Oh, Deer

It’s hunting season, which means a lot of dumb animals will be shot, usually by their fellow dumb animals, who were actually aiming at deer.

Hunting is a major part of Utah “culture,” and it fascinates me. I’m from Southern California, where there’s plenty of gunfire, but not usually aimed at wildlife. (That’s because there IS no wildlife, the last tree having been replaced by a Circle K well over a decade ago). So I’m unfamiliar with the urge many Utahns have to go out and shoot deer, elk, moose, non-Mormons, and whatever else it’s legal to shoot at.

In some areas of Utah and neighboring states, schools even let out for a few days, to allow the boys (you know none of the girls are involved) to go hunting with their dads. In places where the school board is not quite so enlightened, fathers will just pull their sons out of school, apparently figuring that whatever the boy might have learned in the classroom that day, he can learn it better squatting in the woods with half-drunken men, listening to bawdy jokes and firing bullets at things.

I should stress that I have no problem with the killing of deer and other woodland creatures for the sake of eating them. I’m not a vegetarian, and I don’t care much for the self-righteous, pasty-faced, bony-armed, malnourished people who are. I love meat, and I recognize that in order for me to eat it, someone has to kill it. (Someone generally has to cook it for me, too, and I usually try to get them to pay for it as well.) What disturbs me is when people ENJOY the killing. It’s one thing to kill an animal for food; it’s quite another to make a sport of it, to track an animal for hours, to lie motionless in the dirt until you get a clear shot, then to kill it and brag to your buddies about how many “points” it had. Does the fact that people consider this FUN bother anyone else besides me? I mean, what’s the big thrill here? Shooting something defenseless? Do you realize that even if a deer DID attack you, 1) you would probably deserve it, and 2) all it could do is lick you to death?

The hunting mentality is particularly distressing in light of the recent news story that more people in Salt Lake County die as a result of shootings than of car accidents. This alarms me because it means that as reckless as people are with their cars, they’re even more reckless with their guns.

As for me, I can’t even go fishing. (Fishing-related deaths were not mentioned in the news story.) Even if I’m going to toss the fish back, I can’t bear the thought of piercing a fish’s lips with a sharp hook. I remember being lied to as a child about how fish don’t feel pain in their mouths, so it doesn’t bother them when they’re hooked. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized the lunacy of this idea. Every other animal in the world has nerve endings in its mouth; why would fish be any different? Do you suppose that after millions of years of being caught, fish’s mouths began evolving nerveless?

Actually, the evolution thing isn’t that crazy. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before deer start being born with bright orange colorings on their chests, causing them to look like hunters. Of course, they’d probably still get shot, unless their hooves also evolved to look like they were holding beer cans.

Sharp-eyed readers will remember large chunks of this column from one called "Good Kill Hunting," published Nov. 9, 1998 -- almost exactly one year before this one. The reason I recycled it was three-fold: One, I was extremely busy this week with some new assignments at The Daily Herald; two, I wanted another chance to vent my feelings on the matter, since I think hunting is so stupid; and three, I really, really wanted to get some angry letters from hunters.

Seriously. Believe it or not, getting angry letters has rarely, if ever, been my intent before. Oh sure, it's a nice side benefit. But I've almost never written something just so I would get the letters, until now, with this column. I knew the letters from the hunters would be amusing, and I really wanted to annoy them. I don't know why I chose them instead of any of the other groups I find distasteful; I guess I was just in a trouble-making mood this week.

Fortunately, the readers did not disappoint me. Here's the first e-mail I got, from someone unfamiliar with the column but whose fiance recommended this particular one to her:

I want to start off by telling you that I am not a hunter nor have I ever been. I've only ever held a gun once and never have I shot one. I don't believe in hunting when it is for sport, but fully support it when it is done to feed a family. [I believe I said more or less the same thing in the column -- it's not the killing of the animals I have a problem with; it's the fact that people ENJOY it] I am from Kansas and I have been around hunting all of my life. I know many, many men who spend their personal time hunting, not only to feed their families, but to feed families who can't afford a lot of food and need the meat to see them through the winter.

