**Featured in Fall 2015 Issue of Maryland Hunting Quarterly**
I was sitting at the dinner table at a family get together, enjoying a juicy medium rare steak with a batch of baked potatoes cooked to perfection. This side of my family has no connection to the hunting world, and a short drive to the grocery store is all they need for their protein intake. While staring at my plate, wishing my sirloin were a slab of wood duck breast or whitetail backstrap, the conversation turns to me and how my past waterfowling season turned out. As usual, I begin to articulate the beauty of a cupped up mallard over a decoy spread and the invigorating feeling of drawing these beautiful birds into shotgun range with my most reliable duck call. I continue to describe the passion and sentiment I have for waterfowl and waterfowl hunting in general. Having spoken these same words thousands of times with equal enthusiasm, I realize the responses to my overly passionate rants are usually divided. Some are sympathetic to my passion and attain a thorough understanding of why I dedicate my time to hunting ducks. Some, however, provide blank stares with unrivaled facial expressions of bewilderment and confusion. This particular overly passionate rant ended with the latter. At that moment one brave family member posed me with a question that I have faced many times since, and surely will face many times in the future: “If you love ducks so much, then why do you kill them?”
How does one begin to describe the sentiment of harvesting duck meat through no more than hard work and keen hunting techniques to a table filled with family enjoying store bought sirloin steaks? To people who know no other way to acquire meat than to buy it from a store with clean hands, the question makes sense. How can oneself revere an animal so much yet contradict themselves by taking that very animal’s life? Although the answer seemed self-evident to me, I fumbled to truly convey my feelings. Caught off guard, the easiest answer I could utter was, “you just wouldn’t get it.” However, this answer was a cheap and simple cover for a wide array of feelings. Being able to communicate an efficient explanation to this question bugged me for weeks to come, and overtime I came face to face with a realization. The answer cannot be described in black and white terms, rather a complex blend of different variables come together to convey my relationship to waterfowl.
The first step to answering the question coherently is to dissect the wording. Two words in particular must be defined: love and kill. Defining these words in the “hunter” and “non-hunter” sense is a task beyond the capability of a Merriam-Webster dictionary, but will provide further insight into the question. For each of the “hunter” and “non-hunter” parties, the words hold different meanings, values, and repercussions.
For the non-hunter:
Kill– To kill is to take an organism’s life through accidental or purposeful means. Intentionally killing in the non-hunter’s sense usually carries negative connotations. A common synonym for intentionally killing in the non-hunting sense is murder.
Love– In the life of a non-hunter, things that are loved are sacred. These people or possessions of love must be protected, unharmed, and cared for at all costs.
For the hunter:
Kill- The successful kill or harvest of an animal is the product of hard work, time, and knowledge. This is not murder, rather it is the most natural process of meat acquisition. The process of harvesting an animal is done with care, precision, and respect.
Love– Much like the non-hunter definition, a hunter’s definition of love companions a host of verbs such as cherish, protect, revere, and care. However, the protection is often for the population of game, habitat, and wildlife as a whole rather than the individual. Conservation organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and the National Wild Turkey Federation delineate this faultlessly. Consequently, a hunter feels a sacred respect, appreciation, and love for every animal deliberately harvested.
Definitions laid out, it is easy to see why the non-hunter would be urged to believe that killing something you love is contradictory. So I must now answer the question using my own definitions of kill and love.
I kill ducks because I choose to enter myself back into the natural system and find my niche as a hunter and provider. Recent archaeological finds suggest that humans have been eating meat for as long as 2 million years by means of hunting. In a world where all that is needed for a hunk of beef is a vehicle and currency, I choose to take a step back and return to the roots of the human condition through duck hunting. One of the most insightful quotes by the great Jim Shockey describes the natural process perfectly, “Life begets death, and death begets life.” Macroorganisms consume other organisms in a delicate ecological balance of predator and prey that has been in place for over 500 million years. I kill ducks because I have the ability to see through the luxuries and conveniences of the contemporary world. I kill ducks because I refuse to be ignorant to a human’s place in the natural order.
I love ducks because they provide me an opportunity to indulge myself into the wilderness and natural order. Duck hunting has prompted me to delve into studying aspects of waterfowl habitats, ecology, breeding, and life cycle. Through these studies, I am able to hold a greater appreciation for the various species I harvest. As many do today, hunters have historically held their prey of choice in high regard. A widely known example is that of the Native American’s relationship with the American Bison. The natives of the midwest held Bison in the highest honor and respect, and taking their lives was a spiritual activity. Like the Native Americans, I take pride in my ability to provide myself with natural grown meat, and hold every duck that falls victim to my Remington 11-87 in reverence. I love ducks because I have obtained a thorough understanding of their place in nature. I love ducks because they are a beautiful opportunity to acquire meat while enjoying the wilderness. Although it may seem contradictory to kill something you love to the non-hunter, to Native Americans and myself it makes all the sense in the world.