CONFESSIONS OF A HUNT SABOTEUR: A REAL SAB STORY
Fighting the Hunter Harassment Law
By Mark Mathew Braunstein
You already share my opposition to sport hunting. So I won’t bore you
with my own objections. Instead, you are sure to find more fun my true
adventures as a hunt saboteur. But wait, you might be an impostor. You
might even be a hunter. If so, you’ll learn what to expect and you’ll be
better prepared to foil my attempts at sabotage. I’ll take that risk. I
invite greater challenge, and I have nothing to hide.
1985 Rhode Island followed a trend among its neighboring states and
enacted its first “hunter harassment” law. No one in the short history
of that small state had ever sabotaged hunting. Yet its visionary
legislators, acting on behalf of future generations of Baby Crockets and
Daniel Boomers, outlawed it anyway. They should also forbid shooting
passenger pigeons and harassing wooly mammoths.
My friends and I were awestruck. Hunt sabotage? Great idea! Thank
you, Rhode Island, for inspiring us to action. So one fine morning, on
the first Saturday of bowhunting season for deer, we threw all prudence
to the wind and ferried to Prudence Island (human population: 100). The
island hosts the greatest concentration of deer in New England (deer
population: 400). And on the first Saturday of bowhunting, it hosts the
greatest concentration of bow hunters.
Being neither as suicidal nor as foolhardy as you may suppose, we
traveled under the protection of a reporter and a photographer for the
state’s only major newspaper, as though they were the only major news.
In addition to sabotaging hunting, we intended also to challenge the
constitutionality of the new law (I will leave those deadening details
to the lawyers). In order to challenge any law in court, some criminal
first must be arrested for violating it. So we volunteered to throw away
our good names and to enter the dark underworld of crime.
Not so easy. A news media leak about our expedition alerted both the
hobby hunters and the game wardens of our motives. Hunters declined to
file charges against us and wardens refused to arrest us. Their lack of
cooperation in achieving our second goal only contributed to the further
success of the first. In short, we had a field day. Some hunters waited
atop tree stands, so sometimes we waited below tree stands.
Unintentionally having wakened one hunter asleep in his stand, I still
wonder if that qualifies as harassment.
Most hunters silently stalk deer, so mostly we noisily stalked
hunters. On two occasions either our noise was not loud enough or the
deer were just too tame. The hunters took aim (upon deer, not upon us)
and were just about to release the bowstrings. BOOM! The blasts from our
foghorns twice sent deer fleeing to safety. Hunters shouted numerous
threats. Arrows in bows may break my bones but names will never harm me.
One baffling epithet was, “Get a job!” Let’s see now: one college
librarian, one school custodian, one wood carpenter and one housewife
and mother. We were quite an unsavory band of thugs. But fully employed.
That long and treacherous day concluded when eight hunters and we
four unsavory hunt sabers with photographer in tow (never leave home
without one) congregated around an impaled deer. Impatient for the doe
to bleed to death, one cutthroat hunter then cut her throat. Shouting
erupted and shoving ensued. Hunters and sabers all lost their heads. I
sat beside the dying deer, looked her in the eye, and accompanied her on
this side of life as she slowly entered the other side.
1986: Like first love, that first hunt sab stands out in memory more
than any other. Still seeking arrest, never being obliged, we stuck to
the mainland for the remainder of the season. The next year, we returned
to that island several days before the start of the bowhunting season.
Before the season? We still took a stand against hunting. During a
single day, we located and dismantled twenty tree stands. When I
visualize a baffled bow hunter barking up the wrong tree while thinking,
“I could have sworn I erected my stand here,” even today I still burst
out in laughter.
1987: I moved from divine Providence, a small city compared to my
megalopolis birthplace, New York City, but a city nonetheless. Seeking
the life of a country bumpkin, I moved to eastern Connecticut, where I
rented a home in a private wildlife refuge, where I still live to this
day. It was not quite wilderness, but nature nonetheless. Signs
everywhere declare “No hunting.” I was ready to rest on my mountain
laurels until on November day when shotguns rang out. The wildlife
refuge abuts a river, and a loophole in state regulations permitted duck
hunting from the refuge’s tidal zone and adjacent waters. Hunters were
banned from the refuge itself. Shotgun –shell litter deeper inland,
however, testified otherwise.
Hunters seldom blasted away on weekday mornings, but dependably
arrived Saturdays before dawn. When they illegally hid on the mainland,
I attempted phoning the game warden whose line forever remained busy.
