The case for hunting

July 28, 2016

Photo credit: Wesley White Productions

One of my earliest childhood memories was pulling into a family friend’s driveway at night, our car’s headlights hitting the flat eyes of a dead buck suspended upside down from a tree. It was my father’s kill. Later, my father hunted bear in Kodiak, Alaska. It was the pinnacle of manhood, he believed, and the dead bear’s hide, head and claws lay on our living room for decades. A rug to prove his manhood. Getting that bear was so much a part of who he was that the rug followed him to a memory facility, where it lay until he died.

I am not a fan of hunting. Any kind of hunting.

Wildlife abounds in Yellowstone National Park. Each day, each hour brought new sightings: elk, bison, deer, prairie dogs, birds…we loved it all. And yet, we knew hunters also abound in Montana. Hunters of the very kinds of wildlife we so admired.


Bison grazing in beautiful Yellowstone National Park.

So when we spent a day with our fly-fishing guide, Wesley White, who photographs wildlife and also hunts, I saw an opportunity to hear a different point of view on hunting than my own.  Since my travel companion and I both have journalism backgrounds, we picked his brain like journalists all day. And, he agreed to let me share some of his thoughts. In fact, he wrote this post. Unless otherwise credited, the photos are mine.

Bison asleep 9

Bison taking a snooze.

Wes told us he had a sensitive heart toward animals and I wanted to know how that developed and how he squared it with hunting…. and I was curious about his thoughts on trophy hunting. The discussion did not disappoint. Wes gave me a deeper understanding of what hunting is about for many. I can’t say I’ve changed my own opinion, but I can now see a different rationale. Here he is:

I grew up in a hunting family in S.E. Idaho. My father, brothers, grandfathers, uncles, and cousins all hunt. So naturally when I was a young boy I received BB guns and started hunting small game with my brothers. We killed rabbits for years with BB guns and my mother would cook them. Those were my first experiences with killing game for consumption. I was then given small shot guns and eventually allowed to hunt with big game rifles. I didn’t grow up in a trophy hunting family. We were moderately poor and hunting was an opportunity for my family to escape their Mon.-Fri.  jobs and maybe put some food on the table.  But my father, my largest influence, is a lover of nature. I wasn’t exposed to hooting and hollering redneck-style hunting. There was always a deep level of respect for animals and nature, more often than not, we didn’t harvest but enjoyed the time spent together. Around 13 or 14, I gradually started gaining interest in photography more so than hunting. From a very young age I was drawn towards animals and the natural world with a belief I would one day make a career out of that interest as it grew into a passion

bison walking

Bison love to lumber along next to cars on the road. They’re massive creatures.

For around 6 years I did not hunt. I had a couple bad experiences with shooting big game and injuring them without harvest so I gave up the sport. I would still go out with my father but it was more of a drive in the backcountry and less hunting. When I was 21, I moved back to Idaho from Portland, Oregon and was again immersed in the culture of hunting. I started shooting grouse with my, now, wife and we were eating it two or three times a week during the season. While I lived in Oregon I was educated on organic foods and the destructive toll commercial food production takes on our planet. When I returned to Idaho I started recognizing a connection between the organic foods I had learned about in Oregon and the harvesting of wild game I was now surrounded by.

Wild game is organic

Wild game is the most “organic” “free-range” “cage-free” meat available. The animal lives its entire life free and wild without any exposure to vaccinations, GMO feeds, or confinements. They have the opportunity to breed and live a natural life. It may not be stress free for the animal, as it is a game species being hunted by predators, but it has no negative impact on the planet.

Elk on road

Elk grazing roadside.

I am still an animal lover at heart. I am just as happy watching natural behaviors as I am loading up all my gear and hunting. Photography is a major driving force in my life and it focuses around landscape and wildlife. I have a slightly difficult time taking the life of animals and I am not a predator hunter: the meat is almost un-edible and I won’t kill for the sake of it. Whether I kill small game, like grouse and rabbits, or large animals such as deer, I still have moments of regret where I wonder if it was necessary for me to end this animal’s life for my “selfish” desire. But the human history of hunting, the conservation that hunters are responsible for, and low impact organic meat help me cope when I am facing down a warm dead animal that I am now tasked with cleaning.

How is killing animals “conservation?”

Conservation through hunting is something a lot of people don’t understand. How can the desire to kill an animal lead to conservation of that species? Well, it’s rooted in history. After the meat and fur trade of the 1800s, the United States had very little big game left. Our bears, elk, deer, bison, big horn sheep, and pronghorn were decimated. In the early 1900s a few small groups of people realized what was happening and that without drastic change our nation would have very little game and hunting would be extremely limited, as we see in areas of Europe. Through the sales of tags, taxing of ammo and gun sales, and the establishment of conservation groups the United States now boasts more game than we had in the early 1900s.


