On the sweltering plains of humanity’s early days, pre-industrial tribesmen acquired rich animal protein for their diets via persistence hunting. Working carefully in groups—and taking advantage of the stamina, sweat-cooling, and water-carrying advantages humans have over terrestrial ungulates—they would divide their faster, stronger prey from its group, and then pursue it at a sustainable running pace over great distances, until at long last it collapsed from total exhaustion and could be dispatched at close range with no resistance.
An antelope could take hours upon hours to bring down this way. At a sprint, it could race beyond a hunter’s sight in minutes, forcing pursuers to track it through the brush at a run to stay close enough to prevent it from resting. At the end of the hunt, if it was successful, the hunters were left with the heavy carcass of a large animal, many miles from their more stationary families, in the open, and where a scavenging lion or pack of wild dogs might come along to contest the kill. This was how people got meat. The alternative was not having meat. A failed hunt meant keeping an exhausted eye out for edible seeds on the long walk home.
Here is a video of Mike Huckabee, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, using a shotgun taller than my six-year-old son to bring down a pheasant that sure appears to have been deliberately released into his firing line from maybe 15 yards away from where he stood, waiting for it.
What is this behavior? Calling this “hunting” is absurd and baldly incorrect. From that range, with that gun, in those circumstances, Huckabee might just as well have placed the bird’s cage in the center of a helipad and dropped a piano on it. If this is “hunting,” then I was “fishing” when I went to the supermarket yesterday and bought a pound of EZ-peel shrimp. They weren’t cooked! I’m gonna mount one on the wall to memorialize our epic clash.
Listen. I don’t think the pheasant much cares whether this was a particularly sporting way to kill it. My aim here is not to speak for the pheasant, but to remark on the meager and degraded notions of outdoorsy masculinity that would lead a far-right presidential candidate to release a video of this sad, staged, risk-free execution—to bring reporters and photographers along on it in the first place!—rather than hiding all evidence of it from public view out of shame. This is not a demonstration of hunting prowess—Stevie Wonder could have made that kill, for chrissakes—but of mere, bare willingness to fire a gun at a living thing. Get a load of Rambo over here! He didn’t even use a Stinger surface-to-air missile to take down the dumpy game bird practically duct-taped to the end of his gun for him. Sedate Vladimir Putin and maneuver his face onto Mike Huckabee’s stationary fist at high velocity and he will punch the fuckin’ teeth outta that guy.
Christ. Somewhere Michael Dukakis is watching that video and scoffing. Mike Huckabee makes the guy who shucks oysters down at the wharf look like Hugh Glass.
Video via Huckabee campaign; top image via screencap
[CORRECTION: This post originally referred to the pheasant as a captive; photojournalist Mark Kauzlarich, who was in attendance, claimed in a tweet that there were no captive pheasants on the game reserve.]