And when I summoned local police, they advised me to phone the game
warden. I soon learned not to bother playing telephone tag. Legal or
not, duck hunters holed up in blinds make very easy targets. So drawing
upon my experience as a deer hunt saber, I adapted to my environment and
became a duck hunt saber. Legal or not.
1988-89: By the start of the next season, I perfected an effective
technique. On Friday night, I packed for next morning: Boombox radio
with tapes of obnoxious noise (not wolf howls those ducks don’t know
from wolves.) Spare batteries in shirt pockets (those in the radio
freeze up on frigid December dawns). Fog horn (large size, which
stimulates a shotgun blast). Dog whistle (to perplex retrievers). Camera
(even without film, it makes hunters behave). Smoke bomb (for hasty
retreat from hunters who don’t behave). Walking stick (the look of
authority) Canteen (no telling how long I will be out there). Binoculars
and bird guide (a safe disguise). State waterfowl hunting regulations
(if hunters are not legal, then I am). Proper ID (in case of my arrest).
And pen and paper (to jot down the hunters’ boat number, for the rescue
team that finds my body).
Duck hunters usually are ready for legal blastoff one half-hour
before sunrise. That’s when I first appear, posing as a bird watcher. As
I walk past them, I say good morning while noting their boat number.
After inscribing that number and revising my will, I reappear. If they
are ashore, I stand adjacent to their blind. If they are afloat, I form
a triangle with them, positioning my boombox on one diagonal and myself
on the other. One if by land, two if by sea. If boombox noise does not
scare away approaching ducks, the foghorn blast does. Upon my first
blast, most hunters depart for points unknown. But first they must
unload weapons, retrieve decoys, and dismantle blinds. Thus they’ve
already wasted most of the morning, the prime hunting time. They could
seek a game warden, but they’re more interested in killing ducks than
killing time. Occasionally, truly sporting hunters accept the additional
challenge I offer them and they refuse to retreat. As the day lingers
on, we engage in meaningful dialogue. Really. Perhaps they respect my
gumption. Perhaps it’s my smile. I always remain calm and joking, and
hold no personal grudges against them for their mistreatment of ducks.
Likewise, I hope they hold no personal grudges against me.
1990: During the summer, while hiking in the woods with friends, I
joined others diving off a footbridge into a river. But I did not land
right. I broke my back, and injured my spinal cord. It happens to the
best of supermen. A slight case of total paralysis below the waist.
After eighteen weeks in the hospital, I returned home in time for the
duck-hunting season, in time to hear the shotgun blasts. Seated in my
wheelchair, I swore that next year I’d get out there with the duck
hunters again, even if on crutches.
1991: And I did. Crutches and all. Of course with the added
precaution of venturing with friends. But I was so slow that we never
caught up with hunters despite attempts on three mornings. Plus the bag
limit was only three ducks that year. We’d hear their blasts but they’d
reach their bag limit and depart by the time we’d arrive.
1992: I had arrived. Although I had traded my walking stick for a
pair of crutches, I crutched nearly full speed. And no longer did I need
the security of companions. So I was back to my old tricks. Except for
one big surprise – I was arrested for hunter harassment.
The local newspapers ran a story about that event. They could have
headlined it – “Local Cripple with Crutches Arrested for Harassing Four
Hunters with Guns,” but they titled it something more benign. The
newspaper accounts generated much more support from local residents.
Long dismayed about duck hunting in the so-called wildlife refuge,
people wrote letters, signed petitions, made phone calls and attended
meetings. Our local state representatives got involved. And bureaucrats
from the state wildlife agency even made a field trip to the site.
1993: Before the next season, the waterways along the wildlife
refugee were banned to duck hunting.
1994-95: Deprived of my favorite hobby, I admit to minor regrets
about the ban. I still make minor forays upriver, but not so often. It’s
just not the same as defending my own turf. But wait. For the second
time in its history, a nearby state park will be opened to deer hunting
in January 1996. Most local residents are outraged, especially because
the park will be open only to hunters for an entire week. I now have a
hunting license, free to paraplegics. I plan on gaining admittance as a
hunter. What then? Stay tuned. Looney-tuned.
MARK MATTHEW BRAUNSTEIN IS THE AUTHOR OF RADICAL VEGETARIANISM.
“CONFESSIONS OF A HUNT SABOTEUR” IS REPRINTED HERE WITH THE AUTHOR’S
PERMISSION. THE ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN COUNTRY CONNECTIONS, NOV.