November 20, 2018 | Reading Time: 6 minutes

Bear Hunting and the Myth of Conservative Victimhood

More hunting, less talking from National Review's Kevin Williamson.


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Kevin Williamson was apparently thinking about Thanksgiving when he wrote about hunting for National Review. Where I’m from, hunters look forward to the holiday not only for the good eats. Around this time is the opening of deer season.

Williamson, I presume, is no exception. Instead of deer, however, the target of his recent piece is bear. Hunters generally, but bear hunters specifically, must defend themselves in the “theater of political ideas,” he said, “by developing the moral confidence to say plainly and directly … that they have no reason to apologize.”

Before I get on, let me tell you a story about my grandpa, Floyd Stoehr.

Floyd is dead now, but for most of his 80-some years on this earth, he hunted. He was so dedicated that he forced my dad, when he was a boy, to shoot a dog that was chasing a deer. He was so dedicated he could not bother to attend my wedding on the day after Thanksgiving. He returned my invitation with a note: “At hunting camp.”

By the end of his life, Floyd was weak and feeble but still hunting. He wasn’t going to hunting camp, though. Behind the gun shop that he built in his house, there was an enormous garden. The garden hadn’t been sown in years, not since Grandma went into the home, but remnants of it remained. That was enough for white-tailed deer.

One day, not long before he died, Floyd spotted a buck from the back window of the gun shop. (That’s where made bullets.) It must have been a beauty, meaning it must have had a nice rack (antlers), because it got this lonely old man off his soft chair.

I don’t know why he chose a muzzleloader. Maybe it was the gun within reach. Maybe he just loved it. But the thing you have to understand about a muzzleloaders is that they are incredibly loud and when you fire them, smoke comes out of two ends of the gun, blooming into the air. Remember, Floyd is inside the shop at this point.

So here’s this lonely old man, barely able to walk, pouring gunpowder as quickly as he can into the muzzle of this long gun, loading the ball and packing it before blam! So much smoke he couldn’t see the deer ran off. He thought he missed. He didn’t.

After the house was sold, my dad was surveying the property when he found a deer skeleton in the hedgerow. We can’t say for sure, but the family likes to believe it was the same deer. Grandpa got his last buck. Even in old age, and despite a lifetime of being the crankiest somebitch, one thing you could say. Floyd was a good shot.  

I don’t know if Floyd ever hunted bear, but I do know he would have given approximately two good goddamns about Kevin Williamson’s precious worrying over the public image of bear hunters. If Williamson had told him about liberal Twitter mobs savaging “the most ancient of organized human undertakings,” I’m pretty sure Floyd would have given it as much thought as his dull rheumy eyes suggested.

Don’t get me wrong. There are good points in Williamson’s piece. When endangered species like brown bear rebound, he writes, that’s a good thing. But it also means brown bear end up eating your garbage, birdseed and other trappings of human life. Few, except hunters, like the idea of killing bears, but killing some in a regulated fashion is probably best for us and them. (Williamson says brown bears are otherwise known as grizzlies. That’s incorrect. Grizzlies are a subspecies of brown bear.)

No, my beef is twofold. On the one hand, Williamson caricatures liberals as if we will never understand reasonable policy in the name of public safety if that means killing some bears. He paints all liberals as reactionary treehuggers who can’t stand the sight of blood. For the record, this liberal understands the reality of endangered species modestly well, and I’m quite capable of deferring to authorities on this matter while lamenting the fact that human beings have put bears in a no-win situation.

On the other hand, Williamson portrays hunters as victims of … I’m actually not sure. He says hunting is the sport that dare not speak its name for fear of being pilloried by the Twitter mob. (Perhaps he’s thinking of the social media campaign earlier this year that helped drum him out of a cush job writing for The Atlantic.) Williamson says liberals in their “insular urban imaginations” dislike hunters and their “mode of life” more than they dislike hunting itself. He says the complaint isn’t moral. It’s aesthetic.

No, it’s moral. It’s about the morality of killing animals. There’s no way around that. This is not to say I take a side. Again, I see the benefit of the regulated killing of some bears in the name of public safety. Human life is more important than animal life.

But if you’re going to kill animals for sport, you’re going to have to deal with critics who don’t like killing animals for sport. That’s just the way the world is. The fact that critics don’t like something, however, is not evidence of a hunter’s victimhood. It’s evidence of a hunter’s political freedom. You’d think Williamson, a college graduate who purports to think deeply about such matters, would recognize this plain truth.

I’d never expect Floyd Stoehr to think like this. About the most he ever said was a few grunts at Sunday supper. I’d expect him to look blankly at a man saying that hunting is a cure for our “antiseptic world” and saying that hunters need “moral confidence.” The hell is that? he’d ask. Floyd was a good shot. Floyd was no victim. —John Stoehr

Why Trump slanders veterans

When it comes to veterans affairs, I can’t think of a higher moral authority on the subject than the late novelist Kurt Vonnegut. While a prisoner of war in World War II, Vonnegut saved himself during the firebombing of Dresden by hiding in a meat locker. Afterward, his Nazi captors forced him and other American infantry to collect and bury hundreds of desiccated corpses amid the ruins of that medieval German city.

In the preface to his 1973 novel Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut spoke of the difference between Veterans’ Day and Armistice Day, the celebration of the end of the War to End All Wars. In this difference, I suggest, there is space for a fascist president of the United States to savage celebrated war heroes and others who have served our country with honor. Donald Trump said Sunday that Bill McRaven, who oversaw the killing of 9-11 terrorist Osama bin Laden, did not count as a critic of his presidency, because, he said, McRaven was “a Hillary Clinton fan” and “Obama supporter.”

Here is what Vonnegut said:

I will come to a time in my backward trip [in Breakfast of Champions] when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy … all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veteran’s Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veteran’s Day is not. So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things. —JS

On the radio

Journalist Alex Wise is the host of Sea Change Radio, a nationally syndicated program about climate change, the environment and sustainability. He took a break from the norm to interview me about the Congressional midterms. Click here to listen—JS


The Editorial Board goes out to subscribers only Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. If you think someone would like the Editorial Board, please forward this email message to them. To get daily insight sent directly to their inbox, all they need to do is subscribe. $5 a month or $55 a year! It’s so easy! —JS

Programming note

The Editorial Board will not publish Wednesday through Friday in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday and of the publisher’s 17th wedding anniversary.

Publication will resume on Nov. 26. Thank you!—JS

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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