A Christian's View of Hunting by Serge Mihaly 3/15/2018
It was during one of Father Peter's house blessing visits that we started to talk sharing the usual catching up of a parishioner with this family priest. We spoke a bit a lot of things, but one seemed to catch his ear and he asked me to write about it. So, I am.
I love nature, the woods, the smell of falls fallen and moistened leaves, the colors of different trees, a wild rippling brook and the many creatures that live in it. I am always mesmerized by the delicate little birds that flutter and land on the many twigs and branches above the ground. Cardinals, Juncos, Starlings, Robins, Red-Bellied and Downy woodpeckers, brown headed cowbirds and an occasional Grackle or two. The thought of how delicate each creature was, how they survived, despite temperatures well below zero has always intrigued me. Chickadees are 1/10 the size of my fist yet they jump here and there swinging their heads in little darting motions looking for any semblance of danger or food. I can barely stay outside a minute in the winter and these little birds stay out all day and night. Amazing. I marvel at how God protects them and has provided the necessary ingredients for survival and procreation. It reminds me of the Bible passage Matthew 6:26 that says 'Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?' The passage makes me realize that in the seemingly complicated world of nature, God's hand is always there guiding and providing what is needed despite our fears and insecurities.
My love of nature is more than just an ephemeral one though. I love the ruggedness of it, the independence it demands and the freedom it offers. I also love the peace found there, a silent and soothing rhapsody of warmth and continuity, something rarely found in modern society. It is this same peace I find when I hunt. I've have taken white-tail deer, black bear, a caribous, rabbits and pheasants. I've hunted in Alaska, Canada, Connecticut, Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania finding peace and relaxation in all. Bishop Orestes Chornock introduced my father to hunting and hence, my father to me and my brothers. With it came a deep and abiding love of nature, of man's evolving place within the natural world and the realization that we have a natural responsibility to care for it. One might argue, how could you kill something you love? This is a good question, and one I have wrestled with many times.
If anything, I believe an ethical hunter, especially a Christian, appreciates life as much if not more than the average non-hunter. While most people eat meat, fish or poultry, most Americans only see the end product of their food. They do not slaughter the animal and prepare it for market. The hunter knows the entire process and participates in it. He or she knows the cost of that hamburger, in this case a venison burger or steak – an animals life. We study game every time we enter the woods fascinated by the habits and ways of nature's wild creatures. In Genesis, after God made man it says 'He blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth an subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of heaven, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." As gifts from God we have a responsibility to handle them with care which draws right into my thinking on hunting.
Taking a life is a very serious and solemn act, something that hits at the very heart of a Christian. Life is precious, all life. It is because of this that as a hunter, Christians know the practical aspects of taking game, that herds too large damage other species by over browsing and eliminating certain plants that another creature would normally eat stressing the entire ecosystem. In times of overpopulation with fewer available food sources, animals become weak, open to disease and in many cases causes death by starvation or predation. Die offs can be dramatic sometimes even threatening entire herds and, in rare cases, species. Ethical science directed Hunting serves to reduce the size of various animal populations keeping them in line with the available browse. But, how does all this apply to a Christian?
If we understand that the creatures we harvest are gifts from God, which they are, then we must value them. Beyond this, too, we understand that it is our duty to dispatch them with the greatest of speed and least amount of pain. This is why we sight in our rifles and bows. To not do so is lazy and unethical and can cause unnecessary pain and suffering. There is no joy in the act of killing, maybe satisfaction in a good, fair hunt and accurate shot, but no joy. I've taken deer and know firsthand that the creature I brought home was created by God, that it served its purpose in life and I was blesses enough to enjoy its unique existence. Each creature has a role to play. While some are destined to live, feed and breed others are destined to be food for another creature like a coyote, wolf, bear or, yes, man.
If we can consider the animals of the woods with such care and concern, how much more ought we apply to our fellow Christians and strangers we meet? We can go through life respecting each other acting like Christ would want us to or not. The choice is up to us.