Outdoor oddities are proof of nature’s cruelty in Pennsylvania
In my 25 years of hunting, I’ve had a meager handful of people question how I could possibly do anything to “hurt a poor innocent animal.”
Most who know me and truly understand hunting already comprehend the respect, admiration and reverence given to the animals I pursue. While many may not be hunters themselves, they at least can appreciate hunting’s ecological importance and apathetically support my decision to responsibly partake. That pretty much covers the majority.
But for the few who question my values, hobbies or way of life, I often try to explain that nature is often crueler than a well-placed arrow or bullet. A few unique examples come to mind.
The predator-prey relationship is well known, as the top of the food chain must kill and consume the species below it in order to survive. It may not be pretty, but it’s nature in its purest form.
I recall several first-hand encounters of witnessing this in the wild, such as a red-tailed hawk swooping in with talons bared to snatch a gray squirrel from a treetop hide; a red fox prancing across a hillside with a cottontail rabbit in its mouth; or the partially eaten button buck we discovered in the middle of a field a few years back, surrounded by blood-stained snow and fresh coyote tracks.
None of these scenarios ended well for the prey, but at least the predators had a filling meal as a result of the encounter — much like I do whenever I legally harvest a game species.
But nature is often even less forgiving, and wildlife perishes in some strange and unexplainable ways. Every year it seems a different hunter, angler or hiker across the United States stumbles upon the carcasses of two bucks, antlers eternally locked, emaciated and exhausted from the struggle to free themselves, ultimately dying as a result of their split-second decision to spar and the chance inability to stop.
I’ve seen photos of deer that had trees fall on them, a chain pickerel that tried to eat a trout of equal size, only to choke and eventually get skewered by a great blue heron’s beak, and I’ve even heard of ruffed grouse in mortality studies dying from broken necks after flying straight into trees.
Speaking of which — countless songbirds die each year after seeing their reflections and flying into windows. In fact, my brother had the surprise of his life one year when a mature gobbler smashed through the front windshield of his vehicle while driving at highway speeds, resulting in the most expensive fast-food order he’s ever picked up to date.
But one of the strangest things I’ve seen thus far is the photo a co-worker recently shared of a half-dozen juvenile squirrels discovered hanging dead in a backyard tree branch last spring. While doing yardwork, her husband noticed the odd bundle and cut the limb down for closer inspection. It seemed the squirrels somehow tangled their tails together and got snagged in the branches, ultimately succumbing to a certainly slow and unpleasant death.
The point I’m trying to make is that all wildlife eventually dies — sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly and sometimes strangely. Occasionally it’s at a hunter’s hand, but most times, it is left to nature.
Just because I harvest an animal doesn’t mean I don’t care about it. In fact, the exact opposite is true. I hold the animals I hunt in the highest regard, for I know the struggles they endure daily just to live another day. They are incredible creatures, constantly battling the elements and other critters in their daily fight for survival.
It’s an honor to witness their wonder, and once in a while, stake claim to the title of nature’s apex predator.