Melissa Bachman, avid “huntress” and host of the television show “Winchester Deadly Passion,” found herself in the news again this week after posting a picture of herself posing beside a massive lion she had just killed on a hunt in South Africa. This prompted Cape Town resident Elan Burman to begin a petition asking the South African government to ban Bachman from ever returning to South Africa. A whirlwind of responses in the hard press and social media ensued, with one side supporting Bachman’s hunting practices and the other side calling for her to be drawn and quartered, literally.
Now, I would not call myself an expert hunter. I’ve not hunted in Africa, I don’t have a room full of trophies, I didn’t post a picture of myself smiling down at an animal I just killed. I have hunted exactly three times: twice for mule deer and once for pronghorn. I successfully harvested one animal, a beautiful mule deer doe. Suffice it to say, I am new to the world of hunting. But I do have opinions and occasionally I share them. So here goes.
Last year, I bought three deer tags in the state of Nebraska: a Resident Whitetail Statewide Buck tag for $73.50, a Resident Muzzleloader Deer tag for $30.00, and a Resident Firearm Frenchman West Antlerless Only Season Choice tag for $30.00. I bought the required 2012 Habitat Stamp for $20.00 permitting me to hunt in the state of Nebraska during specified open seasons. This adds up to $153.50, paid to Nebraska Game and Parks. This money is earmarked for wildlife habitat conservation projects.
Of course, I purchased ammunition for the muzzleloader and the rifle. By law (Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, better known as the Pittman-Robertson Act), there is a10% tax on ammunition and firearms used for sport hunting and this tax is distributed to states for wildlife restoration, so I know I paid into that as well.
My three hunting trips involved quite a bit of driving and a couple of overnight stays. I paid for gas, food, and motel stays in various towns along the way. So in a way, I contributed to the state economy. In fact, according to National Shooting Sports Foundation’s 2011 report “Hunting in America: An Economic Force for Conservation,” hunters contributed over $847 million to Nebraska alone as a result of hunters’ spending that year.
I also brought home meat. Many, many pounds of meat. The venison provided by that mule deer has become chili, spaghetti sauce, soup, hamburgers, tacos, roast, stir fry, and steak. I have fed myself, my children, my parents, my sisters, and my friends throughout the year from that one kill.
So yes, I am conserving wildlife habitats, boosting my state economy by hunting, and feeding my loved ones.
Lest you think I hunt purely for altruistic reasons, however, let me share this quote with you from Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society of the United States. “I think if they were millionaires [speaking of the Dallas Safari Club’s plan to auction off a permit to kill an endangered rhino] and they were serious about helping rhinos, they would give money to help rhinos and not shoot one along the way.”
Now, I’m pretty serious about wildlife habitat conservation, but I can tell you that I do not plan on writing a check to Nebraska Game and Parks for $153.50 out of the pure goodness of my heart. And I am not willing to write a check to the State of Nebraska for the amount I spent on gas, food, and lodging, even if I earmark it for economic recovery. Neither are the millionaires – they are not going to simply hand over their money to a foreign country for rhino conservation.
So what does this mean? It means that I don’t simply hunt for meat – I could buy meat at the store. I don’t simply hunt for conservation efforts – I could write a check. There is something more and that is the hunt itself.
And this is where I go back to Melissa Bachman. Some will argue that the fees she paid for the lion tag in South Africa funnel their way to conservation efforts in that country. Some will say that the money she paid for the outfitters, the guides, the cooks, the taxi drivers, and all the other people directly or indirectly affected financially by her trip to South Africa helps the local economy. Some will say that a portion of the money brought in goes to fund local clinics, schools, etc. Some will say that the meat from her kill will go to the local food bank. All well and good.
My guess is that Bachman is conscious of all of this and is probably glad about the effects. But I venture to say that there is more. I’m thinking she hunted the lion because she knew she would enjoy the hunt. And who am I to judge her? It was a legal hunt (though I am not keen on canned hunts or fenced hunts or whatever they are called) and she has her reasons, just like I have mine.
Could she have looked a little less pleased with herself in the photo she posted? Certainly. She didn’t have to post a picture at all. I didn’t post a picture of me beaming from ear to ear when I shot my doe. In fact, I wasn’t beaming and I didn’t get any pictures at all. But that’s just me. Hunting isn’t my job, it isn’t my livelihood, and I’m really not one to publicly pat myself on the back.
But Bachman is. That’s who she is and that’s what she does. She offers no apologies. In fact, I’d guess she knew exactly what she was doing when she posted the picture of herself smiling beside the lion she just killed. The picture went viral, the news is covering the story, and here I am writing about her.