A previously obscure area hunting competition garnered the national spotlight recently which led to thousands of emails, a Facebook page and a protest by those concerned with animal welfare. The 7th annual “Hazzard County Squirrel Slam” was held as a fundraiser for the Holley Fire Department and featured a hunting competition where bagging as many of these sociable rodents as legally allowed resulted in a variety of prizes. Supporters of the hunt claim that none of the Squirrel go to waste, being used for their fur and meat. Opponents see this competition as abhorrent, particularly as it involves children old enough to legally hunt Squirrel in New York State, and leaves orphaned young behind. (Click here for a concise news report on this event.)
Humans are omnivores and biologically predisposed to eat meat. So hunting for sustenance is a natural behavior for our species, just as much as a Black Bear or even a Squirrel do. (See this earlier post on dentition and diet for some background on this position). But where does one ethically draw the line between hunting for survival and killing for sport? The above referenced competition boasted 900 entrants (ironically, it appears the vocal opposition resulted in hundreds of increased entries). Somehow it seems implausible that all 900 entrants eat Squirrel on a regular basis. I am friends with many who hunt and fish and know of none who go after Squirrel for any reason, much less a source of food. And I am not aware of Squirrel fur being in great demand by the fashion industry.
So the question must be asked if such competitions are more about Homo sapiens’ bloated concept of its place as “lord and master” of planet Earth. We certainly can make the tools of massacre and our inability to fairly share resources inter-specifically and intra-specifically is well documented. Posing proudly for publicity photos with the take neatly arranged (see photo) also speaks more of ego than of one seeking to furnish sustenance for survival. But monetary greed is also a part of this hunting culture. For example, a 2008 World Coyote Calling Contest awarded prizes valued at over $10,000 to the first place contestant. And this is also big business for outfitters, sporting goods suppliers and the gun industry, as the above referenced Coyote contest article highlights.
These events bring up excellent questions on the ethics of hunting. Unfortunately, so long as the public agencies whose missions are to oversee wildlife “management” are funded by the sale of permits to kill same, ethics will likely receive little scrutiny. The national outrage about “Squirrel Slam” actually resulted in more Squirrel deaths. My suggestion to all those who are concerned about this type of hunting: focus on changing the funding setup of licensing agencies so that their missions are less tainted by the current conflict of interests that exist.