Audubon – Would He Fit the Society Bearing His Name?

Posted on June 19, 2012


“The deer is heard coming. It has inadvertently cracked a dead stick with its hoof, and the dogs are now so near that it will pass in a moment. There it comes! How beautifully it bounds over the ground! What a splendid head of horns! How easy its attitudes, depending, as it seems to do, on its own swiftness for safety! All is in vain, however; a gun is fired, the animal plunges and doubles with incomparable speed. There he goes! He passes another stand, from which a second shot, better directed than the first, brings him to the ground. The dogs, the servants, the sportsmen are now rushing forward to the spot. The hunter who has shot it is congratulated on his skill or good luck, and the chase begins again in some other part of the woods.

“I hope that this account will be sufficient to induce you, kind reader, to driving the light-footed deer in our western and southern woods…”

And I inquire of you; does this prose depict a man dedicated to the cause of preservation? Interestingly enough, the introductory quote is an actual excerpt from an essay penned by none other than John James Audubon. Much to the chagrin of the many devoted birders belonging to the society so named after this man, Audubon was indeed a far cry from the idyllic perception this collective group currently may have of its ceremonial namesake. In fact, Audubon was a sportsman, hunter and naturalist who studied deer to hunt them and hunted them to study them. He was a self-reliant frontiersman of fine personal appearance that “chafed under the confinement of domestic life, and longed to be continually in the woods.” Although Audubon was one of the early pioneers in ornithology, his dramatic bird portraits, sketches and detailed description of each bird are even still today regarded as historic works of art. The irony to this collection is many of the specimens included met their demise at the end of Audubon’s favorite double-barreled, 18-gauge, percussion shotgun. He used the gun not only to provide sustenance in the form of fine venison for the table, but as a specimen collector for scientific and artistic objectives. It has even been reported that his neighbors at one time complained about the offensive odor emanating from dead bird skins drying at his home.

When one takes note of Audubon’s detailed journals it becomes clear that he reveled in not only looking like the consummate deer slayer by adorning himself in buckskins, but exuberantly partook in all aspects of the traditional methods of the day in bagging his quarry.

It is not hard to imagine, based on his spirited and enthusiastic accounts of his mode of deer hunting that J.J. Audubon would find wide spread acceptance amongst his deer hunting peers even today. I’m not so sure he’d find that same approval rating within the rank and file of the society bearing his name. Bird watchers, who have never experienced wildlife in any other way than behind a set of binoculars find it difficult to understand how a man could profess to be a naturalist, yet find great pleasure in blood sports. Audubon’s propensity to spend endless hours tramping the wilds of the American forest was first and foremost precipitated by his sheer love of nature. And because of his inquisitiveness and desire to know everything about nature’s children, he became a student of the wild things. Many people are indeed interested in nature, but are reluctant or unwilling to invest the time and energy required to make the kind of observations necessary to produce informed decisions.

Hence, a group, club or society is started, usually by the efforts of a few concerned individuals. Sadly, despite what originally may have been a noble cause leading up to the group’s inception, like many other human endeavors, the message becomes diluted, mixed or even forgotten over time. As men and women with great influence sit in leadership positions and begin to trump their own personal agenda, the original goals become compromised or taken to an extreme level never intended by its founders.

Another deer hunter from a much later era by the name of George Mattis wrote this with regards to our natural treasures: “The American public, on the whole, has not attained the stable maturity necessary for evaluating our generous heritage and its proper place in an economy-minded nation. We are still a frontier people seeking new lakes and better hunting grounds, but we find there are none. We will have to do with what we have, but we will have to do it more wisely. We strongly need to cultivate an aesthetic appreciation of our remaining wilderness – the deep, shaded forests, sedge-filled marsh lands, sphagnum moss-carpeted cold bogs, wooded hills, the mountains and the desserts.”

The ‘wisdom’ of maintaining what we have referred to by Mattis was not metered out of a preservationist heart, rather its genesis comes from a conservation minded individual who recognized the value of our natural resources. ‘Appreciation for our remaining wilderness’ is significantly in contrast with the elitist ideals of preserving sacred grounds at the expense of human life. Is population control of humans, the very people that according to Genesis 1:26-27 were made in God’s image and are to have dominion over the fish, fowl, cattle and everything that creepeth upon the earth, the answer to meeting these objectives?

How far down the road of civilization we have traveled since the days when John Audubon traversed this fair land. We have better transportation, living conditions, technology, healthcare, ect., yet, have a Society that embraces his name promoting human population control all in the name of benefiting wildlife and its habitat. And lest you think that the Audubon Society is the only group promoting this agenda, here is what Chuck Clayton, president of the Izaak Walton League of America recently wrote in a news release:

“We believe that hunters, anglers and all outdoor recreation enthusiasts will understand more fully the consequences of human population growth on their pursuits when a broader spectrum of journalists start addressing the issue as a matter of course.”

The denigration of human life is not the answer to those who seek to protect all that is wild, ‘all that is most haunting in deep sanctuaries, all that is most delicately alluring in remote woodlands, in wild valleys, and on far mountains’ – nor is it a position to which Mr. Audubon would have ascribed.

Although the cultural changes have been many since the mid-1800s when Audubon tramped and chased whitetails with great delight, moral integrity can still be found in those who choose to seek her out despite living in a world enmeshed with post-modern philosophies.

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer