The Nation's Pulse

Thrill Killing

That's what wildlife managers call it. But it's an ugly national problem.

By 12.11.08

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I saw a short item recently in the Idaho Falls Post-Register. Forty-six dead Canada geese were found stuffed into a dumpster in Soda Springs, Idaho. A state wildlife official speculated that the geese were shot "over decoys" placed in nearby farm fields or from a boat on Blackfoot Reservoir.

It's a sickeningly familiar story. Two moose shot and left to rot near Dubois, Wyoming this fall. Two yearling grizzly bears killed near Union Pass in roughly the same area as the moose. An increasing wasted antelope body count littering the gas fields near Rock Springs and Pinedale, Wyoming. Senselessly murdered mule deer left on the ground in Nevada. All this has nothing to do with the legal autumn hunting seasons, an annual "rite" properly observed by thousands in the West. It's even far removed from old-fashioned good-old-boy poaching to put meat on the family table, which seems almost moral by comparison. Old school poachers don't leave rotting carcasses behind. Sometimes, if the animal can be classified as trophy game, such as a bull elk, the antlers or whole head will be removed, sometimes not. No, it's "thrill killing," as wildlife managers call it, and it seems to occur regularly somewhere in the West. It's actually a national problem.

In Portage, Wisconsin, this was recently seen on a grand scale. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, two young men, Josh Kerl, 21, and Adam Stalsberg, 22, were arrested and each charged with two misdemeanors for hunting deer in a closed season and hunting deer at night. They were also issued a total of 74 citations for various small game violations that carried fines totaling approximately $8,000. The two were fined $2,100 per charge on the deer and lost their hunting privileges for three years. What boggles the mind -- despite the official leniency of the charges -- is that Wisconsin wildlife officials estimate that Kerl and Stalsberg, using spotlights and high powered rifles, killed some 600 animals in the past year. Sandhill cranes, owls, crows, snapping turtles, ducks, red-tailed hawks, wild turkeys, raccoons, possums, even sturgeons swimming in a reservoir. "Thrill killing lends itself to instant gratification, not the totality of the hunt," said Chuck Horn, Natural Resources Conservation Warden Supervisor for southwest Wisconsin. That's an understatement.

According to studies extant, these wildlife atrocities are committed mostly by young men aged 15 to 22, the video game generation. Much has been written about the nihilistic violence that kids are exposed to when they play some of these games. A study by the American Psychological Association posits that "violent video games may be more harmful than violent television and movies because they are interactive, very engrossing and require the player to identify with the aggressor." The study, authored by researchers Craig A. Anderson, Ph.D. and Karen E. Dill, Ph.D. goes on to reveal that "young men who are habitually aggressive may be especially vulnerable to the aggression-enhancing effects of repeated exposure to violent games."

My own experience observing kids playing video games (in the Salmon, Idaho Public Library, no less) are that they always seem to involve human characters hunting down and shooting other human characters with automatic weapons, while being shot at themselves. Since it's apparent that a small percentage of kids can actually suffer psychological problems from playing these games, an empathy deficit if you will, I think it might be an easy jump to get up from a computer game, go out and pull the trigger on an elk or a deer, and then walk away with a laugh. After all, it's only a game.

It's no secret that hunting numbers are down (about 8% nationally since 2001). Young folks -- even in the West, where they live amongst abundant wildlife, are less and less being brought up in the traditional hunting culture that stresses firearms safety in hunter training courses, and an ethical view concerning the actual act of killing game (field dressing, the proper care of a carcass, etc.): the doctrine of "Fair Chase" and adhering to local state hunting regulations as a moral imperative.

Western newcomers are mostly ignorant -- through no fault of their own -- of the hunting culture; in fact, many are dead-set against it. The thrill killers give moral hunters a bad name, yet many new folks think the two groups are synonymous.

Yet, I think our four-legged friends will get a break soon, as the video game-thrill killing trend graduates to a higher plane: human beings.

Video games are mindless, as are the parents who let their kids play them.

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About the Author

Bill Croke, formerly of Cody, Wyoming, is a writer in Salmon, Idaho.