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Opinion Column
For the week of May 10 through May 16, 2000

Leveling the playing field for hunters and quarry


Commentary by PAT MURPHY

Idaho Fish and Game’s proposal to restore sportsmanship to hunting by banning sure-shot, high-tech weapon accessories has a haunting parallel to the late novelist Glendon Swarthout’s war in Arizona 30 years ago with "hunters."

After moving to Arizona in 1959 from Michigan, where he was an obscure college professor, Swarthout’s prolific writing career produced 20 novels, some transformed into film classics—including The Shootist, Where the Boys Are, and They Came to Cordura.

His most enduring legacy (Swarthout died of emphysema in 1992 at 74) was his passionate personal crusade growing out of his 1972 novel-to-film, Bless The Beast and Children, a story of children saving buffalo from slaughter.

I’d barely exchanged pleasantries with Swarthout on our first meeting at a 1972 Phoenix cocktail party when he stunned me with grisly details of state-sponsored animal cruelty about which most Arizonans had never heard.

Each year, he explained, to thin what few herds of buffalo roamed the state in those days, game officials sold "hunting" licenses to trophy hunters. Whereupon, a hapless buffalo would be herded into a pen too small for maneuvering, to be shot from outside through the fence corrals by urban cowboys who disdained rigors and discomforts of the wilds, but wanted a buffalo head to hang on their walls as evidence of their supposed machismo.

Tragically, many gunmen were lousy shots even at that close range: writhing, wounded animals had to be finished off by a game officer.

Properly outraged by this brutality, Swarthout pleaded to at least give doomed animals a sporting chance. Shamed by the publicity, Arizona eventually outlawed the corral killing sprees.

Idaho fish and game folks are on the right track trying to put sport back into hunting by requiring hunters to track their quarry without the aid of laser sights and electronic firing systems that transform hunting into a little more than space age slaughter.

However, we probably will never see the playing field leveled for the hunter and the hunted. Manufacturers and retailers of sports gadgetry have too much to lose. So they’ll put the heat on friends in the governor’s office and the Legislature to put an end to F&G’s flirtation with common sense.

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It’s no secret in education circles that tax elections ideally are held as special elections without competing, controversial issues on the ballot. So, predictably, the Blaine County School District’s special election last week was victorious, if only four percentage points above the 55 percent minimum required for approval.

Taking the half-empty-glass view, the 40-something percent that said "nay" disapprove of more taxes for schools. Which suggests the school district needs to do a better missionary job of telling its story year-round, not just when a special election rolls around, lest the slim majority goes south the next time.

This is especially true now that politicians are championing alternatives to public schools, charter schools and voucher programs, for example. Public schools no longer have the luxury of being the only game in town and, worse, acting like it.

 

Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.

 

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