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Killing Them Softly

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I thought Renaldo Migaldi's article "Natural Born Killers" (Reader, Section One, 11/26/99) was beautifully written, and especially considering the controversial nature of the subject matter remarkably measured, reasoned, and compassionate. His descriptions of the hunting with the dogs was marvelous, as he joined his father in his "killing a few consciousnesses" in the Michigan countryside.

The comments, and actions, of the Tibetan were wonderful additions to a well thought-out and balanced article. As a once reluctant hunter, often tormented by a desire to kill animals totally alien to my earlier preadolescent love of all things living, a lot in the article resonated. Both your compassion for the dying bird and the hunter's exhilaration of being part of the "natural order" all makes absurd sense to me.

I would ask only one thing. Do you think the hunters actually enjoy the bird's death, as opposed to the moment of actual killing? I never enjoyed the deaths of anything I ever killed, and the one friend I knew in my adolescent hunting days back in rural Essex who started to, lost my friendship immediately. It was the immense satisfaction, hard to describe, of catching something normally difficult to get within even a 100 yards of--to actually outwit the hapless creature, and yes, the "whack" of capturing the animal--is that really evil? It was, to me, tragic that the bird died, but I was guiltily an addict to an urge that appeared to grow from nowhere, last from my midteens to my second year at college, and to then disappear some multitudes of pheasants later, as mysteriously as it had arrived (and no, the "phase" did not appear to disappear once I started going out with the ladies).

That breath-stopping moment with your finger on the trigger--the difference between being utterly unnoticed in a marvelous place, to the perversity of a shotgun's loutish blast as serenity like a city falls, is at once a magical and terribly cruel experience. But it is never sadistic--there is no pleasure whatsoever in suffering for most hunters. At least I hope.

Perhaps that's why I prefer fishing, and I would like to hear your writer's views on that topic. You usually have a choice whether to return the creature you outwitted right up to the moment you whack it on the head or not (I hate whacking trout on the head--but they taste so good, and if I continue to eat trout I think it better that I am responsible for the whack than someone else).

There is also the whole issue of conservation that Renaldo did touch on, and would have been fascinating to develop. In Britain, certainly in East Anglia where I used to live, the countryside is often completely compartmentalized by roads, fences, and dykes into regular fields and small angular cropped spinneys, it is doubtful that much game would survive if it weren't for the landowner's passion for the shoot. Without shooting what few woods, and spinneys there are would have long ago been torn up to make way for sugar beet or barley. Here, of course, the difference is not always one of habitat loss but natural predator loss, and the perceived need to cull (deer the obvious example).

The question of the morality of eating meat in an age of agricultural plenty brought up by Renaldo's interview of Danielle the vegetarian was, as he pointed out, perhaps a distraction from certain environmental considerations. The loss of topsoil is more often attributable to arable farming techniques than pastoral, and, indeed, certain areas of the southwest cannot sustain much in the way of plant life that humans enjoy other than shooting at. But it does get immensely complicated. Those beautiful moorlands in romantic old Yorkshire where the Brontes used to roam were all woodlands before the Battle of Waterloo (they were cut down to make warships) but because of the acidity of sheep poop, and the assiduousness of sheep in avoiding most of the plants that contribute the most acidity to the soil (notably heather), hill sheep farming has left no chance of a return to woodland anytime soon. But then if you like to shoot red grouse, and can afford it (and there's another issue right there--if you want to start a heated discussion in an English country pub just mention fox hunting) heather moors are the place to go.

Just like this letter, Mr. Migaldi did not make many conclusions, and nor, in my mind, should he. He did however afford some stimulating insights into how "killing a few consciousnesses" can be interpreted, even by the hounds.

All in all I think the Reader should be congratulated on publishing such an enjoyable, stimulating, well-written, and controversial piece.

Benjamin Ruth

Saint Ben's

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