Book Review: Exposing the Big Game
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It’s no surprise that I’m not a fan of hunting. But I have a particular distaste for those hunters who attempt to portray themselves as stewards of the earth when they are responsible for so much ecological destruction and when almost every environmentally-friendly undertaking on their part has been deceptive, counter-productive, and motivated entirely by self-interest and a desire to have more animals to kill. There are even hunters who speak of the remorse they experience when they are forced to slaughter an animal in the noble name of “wildlife management”, combined with the wonder and intimate connection they feel with all of nature as they blast away at it.
That’s why I was intrigued when I heard about Jim Robertson’s Exposing the Big Game: Living Targets of a Dying Sport. Written with appropriately acerbic humour, the book presents lots and lots of detailed information to counter the myth of the hunter as an environmentalist, touching on the numerous species of animals that are entirely extinct thanks to hunting (the passenger pigeon, great auk, and Steller’s sea cow, to name just a few) and discussing in detail the many threatened and endangered species which struggle to hang on while hunters lobby–often successfully–to have them removed from government protection lists.
The book also reveals that it’s not only the target animals like elk, deer, and bison who suffer and die as a result of hunting. Some are just collateral damage, like wolves, who despite being endangered in most of the United States continue to be killed in great numbers for the crime of “competing” with hunters for elk and deer. Countless other animals are directly and indirectly harmed when the balance of nature is thrown off by hunting. (For example: Robertson explains how the enthusiastic slaughter of prairie dogs continues despite the fact that nine different species of animals rely on the burrows of these once abundant rodents for denning. Thanks to the combined efforts of hunters and poison-happy cattle ranchers, prairie dogs now inhabit only 1% of their former territory, and it shows: black-footed ferrets and swift foxes are nearly extinct.)
I feel like I should point out that this book is not an entirely depressing read, since it might seem that way in this review. Clearly there is a great deal of useful information about hunting, and I would recommend it for that alone. But interspersed with facts about hunting and mass slaughter are wonderful anecdotes and facts about the secret lives of these animals: the author has spent a lot of his life observing nature and it shows. (He’s also vegan!)
Exposing the Big Game is also filled with Robertson’s own beautiful photographs of wildlife, a nice counter to the depressing and gruesome images that sometimes accompany books of this nature. I appreciated the photos even more when I got to the final chapter, “A Few Words on Ethical Wildlife Photography”. (As a birder, I am aware of how overzealous photographers can be almost as detrimental to the well-being of animals as a hunter.)
Final note: My only real complaint is with Robertson’s use of some male-as-default language. In a few cases he used “men” and “man” when “humans” and “humankind” would have done just as well without any compromise in terms of style or sentence structure; that said, the majority of language was gender-neutral. All in all, it is an absolutely fantastic book and well worth a read.