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Hipsters Who Hunt: More liberals are shooting their own supper.


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Hipsters Who Hunt: More liberals are shooting their own supper.

I think the evolution of the new lefty urban hunter goes something like this:

2006: Reads Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, about the ickyness of the industrial food complex. Starts shopping at a farmer’s market.

2008: Puts in own vegetable garden. Tries to go vegetarian but falls off the wagon.

2009: Decides to only eat “happy meat” that has been treated humanely.

2010: Gets a chicken coop and a flock of chickens.

2011: Dabbles in backyard butchery of chickens. Reads that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg decided to only eat meat he killed himself for a year.

2012: Gets a hunting permit, thinking “how hard can it be? I already totally dominate Big Buck Hunter at the bar.”

Hunting is undeniably in vogue among the bearded, bicycle-riding, locavore set. The new trend might even be partly behind a recent 9 percent increase from 2006 to 2011 in the number of hunters in the United States after years of decline. Many of these new hunters are taking up the activity for ethical and environmental reasons.

“It feels more responsible and ecologically sound to eat an animal that was raised wild and natural in my local habitat than to eat a cow that was fattened up on grain or even hay, which is inevitably harvested with fuel-hungry machines,” writes Christie Aschwanden, a self-described “tree-hugging former vegetarian.”


A recent spate of books with titles like The Mindful Carnivore and Call of the Mild chronicles the exploits of these first-time hunters as they wrestle with their consciences and learn to sight in their rifles.

The expansion of hunting into liberal, urban circles is the latest development in an evolving and increasingly snug coexistence between humans and beasts in North America. Jim Sterba’s new book, Nature Wars, examines the paradox of the rebound of many wild species, particularly in the densely populated East Coast of the United States. Whitetail deer, turkeys, Canada geese, black bears, and trees are all doing wonderfully in 2012, thanks to conservation measures in the past and vagaries of history and cultural change. The problem, Sterba says, is that most modern North Americans have no idea what to do with these species. We gawk and gape; we feed them doughnuts; we run into them with our cars; we are surprised and alarmed by their messy habits and occasional aggressiveness; we manage them all wrong; we want them gone from our neighborhoods, but we abhor the idea of killing them.

Sterba blames our ham-fisted interactions with these representatives of the natural world on two main factors: sprawl and sentimentality. Call it the Bambi and ’burbs theory of human-wildlife interaction. Sprawl brings people to wild species and in many cases creates better-than-natural habitat by increasing habitat “edges”—the complicated, resource-rich borderlands between forest and field that deer and other species love. In addition, sprawl brings goodies in the shape of high-calorie garbage in poorly secured cans. And sentimentality, born of an alienation from real nature and a diet of too much anthropomorphized wildlife on TV, makes people unwilling to take what in many cases is the easiest route in dealing with problematic interactions: killing the animals.

Sterba can come across as a bit of a curmudgeon (he throws in a side discussion about those teenagers with their dam texting), but he is right. People need to suck it up and realize that in this crazy, anthropogenic world we live in, we sometimes need to kill to keep populations in check. If goose [PoorWordUsage] is throwing nutrient cycles out of whack, causing algae blooms, and imperiling lake species, then ready the roasting pan for some goose.

So how should we solve this “too much of a good thing” problem? Sterba proposes that local sharpshooters hunt overabundant deer and sell it at farmers markets, a genius way to use the locavore trend to pick up where declining interest in hunting has left a gap in population control. He also advocates wildlife overpasses and underpasses, fines for feeding wildlife, and making wearing fur acceptable again when populations of furbearers need to be controlled. In general, he argues, people need to reconnect with real nature “in ways that, to put it bluntly, get dirt under their fingernails, blood on their hands, and even a wood splinter or two under their kneecaps and butts.” In other words, he’s all for hipsters taking up hunting.

It is high time. And all it takes is overturning two long-held beliefs among many urban liberals: that it is wrong to personally kill animals and that hunters are all rural conservatives.

If you eat meat, eating animals you hunt yourself is a more ethical alternative than eating those from the current industrial agricultural system. Rather than being confined in small enclosures and dosed with antibiotics and antidepressants, wild birds and mammals have been leading lives very similar to those their species have been living for thousands of years (though featuring more corn, soy, and suburban refuse, generally speaking). And instead of outsourcing their deaths to an underpaid slaughterhouse employee, you do it yourself, which seems somehow most honest. If you can’t pull the trigger, you had better start collecting tempeh recipes.

Getting your meat from outside the industrial food system is also better for the environment. Wild game isn’t fed on tons of grain that used excessive water, land, and fossil-fuel-based synthetic fertilizer. They aren’t clustered in “concentrated animal feeding operations” that produce toxic and terrible-smelling lagoons of manure.

