A dad and his son with the deer they shot in New Jersey"s woods, part of the state"s "Take a Kid Hunting" program.© New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife
I grew up in rural northeast Pennsylvania where wildlife was part of my backyard. When the bears took our garbage and messed up the yard, we didn’t consider having them killed, trapped or moved. My father merely hiked into the woods to retrieve the overturned cans. When geese or deer crossed the road we stopped the car and waited. I came to adore wild animals just by observing them being themselves in their natural habitat.
I remember hearing hunters’ guns in the woods behind our house. Once, someone dragged a dead deer through our front yard. I watched him through my bedroom window, and I could not understand his motivation. The same deer often looked into our kitchen window and then slowly crept away. Now one trailed its blood on the gravel in our driveway.
I"ve since moved to northern New Jersey where hunters are a fact of life. One walked up the road near my house carrying a gun. He was headed toward a creek that I like to photograph because ducks and geese settle there. I saw him as an aggressive intruder upon the picturesque, peaceful landscape that I have come to cherish. The animals he was after were merely doing what wild animals do, minding their own business.
Later, I went for a drive down a favorite road near a local wildlife preserve. I often go there to take photographs. It is my favorite place in the world to unwind and commune with nature. I can lose myself for hours in the beauty of the place. This time, I left after half an hour. I couldn’t bear listening to the gunshots in the background. Hunters had once again encroached upon the natural landscape I love, upon the wildlife I cherish. Only moments before I had watched as three young deer stopped and stared at me from the woods. I said a quiet prayer for them before they went on their way, something I like to do when wild animals notice me. For all I know, the gunshots I heard were aimed at them.
I guess I shouldn’t expect hunters to care about how they affect me or my experiences outdoors. Clearly we are not of the same mindset. But I am left wondering, when does the state care that hunters disturb and interrupt an average citizen’s ability to enjoy the wilderness that belongs to all of us? Buying a hunting license certainly seems too small a price for hunters to pay for their intrusions upon the peaceful landscape and those who call it home. I pay taxes just like the hunters do. What gives them the right to converge on a peaceful natural scene in order to terrorize and destroy?
When I visit a local forest, lake or park, I don’t even pick flowers. I bring my camera or a notebook and simply observe. As far as I can tell nothing I do while visiting these wild places impedes anyone else’s enjoyment of those same spaces while I am there or after I have gone home. I’ve often spent time untangling fishermen"s lines from the brush near a creek or lake edge because I feel responsible to protect and preserve these places. It’s common courtesy—something you do when you respect nature, animals and other people. Isn’t it?
This is why I have no patience for hunters. Their violence and invasive behavior makes it impossible for them not to have a negative impact on others, and clearly they don’t much care. You don’t trek into the woods near someone’s neighborhood and start shooting off a gun if you are worried about upsetting people. Hunters injure not only the animals they disturb, wound and kill, but also people like me, law-abiding taxpayers who are harmed when the animals they love are harmed, peaceful nature-goers who sustain invisible scars when violence encroaches on their sacred natural places.