The South Dakota legislature has been working on a bill that would legalize the use of handguns for hunting gamebirds. From a practical standpoint, it’s a head-scratcher. The bill would authorize the use of handguns loaded with .410 shot shells. As the article link above points out, such a light shell, shot from a handgun, might be effective up to a ridiculously close range of 10 feet, but beyond that, there’s little chance of doing anything other than inuring a bird.
To be blunt…I don’t think this bill has anything to do with hunting. If you’re going hunting for grouse or pheasant, you’re not going to grab a handgun. This bill is about “legitimizing” handguns, pure and simple. It’s a bill designed to show that handguns have some supposed legitimate use, rather than turning on other human beings.
A debate has started on the South Dakota bird listserver about the bill, a debate that has brought hunters out of the woodwork. Of course the argument from the hunting crowd has absolutely nothing to do with the bill itself. Hunters are ignoring the actual issue, and instead rushing to come to the defense of hunting overall. The main argument being made is that hunting overall is a net benefit to birds, because of all the habitat that’s being protected by groups like Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, etc.
As for hunting itself, I have no doubt there’s more habitat due to the power and money of hunting interests. Overall in the world we live in, that’s good, but again, to be blunt, there’s one very obvious difference between hunting and birding. I have no doubt many hunters enjoy the habitat itself, but the one overarching reason that habitat is set aside is to ensure there are enough birds and other animals for people to harvest. Someone on the South Dakota bird listserver said no “informed” birder would equate fewer hunters as a benefit for birds. I would beg to differ, and I’m POSITIVE the birds staring down the barrel of a shotgun would beg to differ. The habitat protection is great, but as with anything related to human beings, that habitat protection comes with a price.
Despite the benefits of preserving that habitat, it’s also impossible to ignore the motivation behind that habitat protection, what the real goal is for setting aside that land. In my utopian world, we’d protect land just for the sake of conservation, not to ensure there’s an adequate pool of creatures to kill. In short…birders love the resource, love the wild bird itself. For birders, it’s about the birds, and in my perfect world it would be nice to set aside land just to let nature take its course. For hunters, it’s about the ensuring there’s something to harvest. For hunters, it’s about the hunter him/herself, it’s about using the resource for their own benefit and satisfaction, more than the resource (THE BIRD) itself.
When I drive on the grasslands West River, and I see a group of hunters lined up on a fence, popping off prairie dogs for no other reason than to have something to kill, it’s damned hard to see the “good” side of hunting. To be blunt (why pussyfoot around at this stage and hide how I really feel), in a situation like that, I see a sick desire to kill for the sake of killing. When you see hunters clamoring to have the chance to kill a mountain lion, or a coyote, or any other animal that’s not being harvested for food or other actual purpose other than to satiate some kind of blood lust….it’s damned hard to see the “good” side of hunting. When I’m driving around Presho in the late fall looking for raptors, and I see hordes of hunters slowly driving around, jumping out and blasting away when they see a pheasant or grouse, it’s hard to equate their activity with “enjoying the outdoors”, and much easier to see that it’s all about the desire to harvest as many birds as possible. When I’m in the same area and I see a shot raptor lying in a ditch…it’s hard to see the “good” side of hunting, and it’s awfully damned hard to see the birds themselves being put first.
Give me the habitat protection, by all means. But hunters…don’t pretend it’s all about the birds. It’s all about YOU.