Columns on subjects from cooking wild geese to where to go ice fishing generate all kinds of readers' responses, but a recent piece on the big-game exploits of Clarence hunter Mike Powers sparked the most commentary on the evils of hunting.
Setting the Vice President Cheney hunting-related shooting incident aside, the mistaken and sometimes silly stereotyping of sport hunting survives and thrives in recent writings and cartooning.
Depew resident Gary Zwolinski, in a letter to Sports Talk published Feb. 19, decried "the sport in big-game hunting." Zwolinski responded to a letter writer supporting the Powers hunt story as a source of understanding about what really goes into a licensed, regulated, conservation-minded sport hunt.
Zwolinski sees hunting as simply killing. He then begins citing examples of bad incidents: Poaching deer in Stiglmeier Park and black bear in Tennessee, ending with slaughtered elephants in Africa.
He posits these examples that have led to "a huge international problem causing an everlasting endangered species list." He then concludes that "those who derive pleasure from killing lack scruples."
Clearly, Zwolinski here engages in the classic fallacy known as a "non sequitur," stating something as a conclusion that does not follow from the premise.
His argument makes no distinction between a hunter and a criminal. All of his cited examples are those of poachers, thieves of natural resources in a local park, bears in Tennessee and African animals.
However, none of his examples point to the 100-plus years legitimate, scrupulous hunters have complied with conservation-oriented laws that regulate the taking of game. Sport hunters are not market hunters.
Legal marketing of game birds and animals ended more than a half century ago. All wild game species now sold for public consumption have to be raised on licensed farms.
Big- and small-game hunters pursue their game birds and animals under strictly regulated season and harvest/kill numbers set so that all game species survive and thrive. That is, hunters observing all established game regulations while out hunting exercise most scrupulous conduct while deriving pleasure from hunting.
Zwolinski is an ardent Buffalo Bills fan and recreational golfer. How do I know? He's my brother-in-law. We sometimes get together and enjoy a grilled burger on warm summer days. Often, a deer or caribou gets ground into burger patties or skewered on a shish kabob stick. He knows that, enjoys it and goes golfing; I know that and I hunt scrupulously. We get along.
The day before his letter to the sports editor, a "Bliss" cartoon on the comics page depicted a hunter sketched as a round-faced, bearded buffoon with two antlers thrust through his chest. The caption typified the standard stereotypes anti-hunter types love being applied to hunters: "and what's even worse -- I spilled my beer." Sick. But this is the plight bitter anti-hunter types wish on hunters -- antlers through their beer-swilling hearts.
Critics jumped on the Cheney incident but lost on the booze-bashing front. Nonetheless, this sick comic imagery of hunting and alcoholism continues. Successes of hunter safety classes and hunters' increasingly conscientious conduct rarely enter these discussions or cartoon commentary.
A 2003 National Safety Council survey found motor vehicle fatalities 77 times greater than deaths from firearms. Factor out criminal use of those firearms and hunting-related shooting incidents drop to far fewer than deaths or injuries as a result of skiing, playing football or even swimming. No results could be found for golfing mishaps.
Catch a Jeff Foxworthy stand-up routine and invariably hunter references have to include a beer gag. Funny. The humor offers more entertainment than the unexciting -- yet purely enjoyable -- reality that goes on out there each deer-hunting season.
Last year, more than a half-million licensed big game hunters searched for deer in New York State. Their pursuits resulted in 27 non-fatal injuries and four deaths. None were found to be alcohol-related incidents. More bicyclists were injured or killed than hunters last year; on average, more motorists are hurt or die in car-deer collisions than victims of hunting-related shooting incidents.
Not exciting or funny stats, but the dull fact prevails -- hunting continues as a safe, scrupulous sport.