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Friday, Jun 2, 2023

Middlebury’s Hunters Reluctant to Advertise Their Hobby

<span class="photocreditinline">KAYLA LICHTMAN/THE MIDDLEBURY CAMPUS</span><br />Wendy Butler’s gun collection.
Wendy Butler’s gun collection.

The leaves are falling, the sunsets are earlier and the first signs of winter are approaching. For many, this can mean only one thing: hunting season is in full swing in Vermont. Both on and off campus, plenty of Middlebury residents are gearing up for the annual activity.

In Vermont, there are approximately 68,000 hunters, all of whom are required to take a Hunter’s Education class before becoming licensed. Demographically, hunters run the gamut from children participating in a family tradition to health conscious twenty-somethings looking to incorporate local food into their diets.

“Hunting is sometimes viewed as the sport of the old, white man. And that’s not true at all,” said Nicole Meier, theInformation and Education Specialist at the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. “Just because it’s a stereotype doesn’t mean that we need to make the other hunters out there invisible. Hunters like me, who are young females,” she said.

Although to many students it may seem as if a passion for hunting cannot be found on the Middlebury campus, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“There are students that are hunting every season in the area. Maybe not a large number, but they’re there,” said Ira Schiffer, former chaplain at the college and teacher of the Hunter Education J-term workshop. These students are joined by a number of faculty and staff members who also enjoy hunting and act as mentors to students looking to learn. There was no lack of interest in the J-term workshop— it attracted over 35 students last year. However, while there are avid hunters on campus, many are reluctant to disclose openly their hobby for fear of criticism.

“[There are] faculty members who are long time hunters who are very quiet about it because they’re afraid of pushback from colleagues,” said Schiffer. This backlash extends to students, as well, many of whom are reluctant to share their interest with friends.

“I did not feel comfortable talking about hunting on campus, and it was a part of me that I tried to hide for most of my time at Midd,” said Hannah Phelps ’18. “I felt like I would get ridiculed or labeled with misconceptions/stereotypes if anyone found out, even though I strongly believe in the practice of hunting and in getting new people involved.”

Their involvement is often made difficult by misperceptions about hunters’ ethics and their relationship to the animals and their environment. In fact, those who hunt consider it a respectful, educational practice, one which is necessary for the conservation of the environment. They see their hobby as part of maintaining healthy habitats. Especially in Vermont, a state with a large deer population and few natural predators, hunting is integral in keeping the population in check.

“People don't always realize the good hunting can do for wildlife,” explained Phelps. “Without hunters, the deer population has the potential to eat themselves out of house and home, leading to huge spikes and plummets in their population and a decrease in plant diversity,” she added.

For many who are unfamiliar with hunting, the act of shooting an animal may seem cruel and unethical. But many hunters in Vermont resist the stereotype. “I think the reality that people who don’t hunt or aren’t part of that community don’t understand is that the hunter really has a warm, empathetic relationship with the animals that he’s hunting,” said Schiffer.

Part of this relationship is understanding the value of animal life; for example, many hunters consider it irresponsible to simply throw away one’s catch instead of eating it. Not only is shooting an animal a deliberate choice, hunters must also know when not to shoot.

“So many times I’ve had a choice to make. I would rather not shoot an animal and go home with no meat for the table than to damage it and have it go off and suffer,” said Wendy Butler, the current teacher of the Hunter Education workshop.

The J-term workshop offered by Butler gives students a chance to learn about hunting and attain a Hunter Education Certification. The workshop stresses safety, ethics and conservation-mindedness. For some students, it is a chance to explore a hobby that family members are passionate about; for others, such as international students, it is an opportunity to learn about an activity that isn’t available at home.

[pullquote speaker="HANNAH PHELPS '18" photo="" align="center" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]I did not feel comfortable talking about hunting on campus.[/pullquote]

The class allows students to see the positive aspects of hunting. Not only does it provide a local, sustainable meat source, but it also allows people to intimately connect with nature, without the trappings of modern-day technology.

“There is nothing better than walking into the woods before sunrise and watching it come to life around you,” said Phelps.

For both hunters and non-hunters, there are certain things to do to stay safe during hunting season. For one thing, if you’re considering going running around the local trails, do your best to wear bright colored clothing. Meier recommends that people wear some kind of blaze orange apparel. The color has been shown to be seven times more visible, especially during low light conditions, than any other color. If you’re walking your dog, remember to always keep it on a leash. Lastly, avoid being out in low light conditions like dusk and dawn