Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister who once said, “I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ,” shared the joy of mallard hunting with a 2007 NRA audience: “To watch mallards come in a flock, cut their wings and land but a few feet in front of you on a cold winter day near Stuttgart, Arkansas, is just about as close to heaven as I think one can get on this Earth. And as one who believes, because of my faith, that I’m going to Heaven, I’m pretty sure there will be duck hunting in Heaven, and I can’t wait.” Hunter Huckabee is fooling no one with his spiritual rhetoric. Ultimately, he is motivated by a base, macho desire to kill. And that is hardly a Christian virtue.
Waterfowl (ducks, geese, brant) hunting is highly regulated in NYS. No rifles, handguns, traps, snares, or nets. Machine guns and explosives, too, are prohibited. And please, leave poisons and drugs at home. After all, the competition must be fair. Curiously, sink boxes (a float that conceals one’s body beneath the surface) are banned, but blinds (and ponchos?) are fine so long as they’re labeled with name and address. Only paraplegics and amputees can shoot from cars, and “you may not shoot crippled birds when under power.” Decoys are allowed, but they mustn’t be live. Use calls at your leisure, but no electronics, amplifiers, or tapes. And no bait. The DEC also expects you to “make a reasonable effort to retrieve all killed or crippled birds.” How very magnanimous.
In NY, the minimum age to enjoy this timeless tradition is 12. In 1996, the enlightened folks at the DEC established the two-day preseason Youth Waterfowl Days. This is a special time for children to get their feet wet, so to speak. Very exciting. One hunting service boasts that “without a doubt, the biggest rush in water fowling is for the sea ducks. On some days it is literally shooting as fast as you can load your gun. …an unforgettable experience.”
Within the hunter’s code lies some convoluted notion of the fair chase (or, as the case may be, the hide, lure, and fire away), and towards that end, the aforementioned limits have been established. But I would argue that this fairness doctrine applies not to the adversaries in question, but rather to equitably maintaining a bountiful supply for all (hunters) to enjoy. For in this titanic struggle between man and mallard, some unfair (if you were a duck) advantages (guns, blinds, decoys, calls) are deemed acceptable, while others (laying waste with battery guns and grenades) are not. The ducks, it should be noted, have no desire to participate in this game. They are simply flying for their lives.
While Mike Huckabee and Joseph Classen, Catholic priest and passionate hunting advocate, unabashedly invoke God’s name as they wantonly destroy his creations, my Catholic school upbringing informs otherwise. The nuns and brothers described a God (Jesus) who embodies love, compassion, mercy, and, life. Seems a rather difficult reconciliation to make. Shooting defenseless ducks on a Saturday afternoon is not communing with nature, nor is it a necessary evil for ecological balance. It is a leisure activity in which some animals suffer if only wounded, while others die a premature death. Hunters hunt, primarily, because it is fun. And there is no better example of this than shooting, “as fast as you can load your gun,” the menacing waterfowl. Mike Huckabee, noble warrior, must burst with pride at the day’s harvest. And, at least for him, God smiles approvingly.