Editor's note: This commentary is by Bill T. Huff, of Thetford, who is a lifelong outdoor enthusiast who has hunted, fished and trapped in Maine, Alaska and Vermont. He was a candidate for Orange district Senate in the November election.
[I] would like to thank Commissioner Louis Porter for his recent letter to VTDigger and I appreciate the dedicated work of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department as well as the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board. Together, they do an excellent job of managing Vermont’s wildlife resources, in relation to the carrying capacity of the land, for ALL Vermonters.
Unfortunately, a handful of people have recently attacked the department, the board, and all Vermonters who participate in traditional outdoor activities like hunting and trapping. Rather than a thoughtful discussion of facts, their modus operandi seems to be one of misinformation, intimidation, and demonizing law-abiding sportsmen and -women.
At the root of the problem is their idea that hunting and trapping are cruel and inhumane. They would like everybody to believe that sportsmen are “killers” and don’t care about having an animal suffer. Nothing could be further from the truth. They do not have a lock on the love for animals. I contend hunters and trappers care more about the animals they pursue, and have done far more to benefit those animals than any anti-hunter ever will. Hunters and trappers are conservationist at heart. We know better than anybody that in order to have a healthy sustainable animal population, a regulated and ethical set of rules, written and unwritten, must be adhered to. The difference between “us and them” is that sportsmen, in pursuit of game, will harvest some of the animals for use. Ideally, all of the animals taken will be put to good use and in most cases they are. Some furbearers, those that are vegetarian, can be harvested both for the fur and for consumption. Some furbearers are only harvested for the fur because of health and cultural norms. Some of these animals can carry disease that would be harmful to humans and in this country, we generally don’t eat canines and cats. It’s not wanton waste. Every hunter and trapper I know will harvest their prey in the most humane way possible and it is because we do care! If there are instances of inhumane treatment or wanton waste, they are the exception not the rule, and there are laws on the books already to address the issue.
It’s difficult to have a rational discussion when many don’t fully understand the issue. Traps have been characterized as bone-crushing, saw-toothed, and indiscriminate in their catch -- all untrue. Foothold traps, when used by any licensed trapper, are sized, baited and placed in such a manner to catch what is intended, never break any bones, and merely hold the paw. There are no teeth and there are a number of methods used to ensure an unharmed release is possible should an unwanted species accidentally be caught. They include modification of manufactured traps to include additional swivels and an attachment point centrally located rather than to a side, offset, and or padded jaws. All would allow a domestic pet or unwanted catch to be released unharmed. Caught animals are dispatched quickly and humanely. Certainly, as humanely and quickly (probably more so) as the millions of chickens, cows, pigs and sheep that are slaughtered for consumption every day in this country.
I have heard it said that there is no economic benefit to trapping and even that markets for the fur don’t exist, again all false. I know when I was young I had several fur checks that amounted to nearly a month’s wages at a regular job. It made an impact on my finances and I know it still does today for many a trapper, young and old. For some, like me, it is not an economic force that impels me to set a few traps any more, it is simply the connection with the outdoors. It forces me to take a walk in the woods every day to check traps. Yes, traps are checked, by law, every day with few exceptions. The exercise and fresh air do me good and I enjoy it. Having a catch is a bonus. My fur, handed off to a local vendor, will eventually make its way to Finland, where it is sold to dealers from around the world. Even though the U.S. market is small compared to what it used to be, Russian, Korean and Scandinavian companies, to name a few, compete for the fur at auctions that last for several days and are held several times per year. It is a process that has been repeated for hundreds of years and is a large part of our North American heritage. The fur trade is responsible for the beginning of several major metropolitan cities that exist today.
On a smaller scale, much closer to home, hunting and trapping do families good. Tight family bonds are often nurtured from father and grandfather to sons, daughters, uncles, and close friends through the passing down of hunting and trapping techniques and lore. The Vermont deer camp is legendary for family get-togethers. Beyond the antics that may occur the night before opening day, once in the field, younger members often learn ethics, honesty, integrity and responsibility on a firsthand and up-close basis. After all, they are handling a firearm and competing with others in the woods for a chance to help feed their family. No video game will ever compete with the lessons learned from a single trek into the woods to hunt or trap.
I don’t expect many “from away” to understand a lot of what I’ve written. I do expect however that they respect my traditions and heritage just as they would want me to understand and respect theirs. We are asked to do the same with every person we encounter regardless of race, religion, color, sexual identity, or whatever ritual they partake in. Tolerance and civility is a two-way street.
Someone much smarter than me recently said, “One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted." Vermont’s hunters will understand. Others I know have said, “Those closest to the resource are best suited to protect and care for it.” Those closest to Vermont’s wild animal resources are those that interact with it daily and are responsible for its care and management. That includes Vermont sportsmen and -women, the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife employees, and those on the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board. Keep up the good work.