The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia while quail hunting at a ranch in West Texas brought forth one of the stranger combinations of sensationalism and conspiracy theorizing in recent memory.
Leaving aside the genuinely puzzling aspects of the case, such as the haphazard inquest and investigation, the media immediately latched onto the involvement of the “secretive” hunting society, the International Order of St. Hubertus. Even NPR, which wears its liberal sympathies on its sleeve but is usually fairly restrained, leapt aboard the bandwagon to depict the St. Hubertus types as a cross between the Freemasons and the Spanish Inquisition, with a touch of Satanism thrown in.
One program, which is a joint effort of the BBC in England and public radio in the U.S., dredged up an “historian” to enlighten its listeners as to the history and activities of the Order. For those who like their news delivered with cheap shots, it was made to order. Out of the “historian’s” snide comments, however, one managed to glean that the order was founded more than three centuries ago, combines religious beliefs with love of hunting and animals, and has included some very prominent people in its membership.
An early member was the Holy Roman Emperor, and the society was named for St. Hubertus. The story of his vision while hunting stag is one of Christianity’s enduring legends, and St. Hubert is the patron saint of hunters. It is largely because of St. Hubert that hunting’s code of ethics and morality evolved through the centuries, so what could be more natural than to name a society of ethical hunters after him?
NPR keyed on two aspects of the society. One was its founder’s statement that hunting provides good training for war — not at all surprising, to me, since it was made in 1695; the other was the reference to reverence for God’s creatures. This prompted the absurd comment, “Yeah, we love God’s animals so much we want to shoot them all.”
No hunter of my acquaintance has ever said he wanted to shoot all animals. Quite the reverse. I know many hunters who work endlessly to conserve animals, both game- and non-game species, that they will never hunt, for whatever reason. They provide feed for starving deer during particularly harsh winters, put out feeders for deer and turkeys, spend hundreds of dollars a month to keep them nourished during the winter, and provide protected areas for them. How many of us will ever hunt black rhino? Or royal sable? Probably none, yet we all work to preserve them.
NPR’s final comment on the St. Hubertus Society was that it resembled “Ducks Unlimited with funny costumes.” I don’t know how funny they are. True, their ceremonial robes resemble court dress from the late 1600s, but what’s wrong with that, exactly? It seems to me that ceremonial dress is part of just about every serious organization, religious, legal or spiritual, in the world.
I kept waiting for the NPR announcer to say something like, “But seriously, folks, these people do a lot of good…” Alas, it never came. They had a few good laughs, admiring each other’s wit, and then signed off.
A couple of days later, NPR began one of its frequent fund-raising drives, using its “professional, unbiased journalism” as the hook to persuade us to contribute. Professional? Hardly. Unbiased? Absolutely not. But I shouldn’t complain. The St. Hubertus report gave me an immediate, iron-clad reason to keep my checkbook safely in its drawer.
And, just as I was writing this, what should arrive in my in-box but a press release from the Missouri Department of Conservation reporting that hunters had donated more than 223,000 pounds of venison from the hunting season just past, to the Share the Harvest campaign to help feed the hungry. That brings the total to 3.5-million pounds of meat since the program began in 1992.
What do you want to bet that will never be reported on NPR?–Terry Wieland