Chad Love: On Hunting and Democracy

I've been a big fan of Slate since Michael Kinsley founded the site back in 1996. So imagine my surprise to see both Field & Stream and myself mentioned in a recent column by Slate writer Michael Agger

Agger's column argues that Sarah Palin is - somewhat ironically - the very thing so many socially-conscious urban lefty types aspire to, a slow food-consuming locavore (For more on that subject I highly recommend Michael Pollan's book "The Omnivore's Dilemma").

Why? Because Palin's brand of hunting springs not from the ruling-class aristocratic view of hunting as a well-heeled and genteel "sport" (Agger uses Cheney as the embodiment of this view) but from the more proletarian need for putting meat on the table. Being of lowborn hillbilly stock myself, I tend to agree.

I do, however, have a few small criticisms of Agger's column. One, I think he, as many presumably non-hunting journalists do, tends to lump hunters into that "red-state rural" catagory when in fact we - demographically speaking - are all over the map. Two, I think most journalists are either completely unaware of or disregard the impact of the North American Wildlife Conservation Model on American democracy.

He writes: "Hunting has been a useful political symbol since Teddy Roosevelt. When Field & Stream posted Palin's hunting and fishing photos on its Web site, high-fives broke out among the assembled commenters....Perhaps it's this patriotic element of hunting that makes hunting advocates fear for the country when they see their sport in decline

In response I can only say, well, yes. The egalitarian ideals embodied in our system of wildlife management are a reflection and a natural extension of larger ideals that are the underpinnings of our democracy. What this nation's unique system of wildlife management does very well is promote and foster a sense of participation, ownership, and advocacy. Everyone, regardless of income or station in society, has a say and a stake in our nation's wildlife. It is both a hands-on civics lesson and an interactive demonstration of conservation in action. American hunting is participatory democracy at its finest, and as hunters we have every right to fear what its decline may mean for our children's future, because the alternative seems to be a growing culture of apathy and self-absorbtion.

Aggers writes:

If you read around on hunting sites, the anecdotal blame falls on suburbanization, single-parent households, and restrictive gun laws—but the real bile is saved for video games. Chad Love, of Field & Stream, echoed the sentiments of his fellow hunters in a recent blog post, when he recalled his boyhood "back before the dawning of the 'Stoned on Electronic Entertainment Age.' " His remark was greeted with this typical Amen: "We don't let our kids play outside, yet wonder why they are fat, full of allergies and lazy."

Actually, I didn't mention video games when I made the "Stoned on Electronic Entertainment Age" quip and nowhere did I make the argument video games are the reason for declining hunter numbers. What I did say, and what I still firmly believe - is that we are raising our children in a culture that - hunter or no hunter - increasingly views nature as an abstraction to be observed rather than a reality to be participated in. I think that's a tragedy for a child's development, a tragedy for our future and I don't quite understand Agger's mildly sneering tone. Does he disagree?