Editorial: Hunters (and their trophies) in the cross hairs

Prompted by an irate reader, I asked a question last week about our Nature page photos of dead game animals that were taken by hunters, and (a few of) the people have spoken. And the people are pretty closely divided.

Between emails and online comments, I had six people say that the photos are distasteful, even "obscene." Four respondents approved of the photos, and a smattering of others weighed in but didn't really have an opinion either way.

Here's a sampling of the responses:

• "Keep the pictures coming. The [caller] is obviously not from Arizona and wants to impose her liberal Gladys Goodheart ideals upon the rest of us."

• "Just want to tell you that I think you are doing a great job by putting the pictures of 'trophy' animals in the Kingman Miner. While I am not a hunter myself, many in my family are and we all enjoying seeing and reading about others' good fortune. I often send the articles along with the photos to family members in other states trying to entice them to visit Arizona during hunting season instead of spending all their money in Colorado or Oklahoma."

This is an interesting point. The data's kind of old, but according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, spending on hunting and fishing totaled more than $958 million in 2001, including food, lodging, transportation and equipment. Fishing occupied the bulk of that spending, at $831.5 million.

In Mohave County, fishing and hunting expenditures added up to $80 million, and once again, almost all of it - $74.5 million - came from fishing.

Game and Fish also calculated an "economic multiplier" effect as well as projections of jobs created and salaries paid. Those types of numbers always seem squishy to me, but in this case they can make a strong case for economic impact because a lot of the spending is done by Arizona residents. For example, 91 percent of the fishing expenditures came from people either fishing in their resident county or traveling within the state; the hunting figure is just as lopsided, with 79 percent of hunting trip expenses coming from state residents.

More responses:

• "Big game trophy hunting, hired outfitters and taxidermy are too expensive and inaccessible to the average hunter trying to feed a family. There's a huge difference both ethically and economically between hunting for food and hunting for trophies."

This commenter also noted that Kingman relies on tourism for a big chunk of its economy: "How does the ongoing glorification of trophy hunting and coyote killing contests reflect on our community values as a whole? How is killing for sport perceived by the rest of the world that we may wish to appeal to?"

Another responder said hunters should "hunt" with a camera, or - possibly - pursue a drastic alternative:

• "I've no objection to those who hunt for meat. These hunters take only younger, tender and tasty animals, not the older 'trophy' animals ... I've even suggested that if these 'trophy' hunters want some real hunting excitement, they should hunt each other. THAT would require a high degree of skill."

(A word of advice: If your idea was used as a plot on the serial killer show "Criminal Minds," you might want to reconsider it.)

I appreciate the feedback. The pictures are staying, by the way. Hunting and fishing are big deals around here, and we wouldn't be covering the community if we didn't include those who are successful in these endeavors.

That said, we are always open to submissions. Are you a birder? An avid hiker, or trail runner? Have you captured some local wildlife (that you didn't shoot) on camera? Is there a conservation issue that should be part of the public conversation? We don't publish everything we get, but chances are we'll find a spot somewhere in the paper.