An Outdoor View: Choices

When I was a small child, I was taught that to kill or injure any living thing for no reason is wrong. I’ve since learned that it’s not only wrong, but a symptom of insanity. Given the choice, I choose sanity.

Over the years, I’ve noted that the proverb, “You must break a few eggs to make an omelet,” is often used to justify killing and various atrocities, but the end doesn’t always justify the means, as this old saying implies. An omelet well might justify breaking a few eggs, but to cause misery and death without good reason is sick behavior.

Ever since childhood, I’ve had amblyopia. Sometimes called lazy eye, it caused weak vision in my right eye. Due to this and the fact that I’m right-handed, I’ve never been good at shooting or at activities that require good depth perception, such as playing baseball.

I used to love to hunt ducks, but I was seldom able to bring one down. After awhile, I realized that I was hitting quite a few, but killing very few. I tried to become a better wing shot, but poor vision kept me from getting good at it. I finally accepted the reality that I was as good as I likely would get.

When I got around to thinking about all those birds I had wounded, how they had died slowly, some of them killed by birds of prey that likely ingested some of my lead shot and had, themselves, died a slow death as a result of my poor shooting, I realized that I was leaving a trail of injury, misery and death in my wake. I couldn’t live with that. I stopped hunting ducks.

This was no small thing. I loved getting up before sunrise, meeting my hunting buddy and hunkering down in a spot where we figured ducks would be flying. Even today, when I’m walking near a marsh or ditch and a spooked mallard jumps into flight, my heart races with excitement.

My vision doesn’t affect my fishing, I stopped hunting ducks for the same reason that I stopped catch-and-release fishing. I’ve seen one too many one-eyed rainbows, too many trout with misshapen mouths, the result of someone hooking them just for the fun of it, without a good reason.

I’ve played with fish. I know what it’s like to catch one after another until your arms ache, but I never felt good about it, no matter how many I caught, or how big they were. Over the years, I found that I felt best about fishing when I was doing it for food. That’s why I now echo what noted naturalist Boyd Shaefer once told me, “If I catch a fish, I’m going to eat it.” Alaska Natives have these feelings. Lots of people do.

I stated above that to cause misery and death without good reason is sick behavior. What constitutes “good reason” is the stuff of law, ethics, religion and philosophy, but what you and I do while we’re hunting and fishing boils down to personal choice. No matter how ill-intentioned or uninformed we may be, we’re allowed to choose what we do.

When you consider that your children and others might be following your example, making these choices is a helluva responsibility. I’m OK with it.

How about you?

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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