I was referred to your article by my fiance who seems to think you are hilarious. I believe that statement of your humor was well founded and correct, but I also think you should consider the fact that you're wrong. Many of the statements you made in your article concerning hunting and hunters were wrong. [For example...?] In my opinion, people shouldn't put down something they have never experienced or researched. It's also not safe to generalize about an entire group of people when you don't even know 1% of them.

I would also like to remind you, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that finding humor by putting down or making fun of other people, ie. vegetarians, is not a very Christ-like attribute. I am not angry at your statements and normally I wouldn't ever write something like this, but you have insulted many of my friends without even knowing what you're talking about. Maybe you should research your material a little before you write things that make an entire group of people look bad as well as making yourself look stupid by your incorrect and seemingly ignorant statements.

I replied by pointing out that I was talking about hunters in Utah, whom I have spent time around, and not the ones in Kansas, where's she from. I also got several e-mails from people saying I'd described Utah hunters perfectly, albeit with some exaggeration for the sake of humor.

The next e-mail was forwarded to me by a reader who had shown this column to a friend. This is what his friend, an avid hunter, had to say:
There is no logical argument against hunting (if someone takes the time to gather facts) only emotional, reactive babble by those who don't want to take the time to examine the hypocrisy of their viewpoint. And that's all I have to say about that.

I'm glad he took the time to explain himself. Like when he says anti-hunting people are hypocritical, and then spends explains HOW they're hypocritical. Or when he says there's no logical argument against hunting, and then follows that with some of the logical fallacies people use, and explains why they aren't valid. He didn't just make a statement and then leave it; he supported it, thus making a very clear, concise argument for himself.

No, wait. I'm thinking of some other e-mail, written by someone who's not an idiot. My viewpoint, which could not have been more clear in the column, is this: I have no problem with people killing animals. None at all. Kill all the animals you want, if you intend to eat them or do something else useful with them. It's merely the fact that people ENJOY killing them that bothers me, and that I can't relate to. I dislike the "sport" of boxing for the exact same reason: How could anyone ENJOY getting beaten up, or enjoy beating someone else up? How could anyone even enjoy watching such a thing? (Please don't refer me to my own "Fight Club" column, because that was different: That was my wanting to get punched in the face ONE time, under controlled circumstances, to see what it was like. Quite different from actually wanting to be in a prolonged fight. Of course, the Provo Fight Club inspired rather different feelings, and I can't really explain those.)

But did the angry letters stop there? Oh, no. Here's one from a couple who actually read the column in the actual newspaper, instead of cheapskatedly and lazily getting it off the Internet:
This is in response to your article entitled "Joy of Hunting a Mystery" [the headline used in the paper] on Friday, November 12. First, I am glad you said you are from California, that explains a lot of your mentality. [I don't know if that's a compliment, but I'm taking it as one.] And about the dumb deer you were referring to, are those the same ones with a keen sense of smell, hearing, sight, and the ability to run over 40 mph? [Defending the intelligence of deer is probably not a good thing to do if you're also going to defend your practice of shooting them.]

As far as children getting out of school goes, I don't know of many parents who do not take their children out for some type of family vacation during the school year. If deer hunting is my idea of a family vacation what is wrong with that? [I'd say it's the "making killing seem fun" thing that's wrong with it.] As for the drunks firing bullets at things, I do not drink and, I would appreciate not being referred to as a drunk. I have hunted ever since I was a child and I have never seen guys getting drunk while hunting, I have seen them get drunk at night when they returned to camp but not while hunting.

I must have missed the recent news story about more people in Salt Lake County die as a result of shootings than of car accidents. Were they referring to hunting accidents or other shootings? As I have read time and time again, hunting is the safest sport there is, even more so than water-skiing, football, baseball, etc., etc. [Yeah, there are far more shooting deaths in baseball than in hunting.] If it were not for sportsmen the wildlife of Utah would drastically decline. Sportsmen generate millions of dollars through license sales and donations. The money is used to improve habitat and manage wildlife. If we didn't hunt there would be more deer than there is food and many would starve to death. Without hunting and the money it generates, the wildlife would be somewhat like California's is. Gone. There is also a course that is required before you can get a license. It is called Hunters Safety. You would learn a lot about hunting and why we do it, if you spent the money and time to go. As for the fish with the hook in it's lips, get a grip. I think next time you decide to bash something you should understand it. If you do not like the traditions of Utah, please move back to California!

