Ante Bozanich wrote:
Yes, there is an issue about hunting being regarded as a sport, isn't there, when the notion of sport implies a generally equal contest - individual -v- individual, team -v- team.
We should not rule out the macho element of it I guess, even if many often gang up on one which, on the face of it, is cowardly....
Turkey hunters tend to talk about their activities in a particularly macho way, perhaps ostensibly to compensate for the type of prey they seek to kill. As an initial thought, perhaps turkey as prey sounds hardly like a wild and potentially dangerous ‘animal opponent’ like a bear, a moose, or even a fully-grown stag does? Indeed, possibly for similar reasons, the size of the North American turkey is often carefully emphasised in hunters’ photographs of themselves and ‘their’ bird. Common iconoclastic poses tend to feature dead turkeys thrown nonchalantly over hunters’ shoulders, the birds’ lifeless heads hanging down limply with large wing feathers cascading below the conquerors’ waists.
In turkey-hunter talk, male turkeys are ‘gobblers,’ ‘tom turkeys’ and ‘longbeards’, and are the more prized prey, while the smaller females are simply called ‘hens’. With some unacknowledged irony, turkey hunters speak of the male turkeys being rather macho, almost arrogant; strutting around, scratching at the earth, ‘parading’ around to attract mates (Trout 1999). Male turkeys ‘gobble’ at other birds; and they walk-the-walk, checking out the competition and the availability of females. Turkey hunters say they use their considerable knowledge of turkey behaviour against the birds, evolving clever hunting ‘strategies’ to ‘outwit’ the gobblers. Hunters also often like to emphasise the necessary expertise and skill required to successfully kill wild turkeys, who seem to the hunters capable of forever keeping themselves (the little teasers) just outside ‘killing distance’. Furthermore, dedication and perseverance are essential qualities for successful turkey killing, for any false move on a hunter’s part will be inevitably seen by the birds’ putative ‘supernatural vision’ (ibid).
When hunter, John Trout, Jr., describes his own turkey hunts, he portrays a mental and physical struggle between ‘man’ and ‘bird’. He keenly passes on his long experience of ‘bumping heads’ with ‘afternoon gobblers’; and says that by following his hunting strategies you may ‘double your fun’ in the wild turkey kill. After establishing the difficulties of battling the allegedly ‘supernatural’ gobblers, the skills of the dominionist hunter are amply demonstrated with accounts of the frequency of their successful kills. Thus, when a gobbler appears behind Trout Jr., it soon ‘falls victim’ to his ‘trusty Winchester’. When two turkeys appear out of a huge valley, he wastes no time in ‘taking’ what he expertly identifies as the ‘best’ bird. By skillfully ‘calling’ to a gobbler in the manner of a female turkey:
Almost instantly, three hens and a strutting gobbler appeared on the opposite side of the field, just out of shooting range. Patiently, I raised the gun while Joe [note: two against one] took over the calling and offered the strutting bird a sweet string of clucks and purrs. The hens paid little attention, but the gobbler found the calls irresistible. Slowly he approached, and when he reached the point of no return I squeezed the trigger. The gun roared and the 4-year-old gobbler toppled (ibid).
Another strategy of human skill over animality involves targeting the guy- without-a-gal: or the ‘lonesome turkey’. After all, according to Gary Sefton, experienced wildlife shooter, and honoured as ‘turkey calling champion’, any male turkey is more likely to respond to your calls if he has ‘no hens alongside’. An extra skillful strategy, which to the uninitiated may appear more than a little weird, means being able to ‘scream like a peacock’, apparently designed to cause ‘shock-gobble’. It seems that there is nothing like a peacock’s call to intrigue even a weary ‘afternoon turkey’ who is ‘desensitised after gobbling at crows and other turkeys all morning’:
The peacock call is like an extra stimulant that can force a turkey to talk when he has stopped answering the crows and other sounds that made him gobble earlier in the day (ibid).
Focusing his analysis specifically on North America, Mason argues (1993: 251) that hunting keeps dominionist values ‘alive’ and ‘handy for all of society’. He notes that a hunter regards himself as the ‘leading’ and also the controlling species on the planet, encroaching on wildlife every day, deciding where and where not wildlife can live, and which to domesticate in order to eat. Finally, talking specifically about nonhuman animals rather than nature in general, the hunter is aware of the weighty responsibilities of having ‘total power over them’ (quote from a hunter in Greenwich News [Connecticut], in Mason, 1993: 250).
Mason calls hunting ‘human society’s oldest man-over-beast ritual’, further noting that, although only a small percentage of Americans hunt themselves, society in general tacitly supports it, especially the hunting of deer. For example, the opening day of the deer hunt is described in An Unnatural Order as ‘a secular day of obligation’ (ibid.: 251). It appears that this North American ritual has a powerful sociological influence in terms of the maintenance of a ‘misotherous’ culture (meaning hatred and/or contempt for animals - explored below in greater detail). For Mason, misotherous culture is transmitted and maintained through peer group and secondary socialisation processes. For example, on this significant first day of hunting, ‘schools and factories close, restaurants offer ‘sportsman’s plates’, local media sponsor Big Buck contests, and a standard greeting is, ‘Get your deer yet?’’ (ibid.: 251-52). Mason further reports that the New York Times has poetically described the annual opening day deer-killing phenomenon ‘the song of the rifle’ in the ‘rite of autumn’ (ibid.: 252).