A Hunter’s Take on Montana’s and Idaho’s Wolf Hunts


I hunt.  In fact, I love to hunt.  As the days get shorter and the nights cooler here in Montana, I find myself restless, thinking about chasing grouse in the mountains and ducks on the rivers this fall. 

I didn't grow up hunting.  Not even close.  I grew up in suburban Chicago in a household where asking for a BB gun was a non-starter and slingshots were confiscated by worried parents.

But then I went to college in Vermont, where a hunting culture still exists, and I had the great fortune of meeting a dentist named Kim Montgomery, who is a passionate hunter and environmentalist.  Kim taught me how to hunt, and, more importantly, he instilled in me a strong hunting ethic. 

The more Kim and I discussed hunting (often in a duck blind on Lake Champlain), the more I realized how ignorant I was about the sport.

Unfairly and erroneously, hunting gets a bad rap in big cities.  Hunters are often portrayed as ruthless, mindless, moronic killers, who get ridiculously drunk in the woods and shoot deer from inside their pickup trucks.  In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. 

The modern conservation movement owes a huge debt of gratitude to hunters.  Long before Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, hunters were fighting to protect America's priceless land and animals.  Theodore Roosevelt?  George Bird Grinnell?  Aldo Leopold?  All ardent hunters.  Without hunters' early conservation work, the American landscape -- and the critters that roam it -- would look much different. 

The hunters I know are dedicated conservationists and thoughtful wanderers of wild places.  They love wilderness, and they love to hunt because it affords them opportunities to spend countless hours in beautiful country.  How often would I find myself sitting at the edge of a lake or river in below-freezing weather mesmerized by a sublime sunrise if I didn't hunt?  Probably never. 

And with that love of wild country and wildlife comes a fierce desire to protect both.  With less kids hunting and fishing (and more kids bedazzled by Nintendo Wii), the conservation voice is in great danger of being sadly quieter in the future.

Hunting can also be an effective wildlife management tool, which we desperately need, because we've eradicated most predators across the country.  Hunting is also highly regulated; it's generally not a guns-a-blazin' free-for-all in the hills (though the planned wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana look like they will be). 

And, in today's world, with global warming the environmental issue of our time, what is greener than hiking into the mountains to kill a deer?  The livestock industry contributes more global warming pollution than the transportation industry.  In fact, NRDC estimates that if all Americans eliminated just one quarter-pound serving of beef per week, the reduction in global warming gas emissions would be equivalent to taking four to six million cars off the road.

Do you buy organic produce?  Do you strive to be a locavore?  What's more organic and local than wild game? 

I know what you're thinking: it's the killing part that troubles you.  I shared the same concern at one time, but then I thought about all the beef, pork, lamb, bison, venison, duck, chicken, turkey, and other meat I've consumed over the years.  Animals were slaughtered (and more often than not raised in miserably cruel conditions) for me to buy their meat. 

That's reality, and it changed the way I look at meat -- and hunting.  It's simply shamelessly hypocritical to disparage hunting over a medium-rare porterhouse.

In short, I started hunting later in life (I wasn't raised hunting, as most hunters are), I've thought and read a great deal about it, and I vigorously support and defend hunting and hunters.

With that out of the way, let me cut to the chase: Montana's and Idaho's wolf hunts planned for this fall must be halted.

Wolves have not yet fully biologically recovered in the Northern Rockies, and thus the hunts are premature.

Of critical importance to the long-term health and viability of Northern Rockies wolves is a larger wolf population with legitimate genetic exchange between the subpopulations of central Idaho, northwest Montana, and greater Yellowstone.

Such connectivity has not occurred yet.  And neither Montana's nor Idaho's wolf hunt protects wolves in the corridors between the subpopulations, which will only make meaningful genetic connectivity more difficult to achieve.

All of my above comments about hunting assume the animal population being hunted is healthy and stable.  That's not so with wolves in the Northern Rockies yet, which is why NRDC and other conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, are seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the hunts and restore Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho.

The impetus for the hunt is also disturbing, as the rhetoric coming from some hunters in Idaho and Montana is full of venom and hate.  (Like all facets of life, there are plenty of bad apples in the hunting world, notwithstanding my complimentary remarks above.) 

If our motion for a preliminary injunction is denied, these animals will not be hunted; they will be persecuted and slaughtered out of a misplaced hatred for wolves.  These hunters don't love wolves (as duck-hunters do ducks, deer-hunters do deer, etc.), they despise them.  And starting September 1st in Idaho, if we lose our motion, they'll take to the mountains to exact revenge on an incredible symbol of wildness they mistakenly think is ruining their lives

Hunters, and all outdoor recreationists, in the Northern Rockies are lucky; we live, work, and hunt in a generally intact ecosystem.  Unlike the rest of the country, the animals that roamed the mountains when Lewis and Clark passed through here over two hundred years ago are still here.  And most hunters embrace and adore the Northern Rockies' wildness.

But some angry, vocal hunters have demonized the wolf, and they want to rid it from this region.  What a shame, as these parts wouldn't be as awe-inspiring without them, and those hunters are ruining the name of hunting for everyone else. 

Hopefully, in the near future, wolves will be fully recovered in the Northern Rockies, with significant genetic connectivity between the subpopulations and adequate state management plans in place.  At that time, we won't oppose a sustainable wolf hunt. 

I won't partake in it, because I won't hunt something I won't eat.  To me - and most hunters - honoring the life you took by preparing a celebratory meal with close friends and family is an integral part of the hunting experience.  I also just generally loathe the idea of hunting wolves, an animal we exterminated from this area last century. 

But if, when the time for a sustainable hunt finally arrives, an ethical hunter, with a true reverence for wolves and the wildness they represent, hikes into the mountains and kills one, I won't complain. 

Because that means a healthy, robust wolf population exists in the Northern Rockies and is here for good.

I yearn for that day.

(Wolf photo by haglundc on Flickr)

About the Authors

Matt Skoglund

Director, Northern Rockies office

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