Shad Johnson
Amy Johnson ( I am a woman, and I am involved in hunting.)
Pleasant Grove

I am a man, and I am not involved in hunting. We're shattering stereotypes right and left today, here at "Snide Remarks"!

One of my favorite arguments used by people who write letters to the editor of Utah newspapers has always been the "if you don't like [fill in the blank], then move away" argument. It's usually employed when someone has complained about the way Mormon doctrine and culture permeates all of Utah society: Someone will then write in and inform that person that since Mormons founded this state (well, if you don't count the Indians who were already here) (and no one ever does), and since Mormons account for 70 percent of the current population, you kinda have to expect Mormonism to be found everywhere, and if you don't like it, you should move to another, less Mormony state. It's actually a fairly valid argument -- I mean, you can't move to a state that's 70 percent something and not expect that something to affect your life -- though people use it far too often. I was honored to finally have it applied to me, though not for the Mormon thing.

Here's another letter we got. It was e-mailed to me, with the note "Attached is a friendly letter," and it was also sent to the Letters to the Editor people (even though it speaks directly TO me and not ABOUT me).
Mr. Snider:

I am very interested in knowing what your source is for the "fact" in your article "Joy of Hunting a Mystery" stating "more people in Salt Lake County die as a result of shootings than of car accidents." According to the most recent United States Statistical Abstract (page 108) the number of people killed in motor vehicle accidents in the United States in 1995 (the most recent year listed) was 43,363. The number of people killed in accidents caused by firearms and handguns combined was only 1,225. That's means people are thirty-five times more likely to be killed in a CAR! I highly doubt Salt Lake County would differ so greatly in the other direction from the rest of the nation. If your source is merely the local TV station or newspaper, I hardly find that credible since any idiot (as you have shown) can write for them.

[My source was The Salt Lake Tribune -- the largest and most-respected newspaper in Utah -- Nov. 5, 1999, page A1 at the top. The reason he and the last letter-writer missed this news story is that they only read the Daily Herald, which emphasizes Utah County news, not Salt Lake City news. I mistakenly assumed a lot of people would have read the Tribune story, since it was at the top of A1; I forgot that many people, if they have any news source at all, have only one news source.]

Furthermore, do you realize that the best shooters in the world are women? Take a look at the Olympic shooting sports and you will see that some of the world champions are women. You have to be extremely naive to think that men are the only ones that enjoy shooting. [Actually, what I said was that it's mostly men who enjoy HUNTING, not target-shooting. There's a monumental difference, as one involves aiming at a target for purposes of showing skill and precision, and the other involves aiming at an animal for purposes of killing it.] I see that you are among the fools that believe everything that they see on TV and read in the paper. [Oh, yeah, that's journalists, all right: Ready to believe anything. Never skeptical or cynical.]

I am highly offended that you have stereotyped me and other hunters in the world as drunken idiots out in the woods with our guns, shooting at anything that moves. You couldn't be more wrong! We are intelligent, skillful, nature loving, responsible individuals just trying to enjoy some of the rights that still exist in this country despite people like you. [Not sure where in my column I implied I wished to take away his rights, but OK.]

Wild animals are also neither defenseless nor dumb. Human beings are defenseless. Why do you think that we have to use weapons to hunt them? People like you are the ones that want to take away humans defense against wild animals and criminals who act like wild animals. You have obviously never seen a deer attack a human being. Deer and other wild animals are powerful and can kill people easily. [Oh, right. Hunting is done out of self-defense. Thanks for clarifying.]

A fool will criticize things that he does not understand or have any knowledge of. You have defined your self as a fool by doing just this. [Actually, since he defined the word "fool" based on something he felt I had done, that doesn't make a very strong case for my being a fool. I could just as easily say, "A genius will criticize things that he does not understand. I have defined myself as a genius by doing this."] I would hope in the future that you would do a little research and study from a credible source the topic which you want to address in order to avoid looking so ignorant. I am from Southern California as well and, incidentally, came here to get away from people like you. How did you find me? [Um, you wrote to me, not the other way around.]

P.S. I know you tend to be sarcastic at times in your articles. I couldn't tell in this article if you are really as stupid as it appears, or if you were merely being sarcastic. If it was the latter, please ignore all the "you're an idiot" comments.

