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Barry Crimmins

words to live near



Armed Tourist Season Saturday, November 17, 2007

Armed Tourist Season

Avid Sportsman, cooler and weapon at the ready!

[NOTE: I posted this before dawn and then went out to survey the madness. Upon returning, I revised this piece. It should be a bit clearer now that I have adjusted to all the shooting.)

My quiet, rural neighborhood is officially under invasion. The gunfire will start any minute now. The occupation will last until mid-December. During that time I'll fear for the safety of my loved ones, my neighbors and myself. Thanks to my damned hemorrhaging heart, I'll even fear for the safety of the invaders.

This year the danger is heightened here in New York's Southern Tier because the invaders will be allowed to use high-powered rifles. Until recently shotguns were the only weapons the local government sanctioned during this assault. Shotgun blasts don't carry very far. A rifle can shoot a bullet much farther than the shooter can see. So for the next three or so weeks, from dawn to sunset, we have to enter a very dangerous lottery just to bring in firewood or run out the mailbox or walk the puppies or travel anywhere in the car. I guarantee the occupiers will have a much bigger 'friendly fire' body count this year because of the introduction of these new, more dangerous weapons. Such is life and death in a free-fire zone.

The invaders will run the gamut from ignorant, drunken yahoos to kindly old men, bound to hunting by tradition but emotionally distant from the violence they are here to commit. The visitors will foul aquifers with toxic amounts of lead, destroy wildlife habitat with all-terrain vehicles, belch greenhouse gasses from gigantic pickup trucks and SUV's and, in just a few weeks, deposit 80% of the annual litter that gets discarded along the dirt roads and in the forests, fields and meadows of our neighborhood.
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Signs on general stores announce pre-dawn opening times, and trumpet the availability of beer and ammo. Nice combo, huh? Coolers and bandoliers full, the intrepid woodsmen hit the roads, where many will will disregard traffic laws. If this is a typical year, I'll see at least one clownmobile whizzing by with a gun barrel or two protruding from an open window. At least a few  times, I'll save myself from head-on collisions because I drive incredibly defensively in full knowledge that the visitors don't think things like STOP and YIELD signs mean anything on roads that aren't paved.

These people, who call themselves sportsmen, often set out in large groups. Several are sent out into the bush to stampede their prey, while many more stand on the roadside, literally never setting a foot afield, waiting with their firearms cocked (or is it firearm cocks? I forget) to shoot victims flushed out of their humble pastoral residences and into an inescapable line of fire. It is about as sporting as catching moths on flypaper hung from a lantern at midnight.

Simply because I live out here, they all presume that I am a hunter. When I tell them I'm not, they'll look at me as if I'm half a man although few of them look to have ever been skilled and coordinated enough to have played the contact sports where I tested my male mettle in my younger days.

Many will tell me that they love to come out here at this time of year because they love nature. They should see how nice it is when it's not full of assholes with guns. For one thing, it's a lot quieter. I love nature enough to feel obliged to leave it undisturbed. I love the beautiful creatures, in particular the deer that the hunters so want to track and kill.

A few days before my beloved dog Lloyd died last summer, he sprinted after a beautiful buck. He'd never have caught him but many hunters would have killed Lloyd had they seen him because they'd claim, they need to protect deer. This is a perversion of a law, that's fair, concerning packs of dogs hunting down and massacring deer in deep snow. But they brag about killing any dog chasing deer, at any time of the year, for simply behaving naturally. Most dogs are more concerned with the challenge of chasing the uncatchable than the kill. Lloyd didn't even kill woodchucks when he caught up with them. He was never a threat to deer. On the many occasions when we came upon deer, which is to say walked right into the midst of any number of them, he was intimidated by their size and simply stuck with me.  But this matters little to these protectors of deer, who got up at 3 AM today in hopes of killing a few of them.
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Some of these people do hunt to feed their families. But many don't even like venison. I know because they tell me as much when they offer it to me. I love deer. I hate venison. Even when I ate meat, it tasted, well, dead to me. In the months after hunting season, I'll see a few of victims,  shot and left  to rot in the field.

The economics of deer hunting are dicey as hell. Once you add up the cost of guns, ammo, fuel, camouflage covered everything, booze, lodging, meals, hunting licenses and so on, the average venison steak can cost considerably more per pound than filet mignon. The hunters who spend that kind of money take deer that rural impoverished people really could eat.

And if you think hunting is necessary to cull the herd, understand this: the biggest boon to fish and wildlife departments are the fees and fines that come from hunting season. Therefore they work hard to make state lands as deer-friendly as possible. This is a huge boon to the deer population. It also received an incredible boost when for years, only bucks were hunted. The herd is like a giant organism. When that organism realized an annual loss of its a huge portion of its male component, it worked doubly hard to replace it and a fawn boom resulted.
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The more deer dead by the side of highways, the more people think that there's a need for more hunting and fewer restrictions. If you've ever hit a deer with a car, you don't want to do it again. This is how many gentle-hearted people become advocates of longer hunting seasons and more powerful weapons. Too bad we don't just let nature alone and allow some hunting and a truly natural habitat diminish their numbers.

Having said all this, I understand and tolerate hunting because it does feed many poor people. Unfortunately it attracts many poor excuses for people, as well.

updated: 15 years ago