Elk enjoying a beautiful July day and even a dip.

We now have all those species re-established in hunt-able numbers and species like elk are moving back into native ranges as far east as Pennsylvania and Kentucky. Over 80% of funding that state game agencies receive come from the sales of hunting tags and licenses. There is no tax on a camera or binocular sales, you don’t buy a tag to bird watch or photograph wild animals. Unless they are contributing annually to conservation groups, those who enjoy seeing wild game in the numbers we have today, have hunters to thank. If a person is in disbelief at these facts, I encourage them to fact check. I assure you, I am not wrong. Hunters want to harvest game, and if the game is not there, the hunting culture dies. Therefor hunters are the #1 contributors to conservation agencies and projects.

Now, not all hunters have that level of respect for game. I am not sure what influences they have as children that would lead to things like poaching or a lackadaisical approach to hunting animals, but there are small numbers of people out there who make a bad name for us all. Some hunters also seem to have a blood lust. The desire to hunt every available animal in every season presented to them. Taking poor shots or hunting unethically. I am not going to judge whether its morally wrong, if they obey the laws, it’s their game and the season exists specifically for them. What would define the person’s true passion for the sport isn’t how they react when they kill game, but how they handle not harvesting. We call it “tag soup”. You didn’t harvest game so you now “eat” your tag. The hunter who feels as though harvesting is the key to a successful hunt, doesn’t appreciate hunting as we should. Its an opportunity to immerse oneself in the natural world, get great cardio exercise if they are in good health, and appreciate a culture that has existed since early man sharpened a stick for the purpose of harvesting a meal.


Growing up with the carcass of one of these beautiful creatures on the living room floor, as I did, can’t help but color your view of trophy hunting.

What about trophy hunting?

Big game hunting in Africa and trophy hunting in other nations draws a lot of negative attention. Not a lot of people are interested in seeing dead lions, rhinos, or giraffes, but again, photographers don’t pay $200,000 for a safari, hunters do. And that whole process has a positive impact on the economy and conservation in those areas. Why would a local man poach bush meat for profits when he could get a cash tip from a hunter that exceeds his annual income? Again, those who disagree I encourage to research those facts. I may not ever participate and may not enjoy seeing an animal dead that I wish to photograph one day, but trophy hunters with a good moral compass are not poachers. They obey local laws and stimulate economies in areas where they may be lacking income for locals.

With all that said, hunting is an amazing experience. You are participating in something that your ancestors’ lives depended on. To acknowledge this should bring on some nostalgia. If you’ve never sat in the forest before the sun rises, listening to bull elk bugle, turkey gobble, or waiting for first light to lay eyes on a deer, you are missing an experience that is sure to rattle your soul and awaken emotions that are rooted in your core as a meat-eating predator.

-Wesley White
@wesleywhiteproductions on Instagram, check out my photography!

(Note from Carol: as always, courteous comments are welcomed!)


Photo credit: Wesley White Productions

26 comments on “The case for hunting
  1. Living in Africa, there is always a huge debate about both killing for conservation and trophy killing, both of which I am against, but so many people don’t know the facts so thank you for sharing this educational information! P.S. Yellowstone National Park is on my bucket list of places to visit and your post makes me want to go more than ever!

  2. What a well thought out and interesting response, I, too am no fan of guns and hunting, but I was riveted by Wesley’s information, which, quite frankly made me (I know weirdly)think of today’s political climate in this way: Do your research and your homework, Read about something that disturbs you, You might be surprised at what you find, if you have an open mind. Thanks as always, Carol and you too, Wesley!

  3. This is such a thoughtful post. I have no problem with hunting for food but I am against trophy hunting too.
    Hunting for foid is the healthiest way to eat and good for the planet.

  4. Kelly says:

    The people in my family hunted for sport but always harvested. I don’t care for the taste of it, but if someone is going to eat it, I have no problem with it. I live in the Midwest and I know the human population has had a great impact on our natural environment. The predators that kept the deer population in check have been driven from the region due to cattle ranching. (They like to eat whatever is available and a penned cow is easier than a free deer.) So now the deer are overpopulated, causing car/motorcycle accidents, eating crops, etc. I encourage every hunter I know to get their limit of deer each season. If they don’t eat the meat themselves, they can always donate it to food pantries.

    I’m not a vegetarian and can’t really afford free-range, organically raised meat. So I can relate to his comparison of eating beef/pork/chicken that has been raised and butchered in deplorable corporate conditions and the hunting for harvest of wild animals.

