up with dogs on a lion track is one of the most physically taxing hunts a person can experience. Shooting them out of a tree is the anti-climatic end to the excitement, and many hunters often pass on the animal they treed, if it isn’t mature or the wrong gender. In fact, there is no better way to determine a cat’s gender and maturity than observing it in a tree. This keeps hunters from accidentally shooting a female or immature male.
I am passionate about hunting, as are most of my fellow hunters. If something doesn’t seem right, please ask us before attacking us.