30 December 2018

Thoughts on “Killing the Female” & Pennsylvania hunting memories

By Karen Davis, founder, United Poultry Concerns

As published on ANIMALS 24-7, December 30, 2019

After reading the ANIMALS 24-7 article Killing the Female: The Psychology of the Hunt this morning (Dec. 29), I forwarded it to Bill Crain. Bill teaches psychology at City College of New York. He and his wife Ellen Crain cofounded and direct Safe Haven Farm Animal Sanctuary in upstate New York. On January 2, 2019, Bill is to report to the Sussex County Jail to serve 15 days on his sixth conviction for nonviolent actions taken while protesting against the annual black bear hunt in New Jersey.

I wrote to him, “I don’t know if you subscribe to ANIMALS 24-7, but reading this article today, I thought of you, including that you are a psychologist who is about to be incarcerated in a few days, once again, for taking a stand against killing bears. I will be thinking of you. I cannot say ‘praying,’ although I wish there were an equivalent word with no theological associations.”

I am struck by the recurrent attitude, expressed in “Killing the Female” and elsewhere, that what is wrong with killing animals for pleasure, status, etc., is not what the animals themselves suffer, in the process of losing their lives, often leaving bereaved mates and orphaned young, but rather what the killing does to the "boy" who pulls the trigger, hooks the fish, or sets the trap. It is also suggested in the subheading “When the symbolic turns sinister,” that when a hunter expands from hunting (stalking, terrorizing, wounding, killing) nonhuman animals to human targets – that is when it becomes "sinister." In both examples, the animal victim is absorbed into a strictly human-centered perspective. The animals, conveniently or unthinkingly, are about "something else."

I came from a background comparable to that of the hunters described in “Killing the Female.” Sport hunting was normal and expected in my family and community in Pennsylvania. When I was in grade school, schools closed on the first day of deer season, and probably still do. My father, a lawyer, hunted rabbits and ring-necked pheasants (pen-raised pheasants turned out on the first day of hunting season), then “cleaned” them in the basement. He said he didn’t hunt deer because he didn’t want to have to lug them through the woods. His defense of rabbit hunting was “everything hunts the rabbit.”

pheasant wearing a blinder This young, female pheasant is fitted with a blinder. Photos courtesy of Susan Vickery

My father and his friends shot grouse, squirrels, and small birds, but I don’t recall anything about turkeys. Maybe they were “too big” to lug through the woods. We ate some of his killings, and the rest simply disappeared. There was talk such as: “Hell, I don’t want them; give them away. Or throw them away.” One of my uncles loved to tell the story about how he threw away twenty pheasant pies his wife had baked.

Not until Tim, the oldest of my three younger brothers, was a teenager, and wanted to spend Saturday with his girlfriend, do I recall a family conflict over hunting. My father flew into a rage when Tim announced that he didn’t want to “go huntin’” with his dad. He was accused of being “a girl” because he preferred to be with a girl that day.

Pheasant wearing a blinder

My middle brother, Amos, had his eye knocked out with a slingshot when he was five, yet he grew up to be an avid small-game hunter with a penchant for killing pheasants and quails. He could admit that some nonhuman animals had feelings. His own family had a golden retriever named Coffee, who was kidnapped from their yard in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Weeks later, when they somehow got her back, “Coffee’s fur had turned white from fright,” Amos said.

My father sport-hunted well into his 80s, half blind, and Amos, missing one eye, was still an obsessive hunter the last I heard. I don’t know what he does these days. I don’t want to know, unless he has laid down his weapons.

My father kept a succession of hunting dogs at the far end of the yard. These beagles had a wooden doghouse filled with straw and lived at the end of a long chain tied to an iron stake. Whenever I visited “Nellie,” or “Gus,” or whoever was there at the time, the dog would cower inside the doghouse or approach me crouching, with his or her tail curled under trembling back legs. My father trained his dogs by hitting them with a work-gloved hand. I’d hear them whimpering from inside the house. I heard stories about hunting dogs who had heart attacks running in the fields because they had been tied up, without exercise, for months between hunting seasons. My father took the beagles out for runs during the year to keep this from happening. In the fall, the men stood in the kitchen in the early morning talking about the great day of killing that lay ahead, then load Dad’s dog into the trunk with the other dogs, all yelping, and off they’d go.

I HATE the mentality and behavior of "hunting" and "fishing" and guns. I HATE machismo in all its forms. I hope this article is correct in suggesting that hunting (so-called) is on the wane. Thank you again for publishing Killing the Female: The Psychology of the Hunt.

Karen Davis, PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns

Closeup of a pheasant wearing a blinder

For more about the plight of pheasants, see United Poultry Concerns: Pheasants