Holy Orders

Saint Hubertus
St. Hubert as depicted in the stained glass of St. Patrick’s Basilica in Ottowa.

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?

red stag number 5
#5 (no image) Heiko Hunemeyer holds the number five spot with a 487 6/8″ stag taken near Forstgut, Austria

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

2 thoughts on “Holy Orders”

  1. I had the privilege of being introduced to St Hubertus in 1968 in a German Hunter Ed course. I have been talking about him ever since. It’s useful to begin with reference to a bottle of Jaeger Meister schnaps.
    Note the Hubertus Hirsch on the label…that’s the Red Deer with the cross twixt its antlers. It’s what Hubert experienced in his religious vision. it caused him to enter a monastery and give up his youhtful wanton slaughter. The lecture from Red Deer (spiritually speaking) lead him to a huge reformation of his life. It’s a good story. Back to the booze…The schnaps is meant to be sipped and used to make a solemn toast to fallen game animals. The American marketing genius who popularized this medicinal drink with “Jaeger Bombs and Babes” to promote sales has made it easier to bend a conversation around to hunter ethics. But one must get to the drinker early…before they start doing ice cold shots to the point of illness…the drink is full of medicinal herbs…warn them…they’ll thank you and you’ll be able to preach conservation ethics before they know what hit them.

  2. It is an emotional fight that the anti-hunters wage. When we are able to clearly and calmly note the facts surrounding the benefits of conservation – their arguments rarely hold water. So it is surprising to me, that this article does not specifically call out the name of the piece and the date and radio station that aired it. If the article did that, then I would feel much more comfortable/confident writing to “My” npr station and voicing my concern in a fair and balanced manner. Can you please follow-up with that information? I would far rather work with my local Public Radio network, whom I have found to be generally fair and balanced, and talk about the great pieces they do create about Conservation and/or help them and encourage them to do more. Certainly, this is an audience we would like to educate as opposed to alienate – the later of which is what I believe this article which is pulling on emotional strings is encouraging us to do. Right now we need a call to action – I do not believe that we can turn our backs on Public Radio right now.
    -Stacee SCI & Sables Life member

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