As noted by Emma Marris in a recent (and amusing) blog, it's now in vogue for the hip and tragically beautiful to hunt. The change, apparently, is driven by the locavore and foraging movements. After decades of decline, hunting license applications jumped almost 10 percent between 2006 and 2011.
I've hunted all my life, and I'm all for it. I'm something of a yellow dog Democrat myself -- not because I ascribe docilely to the Progressive platform, but because I can't vote for candidates who think the world is 6,000 years old, the wealthy deserve lavish tax breaks at the expense of a beleaguered middle class, and environmental regulations are a Commie plot aimed at turning America into a land of neutered and godless milquetoasts.
Marris claims there have always been plenty of politically progressive hunters, and they've only recently become visible as hunting has been deemed acceptable by the young and urbane. I'm not sure I agree with her.
Yes, I'm a Democrat, and so are my two regular hunting partners. But just from our empirical observations, we're outliers. I know many ethical and thoughtful hunters, but they reflexively vote Republican. Don't ask me why. If given free reign, the Republican urge to trash environmental statutes would ultimately result in the destruction of the nation's remaining wildlife habitat, to the profound detriment of hunting.
And these are the "moderate" hunters I know. There are plenty who dwell on the extreme fringes of Crazytown. I must provide an illustrative anecdote here. A few years ago, one of my buddies was hunting ducks in the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in northern California. At the edge of the refuge's check-in station there's a small field where hunters typically exercise their dogs. My friend saw a hunter dressed in full camouflage staring into some brush at the far side of the field. He was tall, pot-bellied, bearded, bug-eyed, his cheeks rubicund from a fine mesh of broken capillaries. Suddenly, at the top of his lungs, he began bellowing "N----r! N----r!" (That's right: the N-word.)
My friend felt justifiably anxious. Was this hulking and obviously demented racist about to embark on a killing spree? But just then a big black Labrador retriever loped into view. The guy was simply calling his dog.
So I consider any trend salutary that brings a younger and more politically diverse cohort into the hunting community. George Will recently observed that opposition to gay marriage is dying out -- literally. In other words, most of the people who are appalled at the thought of homosexuals marrying are old, and as they slough off their mortal coils, the controversy will become a non-issue.
I'm comforted by the prospect that something similar is happening to hunting. Maybe, as old, hidebound, right-wing shooters drift off to the Happy Hunting Grounds, they'll be replaced by more astute, sophisticated and tolerant younger hunters.
One can hope, at any rate. I've loved hunting ever since I tagged along with my father and bird-dogged his doves and pheasants. I still remember the first animal I bagged: a young jackrabbit. In keeping with a long-standing family edict of never wasting anything we killed, I diligently dressed it and my father fricasseed it. It was a little stringy, but I found it ambrosial. I retain many similar memories of my time afield, all of them pleasant.
What I haven't found pleasant is the radicalization of the hunting community over the past 30 or 40 years. Hunting was once as apolitical as golf. But if you identify yourself as a hunter today, you might as well wear a sandwich board declaring yourself a right-wing racist fruitcake. I would, to put it mildly, like that to change.
Perhaps an evolving hunting community might also lead to new support for rational environmental policies. Yes, I know -- some hunter-based conservation groups have been very effective in pursuing laudable goals. Ducks Unlimited comes immediately to mind; this venerable organization has preserved millions of acres of wetlands in North America.
But many hunters evince a strange disconnect between preserving wild lands and wildlife and the pursuit of their sport. You won't have good hunting if your habitat is buried under shopping malls, fragmented by fracking infrastructure or converted to corn fields by corporate farmers anxious to cash in on ethanol subsidies. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently announced that 2012 will likely be the warmest year on record; the drought still hammering the Midwest is most certainly linked to climate change, and it is devastating to the waterfowl and upland birds of the Central Flyway.
Finally, perhaps younger hunters will feel sufficiently emboldened to address gun control. In light of this year's massacres in Aurora, Clackamas and Sandy Hook, somebody must take up this gauntlet anew. Yes, I want to be able to buy sporting arms and ammunition without a full body cavity search, but -- unlike many of my confreres -- I don't understand how that implies support for unrestricted access to assault-style carbines and semiautomatic pistols with large capacity clips. These firearms have no earthly purpose beyond the wholesale of killing human beings. Home defense? I'm all for it. But if you can't defend your family with your trusty Remington 870 duck gun loaded with number four buckshot, you might as well save the last round for yourself.
So welcome to hunting, young hipsters: We need your energy and fresh perspectives to invigorate our graying and reactionary ranks. And don't worry if you occasionally offend the Old Guard -- time is on your side.