Archive for March, 2015

Why I hunt. How did an animal lover like me became a hunter, a cold blooded killer? Has my heart gone rotten?

After over 13 years of hunting and photographing the sport I decided to post a dedicated gallery to hunting (Click here to see it).  It was always somewhat of a secret having clients who are very “green”.  Being the environmentalist and animal lover that I am I always felt the controversial nature of exposing these images.  I decided to do it and explain how I became and hunter.  Here is the story.

My dog Tobi and I bow hunting for elk in Montana.

My dog Tobi and I bow hunting for elk in Montana.

I grew up in Italy reading books by Jane Goodall, Konrad Lorenz, Gerald Durrell. By age 14 I had read Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” two times.  Animals and nature were my passions and love.  As a kid, I marched on protests to abolish hunting in Italy.  I marched against animal testing.  If there was such a thing as PETA, back in those days, I would have been one of their best allies.  I was raised by parents who didn’t tolerate a crying child but I remember vividly, when at age 4 or 5, my parents bought a live lobster from a fisherman and were about to boil it live in a pot.  I remember the uncontrollable sobbing, even though I knew crying was going to result in my father’s military style whipping.  They ate the lobster but somehow I escaped my father’s punishment for crying.  I still remember how I felt at the idea of this lobster being killed in such a horrible way.

All my allowance went to paying for food for my many animals I raised, in my small room, in our apartment in the heart of Turin.  Half of my room was filled with cages.  I had birds, squirrels, hamsters, fish, turtles, you name it.  I even had a chicken at one point.  Every injured animal I took home, like a mourning dove with a broken wing.  She never was able to fly but she lived with me for many years until my mother complained about her incessant calling while I was at school “cooOOoo-woo-woo-woooo “.  She felt lonely while I was gone.  Apparently my mother gave her away to a farm where other animals would keep her company.  I wonder now if that was true.

After realizing that keeping animals in cages was inhumane I never acquired an another pet and started freeing caged animals.  One time I broke into a rabbit farmer pens and opened all the cages and ran.  I am not sure how they knew it was me, I got caught.  Fortunately rabbits were not that smart and just hangout by the cages or I would have had to pay the farmer for all the rabbits lost.

How did an animal lover become a “heartless” animal killer?  Has my heart gone rotten?  Have my feelings changed towards animals and nature?

During hunting season when I post images of me with dead animals, on facebook, I get bombarded by comments of my friends animal lovers.  Especially the ones in Italy, where the culture of hunting is not as prominent as it is in the US.  They will say things like “How could you possibly smile after killing this beautiful creature?”.  My brother in Indonesia who is opposed to hunting once wrote me “What happened to you Paolo?  You used to love animals…”.  I don’t even try to defend myself, in truth, nothing changed in my heart.  The reason I became a hunter is because of my love and respect for animals and nature.  Moving to Montana in 99 introduced me to hunting and I was educated and learned about such a misunderstood sport which has become an important part of lifestyle now.

Tobi and I Chuckar hunting in Idaho.

Tobi and I Chuckar hunting in Idaho.

Let me start by saying that everything I write on this post is pertinent to hunting in the US.  I support hunting in this country, where regulations are strict, very well regulated and the resources are managed correctly (most of the time).  The other very important factor about the US is that people follow these regulations (most of the time).  An that is really the most important part of the equation.  If you make great regulations and people don’t follow them, then you are out of luck.

I am not supportive to hunting in general, like hunting in Italy.  You need the right regulations and the right people to follow them.  No one follows regulations in Italy and that’s the problems with hunting there.

All this said, let’s get to the nitty gritty about why I started hunting when I moved to Montana.

When people criticize me about hunting the first thing I ask is “Do you eat meat?”.  When they say yes I ask  them “Do you know anything about the way the majority of domestic animals are raised?”  Without even mentioning all the crap that is injected in their bodies to grow big and fat quickly, like growth hormones.  And more crap injected so that they don’t get diseases from living in their own feces.  So crammed up in tight spaces with many others that they can’t even move.  Look at feedlots and chicken factory farms.  Fortunately there has been more awareness of cruelty imposed to domestic animals for our consumptions and things are changing to improve conditions.  I love animals but I also love meat.  I am not going to stop eating meat but I can assure you that when I take down an elk with my bow and eat healthy lean meat for a year or two I feel a lot better then when I take a bite off that plastic wrapped piece of beef.  I know the elk I killed lived a good life and I am also very aware that the population of elk and deer and many other animals need to be controlled.  I watched videos of deer and elk dying of starvation from overpopulation in areas that couldn’t be hunted for various reasons.  We have messed up the ecosystem and with the lack of predators is making natural balance impossible.  We need hunters to control the population of many animals and fortunately Fish and Game does a very good job at figuring just out how many.

