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A Matter of Life and Death

A Matter of Life and Death: Hunting in Contemporary Vermont

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    A Matter of Life and Death
    Book Description:

    American hunters occupy a remarkably complex place in this country’s cultural and political landscape. On the one hand, they are cast as perpetrators of an anachronistic and unnecessary assault on innocent wildlife. On the other hand, they are lauded as exemplars of nononsense American rugged individualism. Yet despite the passion that surrounds the subject, we rarely hear the unfiltered voices of actual hunters in discussions of hunting. In A Matter of Life and Death, anthropologist Marc Boglioli puts a human face on a group widely regarded as morally suspect, one that currently stands in the crossfire of America’s socalled culture wars. Drawing on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Addison County, Vermont, which took him from hunting camps and sporting goods stores to local bars and kitchen tables, Boglioli focuses on how contemporary hunters, women as well as men, understand their relationship to their prey. He shows how hunters’ attitudes toward animals flow directly from the rural lifeways they have continued to maintain in the face of encroaching urban sensibilities. The result is a rare glimpse into a culture that experiences wild animals in a way that is at once violent, consumptive, and respectful, and that regards hunting as an enduring link to a vanishing past. It is a book that will challenge readers—hunters, nonhunters, and antihunters alike—to reconsider what constitutes a morally appropriate relationship with the nonhuman residents of this planet.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-071-0
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    In 2001, while my wife and I were living on a Vermont island in Lake Champlain, we were invited to a dinner party by the local yoga instructor—a good friend of ours. Not long after taking our places at the dining-room table in her beautiful lakefront house, we were both asked to describe our doctoral dissertation research. The scene that played out was one the two of us were all too familiar with. Joslyn’s research, based on nearly three years of fieldwork in the Arctic Circle with the Inupiaq (or Alaskan Eskimos), drewoohsandaahsfrom the guests,...

  6. 1 From Extinction to Tradition: Wildlife Management
    (pp. 15-30)

    In his richly textured analysis of hunting in rural Scotland County, North Carolina (Southern Hunting in Black and White), Stuart Marks discusses the varying amounts of influence that different constituencies of hunters have over game management regulations. This is a precious kind of influence to wield since, as Marks notes, “state laws circumscribe the boundaries within which game is taken” (1991, 65). The ways in which animals are taken, in turn, have a considerable influence on the kinds of experiences people have while hunting and the specific meanings that will emerge from those experiences. In the case of Scotland County,...

  7. 2 A Discourse of Interdependent Human–Nature Relations
    (pp. 31-48)

    Throughout my fieldwork, during both interviews and participation in everyday activities, I was reminded of the extent to which many rural Vermonters lead lives that are characterized by a consistent mental and physical engagement with their physical environment.¹ One of the most unforgettable examples occurred one night during the opening weekend of the 1997 deer season at a Rochester bar called the Silver Tooth.

    The Silver Tooth was packed with men, women, and a few children eager to celebrate the opening of another deer season. There was a decent band playing standard barroom covers, and many of the men were...

  8. 3 Hunting in Vermont Now
    (pp. 49-65)

    In the next five chapters I will discuss a variety of different reasons why hunting is such a meaningful social practice in Vermont today. I start here with the broad overarching theme that has emerged from my ongoing research: the relationship of contemporary hunting to the everyday pressures of modern living. While the issues I talk about in this chapter (such as attachment to place and self-sufficiency) could very well be discussed outside of the framework of modernity, I believe this extra contextualization is important since it provides insight into the continued popularity of hunting in the twenty-first century.


  9. 4 Ethics, Emotions, and Satisfactions of the Hunt
    (pp. 66-76)

    In the previous two chapters I provided ethnographic data to support some general claims about hunting in Vermont: that a discourse of interdependent human–nature relations exists among hunters in rural Vermont and that some of the contemporary meanings of hunting are directly related to the conditions of modern life. I did not, however, explain how interdependent human–nature relations actually relate to specific hunting practices. As a result, a number of important questions—questions that nonhunters often ask—are left unanswered, such as “Do hunters just like to kill?” and “Are there any shared ethics involved with hunting?” In...

  10. 5 Gender Transformations
    (pp. 77-93)

    Considering the extreme male domination of hunting in Vermont, it is not surprising that males and females often take distinctly different paths to hunting. Likewise, the personal experiences of male and female hunters can differ greatly as well, with men living out a rural cultural ideal and women struggling against this ideal. In this chapter I will describe the social production of male and female hunters and discuss the various pressures that female hunters endure, and I will ultimately argue that female hunters are engaging in authentic acts of political resistance when they hunt.

    My analysis of male hunters seeks...

  11. 6 Deer Camp
    (pp. 94-107)

    Deer camp may be the most mysterious aspect of hunting in Vermont. Almost universally off-limits to women, deer camps are often thought of as backwoods fraternities where heavily armed men party under the pretense of hunting the cagey white-tailed deer. Drinking, violence, sexual escapades (both hetero- and homosexual), and a general appreciation for debauchery is the image that deer camp brings to mind for many non-hunters and hunters alike. While I would never attempt to suggest that there is no alcohol-induced social interaction at deer camps in Vermont, my experience certainly does not conform to the stereotypical representation that informs...

  12. 7 Illegitimate Killers
    (pp. 108-127)

    Watershed moments don’t happen every day. That’s why February 25, 2005, is an important date if you’re interested in the future of hunting in the state of Vermont. What happened then was seriously odd by rural Vermont standards: an organized hunting protest. More specifically, a grassroots protest, organized by a recently minted activist group calling itself Vermonters for Safe Hunting and Wildlife Diversity, of a high-profile coyote-hunting tournament. That initial protest led to another protest of the same tournament in 2006. More importantly, it has catalyzed ongoing public debate about the ethics and meaning of hunting. The following excerpts from...

  13. Hunting Paradoxes
    (pp. 128-130)

    Vermont hunters are living proof that many things in life are not what they seem to be. Viewed from afar, through the lens of centuries of American ambivalence toward hunting, these people can easily become personifications of many of the stereotypes that currently circulate in our society. As one might imagine, these stereotypes seriously distort the complexity of actual lives.

    Almost anywhere I turn in my research I can point to something that an outsider to rural Vermont might describe as “paradoxical.” For example, the idea of hunting in the modern world at all strikes many not only as deeply...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 131-142)
  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 143-152)
  16. Index
    (pp. 153-156)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 157-158)