There’s another facile belief that the new kids in the duck blind need to jettison: the idea that all hunting is somehow the cultural property of jerky guys with big trucks and a fondness for the country music and Republican candidates. The cartoon of the red-state hunter has held back many people who would enjoy hunting and find in it a good solution to their ethical and environmental concerns. These people felt, somehow, that hunting was not what their “tribe” did. Yes, lots of hunters are conservatives. But many political conservatives are ethical and environmental hunters who deeply respect the animals they hunt. And there have always been plenty of liberal hunters.

After growing up in Seattle and going to the University of Texas, Austin, I know plenty of urban, lefty hunters. I married into a family of gun-toting, game-cleaning, bleeding-heart liberals. They hunt to connect with nature, to round up some tasty protein, to help manage populations in the absence of their historical predators. They also fish, forage for mushrooms, pick wild asparagus, grow vegetables, and can and dry fruit. And they’ve been doing it since the 1960s. They were Michael Pollan before Michael Pollan was Michael Pollan.

In the 1990s, I went deer hunting with my friend Lon Ingram and his family in Texas and sat around the campfire after a day of sitting in a tree with a gun in my lap (and not seeing a thing) talking about things like immigrants’ rights and how much everybody missed former Gov. Ann Richards. Lon says the motivation for his liberal clan to don hunter orange is “spending time in the woods with friends and family, primarily. Oh, and drinking more than you can get away with at home, eating unhealthy food, and farting. These are bipartisan pursuits.”

Besides, hunting is green. Hazel Wong, a senior policy adviser at the Nature Conservancy, told me that to pass environmental legislation at the state level, “believe it or not, we work with hunting groups a lot.” I wasn’t surprised. Conservation in America was practically founded by hunters. Yellowstone was first envisioned as a giant game reserve that would create big populations of animals that hunters could nab as they spilled out over the boundaries. Our first conservation-minded president, Teddy Roosevelt, mowed down untold hundreds of animals in his long career as a sport hunter. And “hook and bullet” organizations continue to fight for land protection. You see, you need nature to go hunting. And hunters—liberal and conservative—generally like nature. That’s why they are out in it.

So hunting is not a red state thing. It is a red meat thing. And, more than that, it is a necessary thing. In the lower 48, we have nowhere near as many wolves, cougars, and other predators as we would need to keep our deer populations in check. Without hunters, we would be up to our eyeballs in whitetail deer—scruffy, hungry, disease-ridden whitetail deer that relentlessly devour any flora they can reach, be it crops, garden plants, native groundcovers, or tree seedlings. In some places, we already are. In many places, deer overpopulation is so bad that teams of sharpshooters are called in to cull numbers.

State departments of conservation and game have been frantically trying to recruit more hunters. “Hunters are basically the only tool, other than cars, that we have to control deer in Missouri,” says Missouri Department of Conservation spokesman Jim Low. To boost hunter numbers, the department offers a “hunter skills university” for adults interested in getting into the pursuit. And they have permits for “apprentice hunters” who want to try it out (with a licensed mentor) before they go through the trouble of taking the required safety classes.

One problem in deer management is that many hunters are mostly interested in taking big bucks with impressive antlers. But removing bucks doesn’t do much to reduce populations. The number of does needs to be brought down to reduce the number of fawns born that season. Enter the hipster hunter, who is out in the woods for meat, not antlers, and is happy to shoot a tastier, smaller doe.

Changing blue state mores about hunting may help solve many of the problems of wildlife-human conflict. But there is one other solution: getting people out of the sprawl and into cities, where efficiencies of scale and density reduce the per-capita impacts on the environment while simultaneously creating more space for the rest of nature. I believe this is possible, given the right constellation of policies, incentives, cultural shifts, and energy prices. Right now, many people live surrounded by nature but don’t understand it—the Bambi and ’burbs problem. But it is possible to become simultaneously more urban and more nature savvy. Then we can leave the woods to the deer and turkeys, except when we visit to admire them and/or shoot them for dinner.


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Well that explains all the guys I saw wearing blaze orange skinny jeans. grin

It does make a lot of sense. If you want to eat ethically and environmentally responsibly the best way to do it is to hunt. Its contrary to what alot of people may think but its the truth. If you want free range go grab yourself a rifle.

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hipsters aside, it's some sort of myth the GOP and the NRA has spread around that liberal minded folks don't own guns or hunt.

I would believe that this is the exact opposite of the problem. I'm not trying to start a right or wrong argument about politics, but this article alone has 2 mentions of how liberals are surprised at how things aren't as they thought they were with conservatives and gun-owners. Its a back-handed compliment to lifelong hunters and gun-owners. This article follows a trend of recent articles and books written about how trend enlightened liberals are "rediscovering" hunting and fishing for consumption as if its a new thing to do about the cool kids. Humans have been doing it for centuries yet some enlightened liberal "decided to try it" for all sorts of fluffy feelings about their food and now somehow they are a better person. Each of these articles always involves some back-door slam on real hunters and outdoorsman about how maybe we aren't just redneck cavemen and maybe we were doing something intelligent all along.

