There’s a common refrain in the hunting community: Trophy hunting is the dishonorable pursuit of the rich man trying to boost his ego, while meat hunting is the noble pursuit of the everyman trying feed his family. The general public approves of hunting for meat and disapproves of hunting for a trophy or for sport, as Christine Peterson writes in “Heads & Horns.” As hunters, we often celebrate the former and distance ourselves from the latter.
However, these lines of division are inaccurately drawn. Take, for example, a simple late-season mallard hunt. I paddled my old canoe through a few hundred yards of skim ice to reach the middle of the marsh, determined to end my season with a strap of northern greenheads. This was not because I needed the meat, though I happily eat every duck I kill. I was out there that morning because, to me, late-season mallards are the most challenging ducks to hunt and the most magnificent birds for my dog Otis to retrieve. Each one added to the strap is the mark of an accomplished duck hunter.
I killed exactly one greenhead that morning, and Otis made a heroic retrieve through the ice that was thickening around us.
Back home, I plucked the bird for dinner and clipped off one of his secondary feathers (the ones with that electric “mallard blue” color). I stuck it in a little jar that sits on my desk as a trophy that no one—but me—will care about.
We all hunt for meat, trophies, sport, and many more reasons that are much harder to define. So as you read through this issue, I hope those played-out lines of division begin to dissolve and are replaced by more useful definitions of why we each paddle out into our own frozen marshes.
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