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Killing for sport, collecting the bounty


Sport felled the Albia buck. It stopped a magnificent creature from roaming the hills of Southern Iowa and robbed the people there of a bona fide legend, a behemoth of the wild they’d consider themselves lucky to have glimpsed, lore that passed down through the generations. The buck died for its rack, reported to be the largest in the world. Sport killed the Albia buck, but sportsmanship could have saved it.

There is a position that is neither anti-hunting nor pro, merely respectful of natural beauty and the balance of nature, which is threatened by ever-shrinking habitat. Why couldn’t 15-year-old Tony Lovstuen have practiced the same ethics as catch-and-release fishing, put down his muzzleloader and let the buck go free? If he must shoot the buck, why not with a camera? Why was mounting its antlers on a wall more satisfying than remembering their immensity in his mind’s eye? Is it because respect for non-human life is waning?  

Deer have become a menace, especially in rural areas like Monroe County and Southern Iowa, where they outnumber people and turn highways into obstacle courses, especially at this time of the year, rutting season. They nibble at young trees and emerging row crops, cutting into farmers’ yields and profits. They grow big, strong and swift on corn, Iowa’s top cash crop.

There is a delicious irony in that, one that fuels a fantasy in which herds of deer, forced from their previous habitats by metropolitan developers’ insatiable appetites, mount a counterattack and leap into the paths of motorists in a kamikaze mission to raise awareness to their plight. In the fable, though, the deer triumph in a demonstration of how nature uses its cunning to outwit humankind. Hunting for a trophy, not out of the necessity that gives nature its balance, fouls the fantasy. So, too, does Iowa’s growing reputation as prime hunting grounds for trophy quarry.

The buck was a fascination of hunters who happened upon the impressive racks he shed over the past three or four years as they walked the woods. Though the nuisance created by the state’s large deer population has not been enough to force significant changes to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ harvest policies, the kind of lore such large antlers create attracts greed. The Albia buck’s antlers may be worth $100,000 or more, and that could increase pressure to expand the deer hunting season like neighboring Missouri, which allows hunting during mating season when deer are more active.

In Southern Iowa, passed by for the most part in the boom years of the 1990s, the economic development expanded hunting could bring sounds attractive. Thin out the deer and let Iowa collect the bounty. It’s a cousin to the argument that fueled recent legislative debates on proposals to establish a dove-hunting season in Iowa – something Missouri already has cashed in on. It’s not about sportsmanship, but killing for sport without consideration for the larger scheme of nature. What’s the sport in that?

Beth Dalbey is editorial director for Business Publications Corp. E-mail her at bethdalbey@bpcdm.com.

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