Many new residents of Cache Valley do not have a history of partaking in atavistic sports. This lack of a generational connection to hunting makes it harder for nonhunters to value this activity.
Efforts to help people appreciate hunting is difficult enough in Western midsized communities such as Logan, Preston, Smithfield, and Hyrum, but is almost an impossibility in urban areas. Failure to understand what hunters bring to species conservation has made it harder to discuss the more nuanced issues related to hunting. One such subject is the Fish and Wildlife Service’s current conundrum of whether to allow the import of certain taxidermied trophy animals.
To be forthright, many hunters and nonhunters alike have problems with certain trophy hunters. This concern is articulated in the results of a survey evaluating support for hunting. This survey found 79% of all Americans approved of hunting if the goal is to control wildlife populations. Similarly, Americans supported hunting for free range meat (76%) and to limit damage caused by wildlife (75%). This is in stark contrast to the 27% of Americans that agree with hunting if the purpose is to obtain a trophy.
Hunters hunt for many reasons which can be divided into three broad groups; those that are achievement oriented, those that are affiliation oriented, and those oriented towards appreciation. The first group’s goal is the attainment of meat, to fill a tag, or harvest a trophy. Affiliation hunters are about fostering relationships. The last group, appreciation hunters, want to be outdoors to escape stress and have a positive experience. Most hunters hunt for several different reasons but very few I know hunt only for trophies.
The reason someone hunts matters, as it helps defines their ethics. I hunt in a manner that increases the likelihood of harvesting a mature buck. My primary compromise towards this goal is passing up shots at smaller bucks at the beginning of the season. If my only goal was to harvest a record book deer, I might be more tempted to cut corners by trespassing, hunting in city limits, taking excessively long shots, or extending the season beyond the legal dates. This should not be taken to suggest all trophy hunters are unethical, just that more of them are than the average big game hunters you’ll find up Logan Canyon.
If trophy hunting is problematic, then why is it allowed? To a large extent it is because the fees related to hunting pays for most wildlife management in the United States. Trophy hunters often spend far more than the average hunter. For example, this year in Utah I spent $37 for a combination license, $50 for an antelope tag, and $15 for a swan tag. In Idaho I spent $300 for a deer tag, $80 for a turkey tag and would have spent more if I didn’t have a lifetime Idaho hunting license. In Wyoming I spent $40 on daily licenses to hunt sage grouse and in Nevada I spent $54 to hunt five days. Finally, I bought a $25 duck stamp. The total is roughly $600 and doesn’t include the excise taxes on guns, ammunition, or other hunting gear I bought. While this may seem like a lot, it is nowhere near the approximately $150,000 a trophy hunter will pay for the Utah Statewide Mule Deer Conservation permit at auction.
My expenditures are also nothing compared to the trophy fees in parts of Africa. Hunter seeking a lion often pays $25,000 to harvest an animal. This amount combined with employment opportunities, can offer wealth to an entire community while simultaneously providing an incentive to protect wildlife. This can be problematic as the nearly invisible positive impacts of sport hunting are often overwhelmed by the news stories of unethical trophy hunters (or their guides).
The juxtaposition of value and anger directed at trophy hunters was recently summed up in the prestigious journal Science which stated, “Some people find trophy hunting repugnant (including many of us), but conservation policy not based on science threatens habitat and biodiversity.”
Such a statement suggests that instead of eliminating trophy hunting, we simply need to better manage this activity. That means that for the Fish and Wildlife Service to allow American hunters to import certain trophy animals, they should be required to show proof of fair chase and that a certain percentage of the money they spent went to the local communities. But other internal steps could be taken as well. For instance, Utah could eliminate the questionable practice of baiting deer. Actions taken that limit how one can hunt, will improve the acceptance of hunting. This is not only good for hunting, but taking these steps will keep money flowing out of the pockets of sportsmen and women towards the protection of wildlife and their habitat.