I then get the hard core animals lovers who tell me.  “I don’t eat meat, I would never do that and let an animal die for me”.  Then I ask them.  “Do you know why the ecosystem is so screwed up that there aren’t enough predators to keep the natural balance intact? The reason is simple.  To grow those sprouts and soy bean for your tofu we have turned wildlife habitat into agricultural land and killed and are killing many animals in the process.”  Let’s not talk about all the chemicals and pesticides that are dumped into the earth. To make that piece of Tofu, all animal lovers are eating, many animals have been killed. Even eating fish is bad as Oceans and Seas are being depleted and raped.  Now, am I starting to sound like the little activist kid that I used to be?  Yes, I am still the same person with the same love for nature and animals.  I am just wiser.  Hunting for me is the most humane, most environmentally friendly, most animal and nature lover way to eat.  I know for a fact that killing an elk has less impact in the natural world than eating anything else I can buy in a grocery store.

Am I just hunting to provide food for myself or do I actually like it?  Do I like to kill?

The first time I killed an animal was with my brother Giuseppe.  I also remember that incident very vividly, I must have been 7.  We were somewhere in a dry part of the country.  Maybe southern Italy.  We had seen a Gecco for the first time.  We were both a little repulsed and fascinated by it.  We watched as it sat immobile on a rock.  For some reason we decided to tap it with a stick on the head just to see what it would do.    We tapped it too hard.  The poor gecko put his paws over his head and started rolling in pain.  It looked like a human.  My brother and I horrified started beating it on the head trying to kill it to take it out of it’s misery.  Was traumatizing and I didn’t kill an other animal until I moved to Montana.

My friend Chuck took me duck hunting for the first time.  I really didn’t want to do it but I decided to tag along because I wanted to experience it.  After multiple failures at trying to jump some ducks sitting in some slews, I started feeling an urge to kill one.  Was a very strange feeling and realized that deep inside me there was still the hunter instinct that kept the human race alive.  I finally killed a duck.  I didn’t feel good at killing it but I felt the satisfaction of harvesting an animal I was going to eat, I felt the satisfaction of holding that duck in my hands.  That same year I killed my first deer and I had the same feeling.  My heart went with both animals but somehow I had fulfilled an ancient instinct that was hidden deep inside of me.  The difference between the gecko and the duck and deer is that the killing had very different purposes.  The first incident was to kill the later two were to provide.  I became a hunter.

Now, let’s be honest.  Is really not all about harvesting and providing or I could get a deer or an elk with a rifle and make the process as quick as I could.  Instead I choose to bow hunt for them. Killing an elk with a bow is probably one of the hardest things I have ever done.  Took me 6 years of hard work to get my first elk with a bow.  Most bow hunters will never get an elk in their lifetime.  I spend the majority of September deep in the woods of Montana to get my elk and I spend a good part of November to get a deer.  Why?

Bow hunting for elk in Montana.

Bow hunting for elk in Montana.

The reason is simple.  My love for nature and animals.  There is nothing as intimate and as close to nature and its animals than bow hunting.  You have to become part of nature to get close enough to a wild animal with a bow to be able to release an arrow.  I have ran into Grizzlies, I have been surrounded by wolf, I have been so close to elk that I put my hand over one.  I have been so close to a massive bull elk staring at me face to face that I could smell its breath.  I watched mama deer nurse her fawn.  I watched buck deer and bull elk fight for their ladies.  The things I have seen, while quietly moving through the woods, could fill the pages of books.  When I release that arrow and make the kill the fun has ended. I always feel sadness when I see the animal laying on the ground.  A piece of my heart always goes with my kill.  I am thankful for the gift the animal has given me and I feel the appreciation of having healthy meat in my freezer.  I bird hunt with my dogs and bird hunting is about the relationship with my dogs.  Is such an incredible bond with my little partners that only bird hunters and dog lovers can understand.  For me being a hunter is not about killing, is about experiencing nature at its best while trying to be conscious and respectful of the environment and its animals.

The River Surfing Story That Went Viral

Last year while on assignment in Missoula Montana I ran across Strongwater Surfshop.  I walked in curious about river surfing and the guys, somehow, convinced me to drive 2 hours (4 hours round trip) to the Lochsa River to watch them surf for the evening.  Their enthusiasm was so contagious and I was so impressed with their surfing, that I decided to go back the following week to do a story.  Initially I posted it on Facebook and the likes and shares started pouring in.  Shorty after that, Outside Magazine picked up the story to do a photo essay online “A Mountain Town With a Surfing Problem” and one of the images made the Exposure section on the Magazine.  It was history after that.  Calls started pouring in from all over the world for interviews about the story. The River Surfing Revolution was published worldwide.  England, Australia, Germany, Italy, Norway, New Zealand just to mention a few.  The story made the Editor Pick on Maptia (best place to read the story) and was shared all over the world through social media.  Shortly after that it was taken by a News Agency in London and just like the Trout Jumping Picture that went Viral I lost track of it.  The question everyone is always curious about… Did I get rich from it?  Of course not, but I always wanted to be a writer and this could be a beginning.

(Down below the story on New Zealand Magazine “Say Yes to Adventure”).

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