Friday, 29 May 2009

Hunting Ethics: 'Bad'

I stood around tonight - the sun going down on what felt like the first day of summer; blackbirds singing; a pheasant looking handsome in the next field - poking the still-twitching corpse of a dead rabbit with a twig and shuddering with revulsion.

I'd shot it about twenty minutes before and picked it up only to drop it at once, shocked by the swarm of fleas that were wriggling across its belly. I loathe fleas; I detest bugs of any description - mosquitoes, spiders, earwigs, woodlice - but fleas inspire a special horror for me. I picked it up by one paw and carried it another few yards and then I saw that the paw itself had its own lively colony of these insects - and I had to let it fall again. I waited a few minutes in the hope they'd flee the corpse - but when I looked again there were, if anything, even more of them.

Trying to grit my teeth, I picked it up and thumbed the pee out - then I dropped it again. Finally, I carried it to a fallen tree and laid it on the trunk; dozens of fleas were skipping off the body onto the bark and vanishing as they jumped away - bringing me to another shudder of nauseated disgust.

I waited - looking around, feeling like a fool and hoping that no cheerful dog-walker would happen by to find me by frozen beside a rabbit I couldn't bring myself to gut - but still they wriggled in the fur on its belly, still they writhed on its paws. I tried to stir them away by combing the fur with the blade of my knife and then with a stick; the shadows were lengthening around me as the sun went down.

Attempting to master myself, I sliced open its belly and - picking it up by the paws - flung it so that the guts flew out into a ditch behind the tree. Then I looked into the body of the rabbit: it was utterly crammed with small, white, semi-translucent larval tapeworm cysts: there seemed to be hundreds of them clinging in masses like bunches of grapes around the liver and the stomach.

I stood and looked at the rabbit I'd shot; I thought about my declared certainty that cooking will destroy any trace of tapeworm in rabbits; I thought about my snobbery towards supermarket shoppers who, I like to imagine, try to distance themselves from the visceral reality of meat production; I thought about the picture I hold of myself as an ethical hunter - my reluctance to waste food, my insistence that I'd only take the life of an animal if I was then going to eat it; I thought about all this - and then I picked up the dead rabbit, threw it into the ditch and walked home.


  1. Something odd going on there.

    Massive flea infestation, tapeworm overload, I think disposing of it was a good call. You always do your hunting business in good faith and conscientiously, you always use good judgment so I'm sure it was the right thing to do.
    Bets regards,
    Learn to Shoot, Break the Flinch

  2. Call me a wuss if you like but i would have chucked him too

  3. Around here we do that a lot with significantly lesser specimens of small game as well as coyotes and raccoons that don't have pelts that are salable. The feral hogs eat them anyway, just like they do the entrails left behind by field dressing, so it's not like they don't end up hunter food eventually.

    I wouldn't lose any sleep over it.

  4. We've all done it mate - your instinct was telling you "No" for a reason.


  5. Hubert Hubert, you done good. Seriously, an animal with that many infestations wasn't well, and your instincts are there for a reason. Trust them. There's a big difference between supermarket shoppers' revulsion for the ordinary slaughter and the instinctive revulsion in response to sickness. One's a product of over-civilization; the other is a product of what's made us a successful species.