None of this is to say that the WHA is the worst idea that anyone has ever had, or even the worst to come out of hunting—that whole bison-slaughter thing would rank above this. But it is a very, very bad idea in so many ways. Where to begin?
In the first place, tranquilizing a large ungulate is not like playing Whack-a-Mole. Whatever secret potion the WHA’s competitors use, they will still have to get precisely the right amount of highly toxic serum into a deer’s system to knock him out, and afterward be able to revive him. Needless-to-say, there are any number of ways in which a scenario like that can go horrendously wrong; and doing it for sport is like putting someone under general anesthesia as an April Fool’s joke. One part of the world where WHA tournaments won’t be held is South Africa, because recreational hunting for big game with tranquilizing darts, for all of the above reasons, has been outlawed there.
The WHA would like to point to the assorted fishing tours as models for its competitions. Yet hardly any fishing tournament is held on private stocked waters, while the WHA will involve privately owned deer on high-fenced properties. No fishing contest I know of includes medicated bass or walleye, and catch-and-release has always been a traditional feature of fishing; in the old days it was called, simply, throwin’ ’em back. Hunting has never embraced any such concept, and the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset went to some pains in his Meditations on Hunting to denounce the “affected piety” of hunting that attempts to avoid killing—“one kills in order to have hunted.” This kind of “hunting” the WHA envisions ultimately plays into the anti-hunter’s sneered accusation of “why do you have to kill them?” (For one thing, it’s much harder to get them to go into the freezer if you don’t.)
And that’s another objection to this sort of travesty, that it divorces hunting from its fundamental purpose of gaining meat for us. I have a moral right to hunt and capture a wild animal if I intend to eat it, but not merely as the goal of some invented game. Too many of the once-natural acts that we practice in this world are already bathed in artificial light. We don’t need to add hunting to the list by reducing its level of authenticity through the use of darts and scorecards. Though cheerleaders might be nice.
Perhaps the most bizarre claim made by the Commish is that he was inspired to create the WHA because whenever he spent time with other hunters, he noticed that they all seemed “to share a common desire: to transform hunting to a new level.” Like a televised competition with prize money and deer collapsing in drug-induced comas? It’s funny, I can’t think of a single hunter who’s ever mentioned to me that this was a new level he had a burning desire to see hunting transformed into. Almost every hunter I’ve known has wanted hunting to stay at the level where it is, or if it were possible, to return to an even earlier, simpler, and more genuine one.
It’s hard to imagine the WHA not falling out of its treestand before it ever gets started (already, two of the companies listed as major sponsors of the tour have decided that they aren’t any kind of sponsors, after all). If a competition is ever held, it’s likely that the boos of the hoards of anti-hunters massed outside the fence will dampen the enthusiasm of the festivities, while the boos of legitimate hunters shouldn’t be any less audible. It probably won’t be necessary to outlaw an almost-guaranteed fiasco like the WHA; but there’s nothing wrong in doing what you can to shame it out of existence.