Hunting popular, but tough to classify

Tuesday, December 7, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:06 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 7, 2008

During the winter, outdoor sports in Mid-Missouri are hard to come by.

That is, unless you consider hunting a sport.

As the temperature drops and the holiday season approaches, hoards of Columbians trade their golf clubs and baseball gloves for shotguns, rifles or bows.

But is hunting actually a sport?

John George, who is a natural history biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, believes it is.

“(Hunting) takes a certain amount of skill to put yourself in the right place to be successful,” said George, who hunts regularly. “Actually harvesting the animal takes some skill after the fact too.”

Clearly, hunting is extremely popular in this area, but it’s far from universally loved.

Columbia resident Tracy Lee, who is a vegetarian, generally doesn’t think hunting should be considered a sport.

“I don’t understand what you’re competing against or what the goal is,” she said. “If it’s a sport, it seems like there should be some sort of goal to it. Killing your opponent isn’t usually the goal of most modern sports, so I don’t think hunting should be considered one.”

In many cases, hunters compete against other hunters. For instance, some hunters take immense pride in obtaining the largest set of deer antlers among their hunting friends.

George said he sees the competitive side of hunting, but he doesn’t get into the “bragging rights” aspect of scoring the biggest kill.

“Really, you’re competing against yourself,” he said. “I don’t know of too many organized events where people are competing against other people.

“In most Midwest hunts, you’re really not competing against nature either. You’re usually not so far away from civilization that you’re beyond help.”

So hunting can be competitive, but how serious is the competition?

Is there a hunting equivalent to the pressure of a last-second basket or a 3-2 pitch?

“You get an adrenaline release from anything that excites you,” George said. “I think it’s more likely to happen (in hunting) when, for example, a deer gets close to you. Especially if it surprises you, you will get nervous and excited.

“After you have killed one, I don’t think you have as much of an adrenaline release. It’s probably more relaxing than exciting.”

Despite her personal feelings about eating meat, Lee said she isn’t offended by people who hunt for food.

“I’m opposed to the idea of hunting for sport if you’re not going to eat the meat or use it,” she said. “Purely hunting for sport is wasteful. Even if it’s not a survival thing, as long as it doesn’t go to waste, I’m not really that opposed to it.”

George said, regardless of one’s personal feelings, hunting can be necessary and beneficial to society.

“Any of the species we have hunting for, such as deer, you really have to hunt. Otherwise, everybody inadvertently ends up being deer hunters with their vehicles.

“When a recreational group of people have a desire to go after deer, it works to society’s advantage as a whole. Then you don’t have to fund special hunters and shooters.”

George also said most people don’t like hunting for the brutality and violence.

“A lot of people who bird hunt just go to experience walking through the fields in the early mornings,” he said. “They may not really gauge the success of the hunt on whether they even fired a shot. Some people just enjoy watching wildlife. There’s a lot to be said for sitting out (in nature) for an hour and actually watching what happens, especially if you’ve never done it before.”

Well, I’ve never hunted before, and I’m still not sure whether hunting is a sport.

You can decide that for yourself.

But like most Americans, I’m all for any activity that helps protect my precious, new Ford Mustang.

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