There is no myth, liberal organizations are routinely on the side of gun control and animal rights. The NRA doesn't put anything out there about liberals hating guns or not using them, liberals call for more gun control and limiting the amount of hunting in numerous ways.

Again, I'm not hoping to sway anyone's opinion. I'm all for getting more people interested in the outdoors and hunting so that hopefully its not just gun-toting conservatives fighting for the rights of hunters and fisherman.

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I've been preaching this to all my city-folk friends for years. Nothing's more free range than a northern MN deer that grew up eating nothing but twigs and brouse. Or grouse eating buds and clover, etc.

On top of that, I have to loose an argument about how "cruel" hunting is. If I was a deer, I'd much rather get shot in the heart and have it done with in a few seconds than getting chased down and eaten by a hungry pack of wolves or freezing to death in a hard winter!

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Amusing thread. Of course it has always been absurd to attempt to characterize so-called liberals as non-hunters and non-shooters. If some outdoors people are worried about the image being shown the public about hunting and fishing, you need look no further than the TV outdoor channels. What do YOU think of some of that rubbish. Personally, I don't want anybody knowing I shoot, hunt and fish for fear they'll think I'm like those Duck Commanders and Shoot emm in the face guys, and gator chasin' red necked mush mouths.

And am always amused by all those folks crying about getting more people involved in hunting and fishing.

And then whining and sniveling about not having a place to hunt because it is too crowded everywhere! Duhhh.....why do you suppose its crowded? Ha Ha!

All the above offered in good spirits fellas....just things to think about.

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The sad thing is, I know a few guys who'd probably wear those blaze orange jeans.

I'm actually surprised (in a good way) that this thread hasn't turned into a "Hate The Liberals" bandwagon fest. The article was good, but since it didn't mention any detailed statistics (besides that hunting is up), his claims of liberal stereotypes aren't really valid evidence. Now I'll totally admit that liberals favor gun control, and hippies and vegans probably definitively voted for Obama this last election, but it's not as black and white as stereotypes make it seem. I went to school in Bemidji, so on one hand you have small-town Northern Minnesota conservatism, versus a bunch of college liberals lead by a college president who attended Woodstock. For the most part everyone got along fine. People that didn't hunt didn't berate those who did, and understood the point of it. People (everyone) have to realize that whenever you look to the media to give you information on a group of people, the information is always going to be based on the most extreme members of that group.

I know for a fact that plenty of small-town rednecks aren't stupid, there are plenty of college liberal stoner hippies who hunt and fish with the best of em, and I don't consider everyone in the Middle East an AK-47 welding terrorist.

You really have to have a good amount of personal experience (or at least a vast amount of research from various objective sources) to have an actual educated opinion on a group of people.

Oh, and that free range joke was classic.

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It does make a lot of sense. If you want to eat ethically and environmentally responsibly the best way to do it is to hunt. Its contrary to what alot of people may think but its the truth. If you want free range go grab yourself a rifle.

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Great stuff! The only problem is that i happen to know and have hunted with some of these uber liberals. I say "have" hunted with as i have no intention to hunt with them again. Some of these folks are long time friends, but i won't hunt with them. My experience is that they aren't taking the time to be properly educated about hunting safety and ethics.

There is the flip side though. My old man is into the 'know where your food came from' thing and he'd never hunted before in his life and this year he went dear hunting with me so...that's a big plus.

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Are these liberal friends of yours people who just started hunting? If so they may need some assistance and education in how it is done safely and ethically. It may be just a case of ignorance versus blatant disregard.

I'm sure them being liberal has nothing to do with the fact that they are unsafe. Both liberals and conservatives have their share of unsafe hunters. In fact the least safe and most unethical hunter I know is also the biggest conservative "redneck" I know. I'm always reminding him of muzzle control and various other safety issues when we hunt together, you'd think he would have learned all that when he was in the Army. Now even though he's conservative doesn't mean all conservative hunters are like that.

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Hey you guys; hate to interrupt the fascinating dialogue here, but just WHAT is a "hipster"?

Is a Ted Nugent a hipster? Kanye West a hipster? Tom Browkaw or Morley Safer?

Can Beyonce be a hipster?

Turns out I really don't know what a hipster is?

Do I need to know?

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Maybe it's just my skewed way of thinking, but to me, the more people, "hipsters" and "liberals" included, that we can get into hunting and shooting sports, the better off we are going to be when all this crazy gun control legislation hits the fan. Some of these people have a lot of connections to the powers that be.

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Cheet.......not likley I will spend ANY time in downtown MSP soon. So I'll ask again, what is a hipster. Seriously. I don't think I really know what the word means. Maybe if you guys can tell me WHO is a hipster I'll figure it out.

Jeeezz......maybe even EYE can be one.

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