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Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Hunter Gather Ethics pt 2 (the responsibility to teach)

"I have taught the next generation some appreciation for the countryside, some love of wildlife, some respect for firearms and some joy in providing for their own table. I hope to teach at least one more generation yet." MG

It may be true that the readership of the Bushcraft Education blog might increase if we stuck to writing about the soft, cuddly side of bushcraft and the outdoors but I made the decision when I first started it that it's primary purpose would be to educate, or to help others who want to use bushcraft in education. Some of the articles, perhaps especially in the foragers diary and from the highseat series may include a level of detail and/or pictures that some may find distasteful but I strongly feel that these parts of the countryside should not be glossed over and indeed hiding those parts of how the countryside and wider world works can only damage and distort peoples perceptions, especially childrens.

No one would have had to explain to Ötzi his relationship to the animals and plants around him. They were what provided him with his food, clothes, shoes, string, medicine and all the basic essentials of life. He may have held particular species in high regard out of respect for their usefulness, strength or for spiritual reasons but one things for sure he knew his place in nature and knew how he could take advantage of nature to provide him with subsistence.
  
For that reason I have chosen to write this second part of our Hunter Gatherer Ethics series on our responsibility to teach others, and particularly children, about the provenance of food, the sustainability of eating animals as food and how to be self sufficient. 

Bushcraft is an excellent way to broach this subject, people seem quite happy to accept the idea of shooting and eating deer if Ray Mears is doing it on TV and are even impressed by the bug eating antics of Bear Grylls and skinning deer has been a large part of the Woodland Ways displays at the Bushcraft Show for several years running.  So people seem quite happy with the concept of harvesting and eating wild food if we discuss it in the context of bushcraft which for me is great as it gives me a way to introduce a topic that can be a bit tricky. 

My children are used to helping prepare meals from wild animals and other foraged food such as...
Shellfish; like these winkles 
Fungi; like these Michael is preparing in the tent after a day in the woods. 

But why do I think it's an ethical responsibility to teach about hunting and gathering?

Honestly I think it's really sad that there are people out there who really believe things like this;
If you have money to afford a gun, license, and bullets… You can afford some chicken nuggest at Harris Teeter rather than leaving some animal to wonder where it’s parents went after that person trekked through the woods. All Hunters have a twisted mind, and don’t deserve anything. I say just be vegetarian, what’s the problem with that! LINK
Why, why shoot an animal, is it for fur, meat or just pure pleasure. It is pointless to hunt animals for meat and fur, for human needs, when we have clothes to keep us warm, made out of synthetic (Nylon/ Polyester) or natural plant products like cotton. There is just no reason to wear animal skins, in the modern age. Sure if you want to wer something that looks authantic, there is something called faux fur. And if you are going to eat meat, go to the super market and buy an organic free range chicken. There is simply no need to hunt animals for food and fur anymore, we have the services there. LINK
As if meat from a supermarket or fast food restaurant is somehow more ethical, and being reared on a farm and going to a slaughter house is somehow less traumatic and more humane to the animal than living a life in the wild before being hunted. This lack of understanding and apparent double standards from people happy to eat meat but who also vocally oppose hunting does frustrate me. It makes me worry that somehow we are not educating people properly about wildlife, the countryside and where their food comes from, in fact it reminds me of this; which displays a monumental lack of understanding of wildlife and also just an absence of common sense. 



Hopefully I've made it clear by now that I think we have a responsibility to educate people, particularly children, about hunting and foraging and would go so far as to suggest that we should teach them how as well as just why and these are my reasons;

