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Why Hunting Your Own Dinner is an Ethical Way to Eat

By: Lily Raff McCaulou Special to CNN Editor’s note: Lily Raff McCaulou is an award-winning journalist, Knight-Wallace Fellowship recipient and a columnis...

By: Lily Raff McCaulou

Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Lily Raff McCaulou is an award-winning journalist, Knight-Wallace Fellowship recipient and a columnist for The Bulletin in Bend, Oregon. Her first book, “Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner” was published in June.

(CNN) — Growing up, I didn’t know anyone who hunted. Hunters, I figured, were probably just barbaric gun nuts. Then, eight years ago, I moved from Manhattan to rural Oregon, to write for a small newspaper. My perspective shifted when I began interviewing hunters for my articles and realized that although I had long considered myself an environmentalist, these hunters — most of whom scoffed at the “E” word — were more knowledgeable and thoughtful about animals and nature than I was.

Eventually, I decided to buy a gun and join them. But don’t worry, I’m still an environmentalist, loud and proud.

Five Reasons Why Hunting a Wild Animal Makes an Ethical Dinner: Lily Raff McCaulou

1. Hunting has a light environmental footprint

No antibiotics, artificial hormones, pesticides, herbicides, or unnatural feeds were used in raising this meat. Unlike farmed animals, a wild one doesn’t contribute to soil erosion, water pollution, or the displacement of native plants in favor of a monoculture. No land is tilled to feed a wild animal, so additional carbon isn’t released into the atmosphere.

2. Wild animals aren’t subject to the misery of factory farming

My venison was never confined, castrated, or branded the way most farmed steers are. My duck was never caged, de-beaked, or toe-clipped the way most domesticated poultry is. Wild animals, unlike many domesticated ones, aren’t bred, fed and medicated to achieve rapid weight gain so that they can be killed at just a few weeks of age.

3. None of the meat is wasted

After I shoot an animal, I gut it and butcher it myself (or, in the case of an 800-pounds bull elk, with some help from friends). This way, I know the meat was handled safely. I don’t have to worry about listeria or trichinosis. And I’m confident that as much of the animal as possible is used. To hunt and butcher an animal is to recognize that meat is not some abstract form of protein that springs into existence tightly wrapped in cellophane and styrofoam. Meat is life. So I seek out recipes that make the most of it. I cook it with care. I share with friends and family. I make sure eat every bite gets enjoyed.

4. Hunting pays for conservation

To hunt for elk this fall, for example, I’ve already bought an Oregon hunting license for $29.50, paid $8 to enter a lottery for the right to hunt in a particular spot, and purchased a $42.50 tag. That means I’ve already paid $80 toward wildlife research and habitat protection in my home state. Bird-watchers and hikers haven’t paid anywhere near that much.

With approximately 12.5 million hunters nationwide, we’re talking about real money. Proceeds from the Federal Duck Stamp — a required $15 annual purchase for migratory waterfowl hunters — have added more than five million acres to the national wildlife refuge system. And federal excise taxes on hunting equipment and ammunition garner more than $200 million a year for wildlife management and the purchase of public lands.

5. Hunting promotes conservation

To hunt is to participate in the ecosystem rather than just watch from the sidelines. When I track an animal, I use all of my senses to take in my surroundings, as if I were a wild animal myself. So by the time I actually shoot something, I’ve developed a deep connection to the species and to the land. I considered myself an environmentalist before I started hunting. But back then, all of my reasons for conservation were theoretical. Now that I hunt, I have a real-life, vested interest in seeing places — and wildlife populations — preserved in the long-term. Someday, I want take my son hunting in all of my favorite spots.

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