'Tis the Season...for Hunting?

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'Tis the Season...for Hunting?

By Jill Howard-Church on Animals and Society Institute
December 2009

The compassionate majority of all faiths and holiday traditions should make their views known to manufacturers and retailers, lest the famous Christmas song be changed to find "six geese a-slaying."

What's next, "Camo Claus"?

Sadly, not all religious traditions emphasize kindness to all creatures. Witness the Fellowship of Christian Hunters, Christian Bowhunters of America and the Christian Outdoorsman online forum. (Their Bibles apparently have "Thou shalt not kill" written in pencil.)

The odd juxtaposition of hunting season with the holiday season is made even more bizarre by the availability of hunting toys for children. At a time when many sermons and civic projects tout "peace on earth" and good will toward others, some children are receiving gifts that reflect more fear than cheer, which can have a big influence on their relationships with animals for the rest of their lives.

Here are a few of the offerings in the holiday hunting lodge:

"Hunter Dan," an action figure that comes complete with "a hunting rifle with Nikon® scope and sling, Nikon binoculars and a rangefinder, an Ameristep® treestand, a treestand safety vest, orange stocking cap, rattling antlers, and Rocky® rubber hunting boots." And in the name of equal-opportunity execution, there's "Hunter Ann," with all the same gear.

For those who want pint-sized versions of actual hunters, there's also a toy figure in the likeness of the Outdoor Channel's Michael "Bone Collector" Waddell, who states on his Web site that "Droppin' the hammer and closin' the coffin on anything with antlers, feathers or fur just never gets old." There are four versions of his action figure, complete with miniature deer stands, crossbows and plastic prey.

What's next, "Camo Claus"?

InterActive Toy Concepts makes a "Duck Hunter" game where players use an infrared gun to shoot a flying toy duck around the room or yard for 30 seconds; three "hits" send the duck crashing to the ground.

New Ray Toys makes a playset with a tractor-trailer full of ATVs and figurines of hunters, dogs, deer and ducks.

There's an entire pre-adolescent arsenal of toy hunting guns on the market, including the Hunting Zone Pump-Action Shotgun, the Outdoor Sportsman Rapid Fire Shotgun, and my personal favorite, the NXT Generation Shotgun, which comes in "boy" brown or "girl" pink (foam shells and inflatable eight-point buck target sold separately).

Video stores have a host of computer games with such names as "Ultimate Duck Hunting," "Trophy Bucks" and "North American Hunting Extravaganza." Granted, video hunting is preferable to the real thing, but the message is much the same: animals are portrayed as targets with no real thoughts, emotions or pain. Unlike human-based war or fantasy games, there are fewer social and legal taboos to deter a video hunter from becoming a real one.

Make-believe hunting games and weapons have very real implications, which have been studied and discussed by social scientists who note that kids who aren't encouraged to kill real animals by the time they're in their late teens likely never will. Hunting organizations are quite aware that their lethal legacy won't continue unless each successive generation is encouraged to hunt, which is why they employ the use of toys, books, camps and classes to recruit hunters as young as five. Compassionate attitudes about animals and the world in general are formed early, usually by age 8. This means that what children find under the Christmas tree may help determine whether they'll be building deer stands in real trees in years to come.

Sadly, not all religious traditions emphasize kindness to all creatures. Witness the Fellowship of Christian Hunters, Christian Bowhunters of America and the Christian Outdoorsman online forum. (Their Bibles apparently have "Thou shalt not kill" written in pencil.)

Fortunately, humane education in the early years and courses that relate to human-animal studies in later years can help children and young adults develop empathy and perspective that may make them more mindful of any kind of violence toward animals, whether in the woods, in the classroom or on a farm. As a society we need to be mindful of the messages that are out there, and help children navigate them ethically.

There are wonderful toys and activities that encourage children to learn about life rather than take it, and most nature programs are geared toward respecting the environment and all who live in it. But the products that disrespect nature should not be taken lightly. The compassionate majority of all faiths and holiday traditions should make their views known to manufacturers and retailers, lest the famous Christmas song be changed to find "six geese a-slaying."


Jill Howard-Church is a writer and editor who specializes in animal issues. She serves as the part-time communications director for the Animals and Society Institute, and is the volunteer president of the Vegetarian Society of Georgia.