    I learned something about trophy hunting also. I’m not sure I fully support it, but I understand it a bit better. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Gary Mathews says:

    Carol this was an amazing point of view from the other side. Great article, I would have to been in the boat with you all listening to this polite debate.

  6. My son who is in the military has started to hunt. My late husband’s family goes deer hunting although his dad did not. My family was never into it. My husband went to Africa, to film a big game (elephant) hunting safari. The Bushman in Africa eat the entire elephant and the money from the hunt goes toward conservation. I’ve never been a fan of hunting or guns but understand if it is for a good purpose, like eating or surviving. However, assault weapons are an abomination Beautiful pics from Yellowstone..

  7. Toni McCloe says:

    This was a really interesting article, one I learned from and one that made me see something – hunting – in a whole new way. I especially love that you asked the question.

  8. peace kairu says:

    I Understand about the hunting, when i Lived in Kenya all the food was organic and always had a different taste and my skin was flawless, really miss it 🙁

  9. Marilu says:

    I never really thought about hunting, but I really do love to fish! Great for family time.

  10. Elizabeth O. says:

    I’ve never looked at hunting the way Wes viewed it but I can’t really deny the fact that the young boy makes a lot of sense. If everyone hunted the way he did, I don’t think there would be an issue at all. Thanks for the insightful read!

  11. Vyjay says:

    Interesting perspective on hunting, not that I am a big votary of hunting given the fact that I am a vegetarian. I do believe that Man does not have the right to kill other animals for food of for trophy.

  12. Janie Emaus says:

    My husband and brother-in-law were both hunters. I do remember the first time my husband went hunting and came back without having made a “kill” I was really happy. But after listening to them, I do see their side of it whish is much like Wes’ story.

  13. Lisa Rios says:

    Such a wonderful post & the pictures are simply amazing as well. When your hunting is for food, that really does not have any issues, but when it is done for trophy it is not going to help any.

  14. Rosey says:

    I drove past a house one time that had buffalo in the yard. I was so intrigued. One day they were gone. Across the street, there was a sign that said buffalo meat for sale. 0-0

  15. Well thought out post thank you. Your photographs are lovely. And yes, Bison are huge – I remember one walking by our one ton dually truck and his eyeball was even with my husband’s. Yikes. They are BIG!

  16. AJ Sefton says:

    Nice photographs.

    We all have the primitive instinct to kill but most of us choose not to anymore. I take on board all the points made but my position is, and always has been, that it is deeply disturbing when someone gets pleasure in taking life, any form of life.

  17. Ruth Curran says:

    We spent many years living in the mountains in Colorado and hunting was just the norm. — we, the nonhunters, were the outliers. I both understand and appreciate what Wes is saying and honor his right to his opinion and to live as he wishes. I also appreciate that he is talking about human history.

    Having just gotten back from Africa and seeing the beauty and majesty of those huge creatures living in harmony with people who do not have enough to eat, I get this whole thing on a different level. Yes there are people out there who abuse power and poach animals for gain. There are also those who rely on that meat to survive in an environment where protien is scarce. Perspective changing idea.

  18. It’s lovely. I hope you have a chance to visit. I had that exact experience today! Thanks you

  19. Stephen Hogarth says:

    Carol, although you stated that you are not completely on-board with hunting, I appreciate your effort to understand our culture, mentality, and compassion for the lesser beings that we cohabit this planet with. We both share a love for these wonderful critters (seriously, who doesn’t?). Nothing saddens my heart more than seeing a malnourished herd due to overpopulation, or an ecosystem that is recovering from a wildfire. Did you know that wildfires also poison rivers and streams and will often result in a sterile stream for years afterwards? I remember as a teenager trying to fish in Big Sur, about 2 years after a wildfire swept though… Not a nibble was to be had. I experienced the same thing up in the Golden Trout Wilderness when I lived in Kernville, CA.

  20. Steven says:

    Awesome view point! I was taught to hunt at an early age. I was always taught that if you’re going to kill something then you’re going to eat it. It taught me to respect nature.

  21. Marcel says:

    I hope you have a chance to visit. It is good to read your writing. Although I have a week with my friend Johnny, I go to Dear Hunting. I enjoy it very much.


  22. Bob Willium says:

    This is an amazing hunting trip. I know Yellowstone National Park because I went there 2 years ago for the purpose of deer hunting. This is an amazing place for hunting in the country of USA.

  23. Becca says:

    I love this post!!

  24. Popular hunting locations near Yellowstone include the Teton Wilderness in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Northwest Wyoming (near the Southeastern corner of the park), Gallatin National Forest and the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, and Salmon-Challis National Forest in Idaho.

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