Hunters have long described themselves as among the first environmentalists—caring about the land because it’s where they find their food. But one hunter and writer--Seamus McGraw--thinks hunting advocates may have protested too much when their boycott forced the closure of a massive sports and fishing equipment show in Harrisburg.
Gun advocates were upset when the show’s organizers forbade military-style guns that have come to be known as assault weapons. These weapons can quickly fire off many rounds of ammunition and have limited legal use in Pennsylvania.
Here’s Seamus McGraw’s first commentary for The Allegheny Front.
I called him Crazy Horse because just like the Oglala war chief, he had been taunting me for weeks, using the same tactics the old warrior had used against the U.S. Cavalry 130 years ago, standing just outside of the range of my rifle, pawing the ground and trying to goad me into doing something stupid.
I usually obliged. But this time, the old buck came one step too close, and now, I watched with that peculiar mixture of exhilaration and regret that every hunter knows as he stumbled across the icy creek, up onto the bank and died.
One deer. One shot. I had taken him the way a hunter is supposed to.
I’ve been thinking about that old buck a lot lately, in the context of a battle playing out all across this nation as we grasp for a way to responsibly regulate access to high-powered semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity magazines.
That controversy came to a head here in Pennsylvania last week when the organizers of the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, faced with a boycott by major retailers and hunting groups over their decision to ban the display of semiautomatic assault rifles, decided to postpone the show, one of the largest celebrations of hunting, fishing and in the nation.
As a hunter I was perplexed by the boycott. Certainly, I understood their arguments.
As Josh Fleming, spokesman for the National Wild Turkey Federation, one of the first groups to join the boycott put it, this fight, here in Pennsylvania and across the country, was a fight for a way of life.
“One of the things that people don’t understand is the connection between preservation of hunting and the continuation of the conservation movement,” Fleming told me. “When you allow the tradition to erode, you’re eroding the foundation of American conservation.”
The argument might seem compelling until you remember that here in Pennsylvania, it’s against the law to use the ironically named “modern sporting rifles” to hunt any game animal.
Between 2007 and 2011, while sales of traditional hunting rifles declined, the market for “modern sporting rifles” exploded. And that growth has only increased in the weeks since Newtown.
In other words, controversy has been good for business.
Maybe I’m just a cynic, and maybe boycotting the outdoor show really is an attempt to protect the rights of hunters to pass on the grand tradition of responsible gun ownership and stewardship of our national treasures to a new generation of hunters.
But to me, that tradition has nothing to do with the bottom line of big-box stores or mega-corporations.
The tradition I want to pass on is only cheapened by the obsession with high-powered 100-round hardware that has no place in the field. It’s the tradition that played out between Crazy Horse and me this fall. One deer. One shot. The way hunting is supposed to be.