Paul Steiner

I liked this one, because at least he acknowledged that sometimes I make jokes in my column. That is lost on many people.

Next, an e-mail from a member of the younger generation, whose name is being withheld here because of his age.
On several points, you sir have no basis to state that hunters are "rednecks, driving their redneck-powered pickups." [I didn't say this in the current column. He must have read my other hunting column, in which I did make a similar statement.] The number one selling vehicle in the U.S. is the Ford F-150. I guess the whole country is redneck. Saying that a deer would attack a person because they #1) "probably deserve it"- Is irrevelent to the fact that it could happen to anyone near a deer (although deer attacks are very rare) and #2)"all it could do is lick you to death"- If you actually knew about the defense methods of a deer, you'd know that their front hoofs can peel a man like a banana. [An evocative image if ever I read one.]

I do not appreciate the stereotype that deer hunters are beer chuggers and hicks. Some of the most refined atheletes appear on hunting shows, along with doctors and lawyers and many high-profile people supporting the right to "kill these innocent creatures".

15 year old who hates people criticizing without knowing the whole story.

Not much to say about that letter; their tones are all starting to sound about the same, aren't they? Here's another one that, yet again, fails to address my original point: I have no problem with animals being killed. But do you have to ENJOY the killing?
I appreciate your opinion regarding hunting. Each of us is entitled to his own opinions. I don't believe however that articles such as the one "Joy of hunting a mystery" should be written by someone with no obvious knowledge of what he is talking about. [Because after all, humor columns have a long-standing tradition of being based entirely on documentable fact, and never just on the writer's opinion or what he thinks is funny.]

First, hunting is something that has existed since the dawn of man. [So has adultery. So what?] survival of the fittest and the smartest. [You mean, "survival of whoever has the most weapons."] Neither the hunter nor the animal in this case are "dumb animals". Deer and wild animals can outsmart anyone. They run faster, hide better, climb better and sneak better than any human.

Second, The next time you are standing 10 feet from an angry buck deer or a doe with a fawn she is protecting, I hope that you realize you are not going to get licked, but rather get the living beep whooped out of you. [Again, the "hunting-as-self-defense" argument.]

Third, the stereotype of all hunters being drunken and stupid and having no reason to be in the woods except to kill is wrong. Maybe , if you had had the chance to spend some time with your son hunting, you would appreciate the chance to be with someone and to gain some friendship and understanding of each other. Nature and hiking and shooting are all things people enjoy without killing being envolved. However killing is part of it and I am glad someone kills for you or you might end up being self-righteous in more ways than one. Not to mention pasty faced, bony armed, and malnourished.

Fourth, It has been quite a while since the shooting of mormons was a "practiced" valid law in Missouri. Utah never had a law allowing for the shooting of non-mormons so I guess that you are just confussed with the California style of shoot first and then shoot latter. [Or maybe that was just a joke, dumbass. I'm never confussed.] Fifth, Killing an animal for meat is the reason most people go hunting. When that is not the case it is not your place to judge them. [Nor did I try to judge them. I don't care if they kill; I care when they enjoy the killing. How many times do I have to say that?] That is of course, unless you were appointed moral judge of the world last month and it was not a published fact. [Yeah, the liberal-biased media hushed it up.]

Last, sometimes I do believe in evolution myself. Because I hope that as journalists write articles over time they will actually start to base their writings on actually experiences and knowledge(fact) instead of just blowing off steam or creating fiction for all to read.

The experiences I have had hunting with family and friends will always be some of my most cherished

Tim bird [He failed to capitalize his own last name; that's not my doing] Utah resident for 37 years, son and father, hunter for 21 and avid outdoorsman.

So far, everyone has misunderstood my use of the word "dumb," too. I meant it in the first sense listed in Webster's: "Lacking the power of speech." (In fact, "dumb animals" is even one of the examples they give.) When I was young, we were told to be kind to dumb animals. All that was meant was that they can't talk, argue, reason or debate, not necessarily that they are stupid. Of course, when I used the word, I then quickly changed the meaning, for the sake of the joke, to make fun of hunters. But nonetheless, I didn't mean to imply that deer are not smart, although I've yet to be convinced that they are. I mean, if they were smart, they would have figured out a way to stop being hunted by now.