SAMUEL: How the general public views animals in a different light than hunters


Shane Mahoney in his “Conservation Matters” column in the summer issue of Pope and Young Club’s Summer Newsletter, talks about the fact that hunters tend to view wildlife and animals differently than the general public.

Hunters are reluctant to acknowledge that animals have emotions the same as humans. The fear seems to be that if we hunters admit that animals have emotions, then the general public will become anti-hunting. And they may but that’s fodder for another column.

There is no question that more and more citizens live in urban areas, and as urbanization increases, non-hunters see animals as less and less different from humans. Mahoney points out that hunters needs to understand this if they are to continue to get non-hunters support for hunting.

When it comes to seeing animal behavior, hunters are the experts compared to most non-hunters.

They have seen wild animal behaviors that most non-hunters have never seen. In my hunting life I’ve seen grizzly bears attack mountain goats (as I wrote about in a recent column).

I’ve seen a great horned owl fly in a kill a roosting wild turkey just after dark. I’ve seen several red-tailed hawks capture gray squirrels. I’ve had hummingbirds land on my bow hanging on a limb near me in a treestand. The list goes on and on. Coyotes stalking rabbits, a white wolf standing 15 yards from me while I was bear hunting in Saskatchewan, a wild turkey with a broken leg attempting to get into a tree to roost at night.

Those behaviors don’t really display human emotions, but other examples do. One recent video taken by a doctoral student shows three families of elephants coming to a site where an old cow elephant had died, and they touch her bones. Some type of emotions there. Mourning? How about killer whales carrying their dead calf for hundreds of miles keeping it at the surface of the ocean? The media followed that one.

Then there are our dogs. My Cali definitely displays happiness, jumping around, wagging her tail, licking my hand, when I come home. On the 4th of July she stays right beside Cathy, shaking whenever fireworks go off close to our home. Fear? We didn’t teach her that. Are wild animals ever “happy”? I recently watched a TV hunting show where bear cubs climbed a steep snow-covered hill, and slid to the bottom, only to return and repeat the process over and over. Having fun?

Crows can puzzle solve. Intelligence? When I was a young hunter, several times I observed gray squirrels pretending to bury an acorn. They’d dig a hole, then refill it and pat it down, only to move ten yards away and bury that acorn. Was another acorn-eating animal in the area, watching where that squirrel hid some food? How did that squirrel learn to do that?

Most hunters relish the experience of seeing animals in the wild. If you ask a hunter how his/her evening hunt was, they often answer, ” I saw five does, two wild turkeys and a hawk.” No mention of the shots that they took or the doe they harvested. But hunters need to understand that when a non-hunter observes a gray squirrel, their real life experience of watching that squirrel was seeing one being hand-fed in a local park. That’s real to them.

Dr. Samuel is a retired wildlife professor from West Virginia University. His outdoor columns have appeared, and continue to appear, in Bowhunter magazine and the Whitetail Journal. If you have questions or comments on wildlife and conservation issues, email him at