Conservation Wildlife Management

Live Hunt Video: Wolverine Feeding on Brown Bear Carcass

Tyler Freel Avatar

One of the most hot-button issues in the hunting community is the debate over the ethics of salvaging or not salvaging meat from an animal that has been hunted and killed. Some hunters believe that the meat from any animal killed should be eaten, while others wouldn’t salvage any meat from anything if they weren’t required to do so. It’s probably safe to say that most of us fall somewhere in the middle of these two ways of thought.

Some folks are seriously offended by the fact that we are not legally required to–and normally don’t–keep any meat from brown/grizzly bears. But as with most things, there is more to it than meets the eye.

To me, the idea that we have an obligation to eat everything we kill is ridiculous in itself. Some of the people that preach this idea have no problem killing animals they consider pests, and yet wouldn’t dream of eating them. If we approach it from a purely logical perspective, taking the life of a game animal is no different than taking the life of a “nuisance” animal. Therefore, if it’s ethical to kill one type of animal and not eat it, how could it be unethical to do the same with another? If the only acceptable reasons to kill an animal are to eat it or in self defense, then pretty much all of us are guilty of killing some type of animal life unethically.

Our various opinions on the matter vary largely based on our backgrounds and the environments we live and spend our time in, but I think it would be safe to say that the vast majority of us hunt for more complex reasons than simply to eat. It is not a sadistic desire to kill, but something within us that compels us to be an active part of the environment. We want to see animals thrive.

The second aspect of this debate is the question of waste. Most would take it as a given that meat is going to waste if it is not consumed by the hunter. This is simply a made-up idea, with no logical or biological support. By no means do I condone breaking salvage laws or not salvaging good meat, but sometimes taking a step back and adopting a non-emotional approach helps us see things in a different light. We can’t ignore the fact that our definition and nature’s definition of waste don’t exactly match up. For example, just three days after killing my brown bear, the entire several-hundred-pound carcass was reduced to little more than bones by hungry bald eagles and a wolverine. Over the course of our hunt, taking three bears provided food for bald eagles, wolverines, foxes, and, wolves. These animals only survive through the death of other animals. Everything is hungry in this environment, and with three fewer bears in the ecosystem, the still healthy population of bears has less competition and life improves for those that remain.

In general, grizzly bears and brown bears are not considered “edible,” and this is why it is not required to salvage their meat. There are some people who eat them under the right conditions, but often, just the smell of their meat is repulsive. They eat a lot of carrion, including dead salmon, leftover winterkill, rotting whales that have washed up, etc. This is the biggest reason I (and probably 99 percent of hunters) don’t salvage their meat. I would like to try it if someday I kill a berry-fed fall bear, but not these scavengers.

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive analysis of the subject, rather a perspective that many of us overlook. I was certainly impressed, if not shocked to see how quickly that environment moves and changes, and I sleep perfectly well at night knowing that none of that bear’s meat went to waste, whether it was me eating it or something else.