  1.  We need to combat misunderstanding and ignorance about;
    • The reality of hunting for meat, management and sport.
    • The laws, rules and ethics that responsible hunters abide by, far too many people believe that anyone who hunts is a mindless, bloodthirsty killing machine when in actual fact they are not. The laws of most countries prohibit really inhumane methods of hunting, in the UK we saw leg hold traps banned as far back as the 1950's and hunting with dogs in 2004. Close seasons prevent the orphaning of dependent deer fawns (despite what Bambi portrays) as long as they are observed. Minimum caliber restrictions exist to ensure that animals are shot with weapons that are capable of humanely killing them (see my article on archery for a bit more detail about this). 
    • The 'innocence' of wildlife, there is plenty of wildlife that damages it's own ecosystem (granted that's normally because we have put it there without considering the consequences) for example sika deer are compromising the genetics of our native red deer in the UK or hugely invasive Himalayan balsam taking over river banks to the cost of everything else. Should we just leave this introduced, invasive wildlife to the detriment of native species or do we have a responsibility to put right the environmental malpractice of our predecessors? if we do have that responsibility that might mean we need to kill something, whether with a gun, poison or pesticide. 
    • The 'nature was fine without us' myth. Myth isn't really the right word here because actually without humans messing around with things nature would be fine on it's own but we are beyond that point of no return now, our species has had so much influence on our environment that if we were to stop things wouldn't just go back to 'they way they were'.    
  2. The potential for wild; foraged and hunted food as a sustainable alternative to intensive agriculture. (I've just decided that this is going to become a four part series to include an installment on sustainability)
  3. The historical and cultural dimension to hunting and foraging; this doesn't mean we have to endorse outdated, illegal or inhumane hunting practices in the name of tradition but the history of these things is often a large part of a nations culture and in a modern society which does not rely on hunting and gathering this knowledge is in danger of being lost or forgotten. (Check out my brief essay on Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Wisdom for a bit of information on the importance of these traditional skills).
  4. Children need to build a realistic relationship with their environment and unfortunately a cute, cuddly 'Bambi' relationship is not realistic. Who is going to be more traumatized, my children who have known where their food comes from and have helped pick, pluck, skin and cook it ever since they were old enough or the child who suddenly realizes that his/her chicken nuggets were once a living breathing bird with blood, bones, feathers, eyes etc... that is quite a difficult concept to swallow if it's suddenly thrust upon you. 
  5. Children should learn to be self sufficient and confident, I'm not endorsing any kind of zombie apocalypse training programme for children but the practice of bushcraft, and I think particularly the skills hunting and gathering are empowering like almost nothing else. How 'grownup' would a child feel if they were able to produce meal for themselves with nothing but what they can find around them.
  6. Safety; I'm not talking about the 'survival' type safety; plane crashes, desert islands etc... what I mean is that every day safety that children out doors need to consider. My children know not to eat berries, fungi or plants without checking with me first, although I am starting to trust the older two (my youngest is only five months) with easily identified things such as dead nettle flowers, daisy's, blackberries and puff balls and as they get older they will be trusted to forage increasingly challenging foods by themselves. What about a child who has never seen a fly agaric toadstool before or who just loves the colour of those yew berries with no comprehension of the consequences of eating them an no family member or carer with the knowledge or interest to determine what is and isn't OK to eat.

So in my mind it really is that simple children should be taught about hunting and gathering so that they can grow up into adults that know enough to choose whether they hunt/gather/forage or not, and so they can make that choice based on facts and experience rather than propaganda from one side of the fence or the other.

Geoff
I will add a small post script to this article just to clarify one point, although I clearly place myself in the 'pro-hunting' group I can also be fairly critical of hunters as a group. They sometimes don't do themselves any favors so those of you reading this who hunt listen up; First - Distasteful hunting pictures, blood, guts and brain matter have no place in a picture of you recent hunting trip it's fine to be proud of your success but keep it tasteful. Second - stop whining about banned methods of hunting, there are reasons for it leg hold traps, killing with dogs etc.. are inhumane and rightly unlawful, that's not to say our ancestors were not justified in using those methods when they had no other recourse or that they should not be allowed in an emergency. Third - admit that not everyone abides by the rules, there are hunters out there who flout close season, caliber restrictions and other laws. Don't defend them, they are ruining your freedom to enjoy hunting as part of a healthy lifestyle. Finally - NEVER NEVER treat hunting as your right, you are privileged to be able to share your countryside with birds, animals and plants and privileged to be able to harvest from nature what you need, do not take that privilege for granted or one day you will loose it.





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