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John Kerry, Hunter?

By Harold Hough
web posted May 24, 2004

The two pheasants that John Kerry shot last October in Iowa provided the Massachusetts senator more than a good meal. It may have given him the edge in the Iowa caucuses, at a time when he was far behind, and propelled him to the Democratic nomination. Never in the course of politics have so few birds given so much to one candidate.

Suddenly, commentators and news people were comparing Kerry's hunting credentials with Gore's anti-gun stance in 2000 and counting up the additional electoral votes. Here was the man who could neutralize the NRA and still give the gun control crowd what they wanted.

Although Kerry's hunting exploits may have impressed the group of big city reporters, who don't know a 12 gauge from a 20 gauge, it's going to take more than a couple of pheasants to convince real hunters that Kerry is really one of them.
Here in Heartland America, hunting is taken seriously. It's a sport of subtly and nuance, where the smell of clothes, an inadvertent sniffle, or the direction of the wind will mean the difference between success and failure. And, Heartland America hunters are reading enough sign to know that Kerry isn't one of them.

My own suspicions were raised as soon as I saw the picture of Kerry firing his shotgun in that Iowa field. It looked suspiciously like a photo op picture, and a bad one at that. While Kerry was shooting to the right of the picture, Buck, the bird dog, was behind and facing left. Why wasn't Buck in front and facing the birds?

Then there is Kerry's shooting stance, knees bent and leaning backward, as if the pheasant broke at his feet and scared the dickens out of him, but one likely to put him on his rump if he fired from it (and no Secret Service agent nearby to blame either). Normally hunters lean forward into their shotgun when firing. Again, this looks fishy.

However, to give credit where credit is due, Kerry reportedly shot two pheasants with two shots. That's a good record, but nothing spectacular for a combat veteran, with a good bird dog and a good field to hunt in. Pheasant are large, slow moving birds in the air, probably one of the least challenging of the game birds to shoot. Dove, quail, and wild turkey are definitely more of a sporting challenge.

After the pheasant hunt/photo op, Kerry then used his newly discovered hunting reputation to position himself as a friend of hunters, but an opponent of "bad guns." Yes, he said, he believes in the Second Amendment, but he eats what he kills and uses a 12 gauge instead of assault rifles, which have no business in hunting. Of course, that "eats what he kills," statement positions himself nicely with the mainstream of the electorate that tolerates some hunting because it's no different than getting a steak from Safeway.

But, to the real hunter, these statements looked like a group of cheap decoys in a Minnesota lake. The first decoy is the assumption that real hunters only hunt what they eat. There are many legitimate hunters who hunt things they can't eat and a growing need in this country to use hunting to thin populations of wildlife that have adapted to human encroachment and thrived. One only needs to look at the growing number of auto collisions with deer in the East and even the New Jersey bear problem to know that many wildlife populations need thinning, not for food, but for safety and ecological balance. Admittedly, bear and deer also make for good eating, but there are many varmints that aren't so tasty. Take coyotes for instance. These creatures have learned to live in populated areas of the West and are well known for grabbing a pet cat or dog for a quick snack. They are also a public health concern because they can be a vector for rabies.

While deer season may be the "Super Bowl" of the hunting season, varmint hunting (which most hunters consider more challenging than deer) is the regular season; giving the hunter a chance to hone his skills, while thinning the bloated populations of coyote, skunks, feral hogs, pigeons, etc. There may be the odd pelt to be gained from this type of hunting, but few people resort to eating them. Kerry's statement does not ring true to real hunters.

The second Kerry decoy is that he only needs a 12 gauge for hunting and that "assault rifles" have no place in the hunter's arsenal. I don't want to get into the issue of what an assault rifle is in this article (that has been covered extensively in the current debate on renewing the "Assault Weapons Ban"), but the gun control group wants to include any semi-automatic rifle in that category.

Yet, semi-automatic firearms are common in hunting. Not everyone is a great shot and that quick second shot can bring down the quarry when the first one failed. Then there is the reduced recoil of the semi-automatic mechanism that makes firing that much easier, especially for smaller people who are sensitive to recoil.

But, real hunters know that even an "assault rifle" like the semi-automatic AK-47 has a legitimate place in hunting. I own a semi-automatic FN FAL, which was nicknamed the "Right Arm of the Free World," when it was the main battle rifle of most of our NATO allies. It makes a nice rifle for varmint hunting, because it is light and easy to carry long distances in the hot desert, maneuverable for snap shots at fast moving varmints, has nice battle sights to quickly target a moving coyote, and is legal for hunting in Arizona as long as you use a five round magazine. The AK-47 can fit the same purpose, but Kerry, whose hunting excursions seem limited to photo ops, wouldn't know that.

Another sign to hunters that Kerry isn't one of them are his comments about his hunting past. His website claims he loves to hunt and eat dove. But, although his comments were blindly accepted by the media, they sound suspicious to real hunters. Talking about dove, he said, "You clean them. Let them hang. It takes three or four birds to have a meal. I love dove." However, anyone who has hunted and cleaned dove knows that they are small and nothing on them is worth saving but the breast. You don't clean and hang them; you just extract the breast, which is the size of half a walnut, with your thumb and throw the rest away. This story sounds like a Kerry fabrication because no one I know recommends cleaning and hanging dove.

Kerry also claims that he has hunted off-again and on-again from the age of twelve. That "off-again on-again" statement of Kerry's sounds a little suspicious too. I've gone to basketball games off-again on-again since the age of twelve for social purposes, but I hate the sport. If Kerry was a real hunter, he would have found time to hunt every year, especially with that nice mansion he owns in Idaho.

But, what will really kill Kerry's chances with hunters is that gut feeling that they would not want to go hunting with him. The fact is, hunting buddies are a special and trusted type of friend that Kerry doesn't appear to be. Hunting buddies are mature, even tempered, people you literally trust with your life. You rely on that person to be safe with their firearms, innately know what to do when action is necessary and silence is imperative, share the workload, and not complain. Can you expect a person who; swears at his Secret Service protection for skiing too close to him, complains about anything that doesn't go his way, or expects others to defer to him because he is a senator to get up first on a chilly morning to get the fire going and make coffee for his buddies? Worse yet, no hunter would want him to cover their back when hunting bear. After agreeing to go out bear calling, he would probably flip-flop and change his mind about the morality of hunting bear just about the time a hungry 500 pound black bear is coming up on your blind side.

Nope. Kerry may be able to play the hunter with big city journalists who think bagging two pheasants makes one an accomplished hunter. However, in Heartland America, where hunting is a serious 12 month a year sport, Kerry's hunting credentials sound like a cheap decoy to snare the votes of unsuspecting hunters.

Harold Hough is a hunter and shooter, who consults and writes so he can pay for hunting licenses, ammunition, range fees, and new firearms. He has written five books, the most recent of which "Satellite Imagery for the Masses," came out in January. He can be reached at hjhough@aol.com.

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