Hunting for stronger ethics

Navera Moritori, Staff Writer

Hunting in New York State has been a way of life for those who have resided here. Being a hunter, I was always familiar with the ethics involved in engaging in the sport.

Most important among these ethics is properly identifying a target before you shoot. But, what happens when a hunter disobeys this ethic? Who becomes involved when a quarry is misidentified and the hunter still discharges his shot?

The story actually begins at the Berkshire Bird Sanctuary where I volunteer. It was a chilly morning, the end of the season for most birds. Those who had survived the summer were now fattening up and preparing to embark on their migrations. But some, like those who reside in the Berkshire Bird Sanctuary in Grafton, will never make that journey again.

Home to over 1,000 disabled birds, this is a permanent residence for the injured and unwanted. The newest charge, a young turkey vulture nicknamed “Little John”, had arrived only two days prior to captivity.

Found along the side of the road at Cherry Plains State Park, he was among the many impact-injury victims that were often brought into Peter Dubacher’s care. Just three days after Little John’s arrival, Dubacher found during his morning rounds that the vulture had died in the night.

“He had been eating alright and looking like he was going to do well,” said Dubacher. Having both lost and rehabilitated many birds before this, Dubacher was determined to find out why this injured but otherwise healthy vulture had suddenly passed.

“That’s when I saw it,” he added, “I took a closer look at his body and there it was. A gunshot wound.” Upon closer examination, there was not one but two wounds. Dr. Kirchman, who I had met while taking Professor Capuano’s Ornithology course here at Hudson Valley, led me through the autopsy as we discovered a large amount of birdshot in his leg and wing.

“The tendon was sliced and he probably continued to damage it as he tried to fly. The femur was broken on impact – obliterated, is a better word,” said Dubacher.

Little John was skinny. His keel bone was so pronounced that it was almost sharp, an obvious indicator that the bird had been starving. The dissected crop and stomach contained three whole undigested house mice and a clump of partially digested remains with the fur still intact.

I recognized them as “rehab food”, the same mice we give the raptors. I knew Dubacher had tried his best to save this vulture, and I knew this vulture tried his best to survive. “That was his last meal then,” said Kirchman.

We confirmed after a four-hour exam that the cause of death was ultimately infection. Had this vulture been recovered and given medical attention, he would have survived. And so I return to my initial question; who becomes involved when ethic is not followed by the hunters?

People like the couple that discovered Little John become involved. Avian rescuers like Dubacher become involved. Ornithology students and Animal Outreach activists like myself become involved.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation becomes involved. Those who do not hunt and do not approve of hunting are given examples that justify their feelings. Other hunters who are responsible are taken down a notch, and their community suffers from incidents like this. Everyone becomes involved.

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