Why do young men attack wildlife? What can we do to stop it?

Reporting for this morning’s story on the great blue heron killing in Jay — which occurred last week — I was startled and dismayed to realize how common an occurrence this kind of thing is.

Wendy Hall, who operates the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center in Wilmington, showed me bird after bird that required care because they had been senselessly shot.

And DEC spokesman David Winchell reminded me that last summer state officials caught three different groups of young men, in Tupper Lake, Raquette Lake and Inlet, attacking loons.

In one case, according to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, boys actually attacked a loon nest with a paddle, shattering their eggs.

In all of these instances, the legal penalties are relatively slight:  a maximum of 15 days in jail, and a fine totaling a few hundred dollars.

I think it’s fair to question whether those punishments are severe enough to act as a deterrent.  But I also have to wonder at the parenting that leaves young men with the impression that this kind of behavior is anything less than revolting.

(Can you imagine finding out that your child had been out smashing loon eggs with a canoe paddle?)

This incident reminds of an experience I had in the woods when I was a kid.  I had been hunting white tail deer all day with my father.  It was cold and rainy and we hadn’t seen a single buck.

While taking a breather in a little hemlock grove, we suddenly realized that there was a big grouse sitting perfectly still a few yards away.

My father, who was frustrated and irritable, shot the bird with his hunting rifle, disintegrating it in a cloud of feathers.

I was horrified, disgusted, furious.

I’m a big supporter of hunting rights.  And my own son spends a fair amount of time in the woods with his .22 plinking away at targets.  But he knows like gospel that anything living is strictly off-limits.

If you don’t plan to eat it, don’t even think about shooting it.

So what do you think?  Have you had experiences with this kind of thing?  Do we need to send a different message to our boys?  And if so, how?

As always, your comments welcome.

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30 Comments on “Why do young men attack wildlife? What can we do to stop it?”

  1. Keith Silliman says:

    I hunt; usually waterfowl, and occasionally big game.

    I abhor senseless harassing and harming wildlife of any type. I agree the penalties are not stringent enough; but I also agree a lot depends on the ethic instilled by parents as a child matures.

    As a child of about eight, I still remember being down at the creek that ran through our property and seeing some teenage boys roasting frogs. I couldn’t understand it then, and still don’t. The memory of that scene is still very strong.

    A corollary can be drawn to how people are with their pets. I have dogs, all of whom have been trained with positive reinforcement. I do not understand why people resort to choke collars, and electronic shock collars.

    My general approach is to treat wildlife and household pets as I would want to be treated.

  2. Terence says:

    Thank you for continuing to cover this disturbing trend, and for sharing the incident from your childhood. Many hunters would have kept that a secret — so it says a lot for your journalistic integrity that you chose to tell it.

    I’ve been pondering this case for days: the bright spots are the bystanders who took action and called the police, the good people at the Refuge — and good old NCPR. I hope you’ll send a crew to Slater and Martindale’s appearance in Jay Town Court in a few weeks — really stick it to them with questions and photos.

    Without being vindictive, I hope a public campaign of shaming these men for their behavior will compensate for the woefully inadequate penalty they face.

  3. Terence says:

    By the way, the Essex County prosecutor handling this case is Michele Bowen.

    Everyone, please send her a message asking her to push for the maximum fines and jail time.

    Assistant DA Bowen: mbowen@co.essex.ny.us

  4. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:

    We could on for days discussing today’s parenting practices. Children are born as savages and it is our responsibility, as parents, to civilize them. Some parents do not take that job seriously and some don’t bother at all.

    Remember that no license or permit is required to have children. No level of proficiency or training need be shown before you can have a child.

  5. Mervel says:

    I have seen it.

    I don’t understand it, but for example the guys that I knew growing up that would shoot at anything were the same guys who got drunk and vandalized stuff. It is that destructive-cruelty gene. Sadism is very hard to understand, but for whatever reason some people, often young men, enjoy cruelty and destruction.

  6. Jack Drury says:

    Without attempting to excuse the actions of these young men it might be helpful to understand their behavior. The search and rescue folks in the western U.S. have a term for this and typical risky behavior identified with males in this age range. They call it “YAMS” Young Adult Male Syndrome characterized by, “hold my beer and watch me do this…” We know that male brains don’t mature until around 25 years of age. The car insurance industry figured this out years ago. The challenge is to determine how to address this and other destructive behaviors identified with this age group. Law enforcement alone can’t do it. Educational programs such as Leave No Trace (www.lnt.org), one of their principles is “Respect Wildlife,” and the Adirondack Forest Preserve Education Partnership (http://www.adirondackoutdoors.org) are attempts to do this. We need to support these types of programs.

  7. Mervel says:

    (They were also the guys that you never ever went hunting with, plus my parents wouldn’t let me anyway).

  8. Pete Klein says:

    While I think they should be punished to the max, I don’t see any of this as a disturbing trend. It has always been there but usually among much younger boys.
    This is a boy thing. You hardly ever hear about girls doing the same thing. And there is something sick about these incidents because they involve meanness.

  9. PNElba says:

    Read “The Dark Side of Man” by anthropologist Michael Ghiglieri. We shouldn’t be surprised by the violence of men.

    There is a PBS interview of Ghglieri here http://www.pbs.org/kued/nosafeplace/interv/ghiglieri.html

  10. Dave says:

    When you give young people such an ethically mixed message about right and wrong (in this case, when it is right to kill an animal and when it is not) you shouldn’t be surprised when a few of them confuse the message or reject the rationale outright.

  11. oa says:

    “This is a boy thing. You hardly ever hear about girls doing the same thing.”
    Right. Young girls just torture each other.

  12. wj says:

    People who maim or kill domestic animals are likely to maim or kill humans. There’s a well-documented link. I don’t know of any studies showing a similar link between targeting wildlife and people, but the crimes Brian describes here should be considered harbingers of what’s to come. Those found guilty need to be confined – and treated – a long time. Yeah, this kind of incarceration and treatment is expensive. But it would make us all a little safer from people who kill for the thrill of it.

  13. Mervel says:

    But this is not common, most young men would never do this, we can’t simply say this is what young men do when they are young and immature. Most young men are not cruel to animals, this is not normal nor common. It does happen and it happens too often, but so does the battering of women. Sometimes we look for all of these excuses when in reality the blame belongs in one place the men who did this crime. These were men not teenagers, the guy was 22 years old. Many 22 year old men are Army officers in Afghanistan, are entering medical school, are supporting a family. So we can’t just say this is some societal teen deal.

  14. Mervel says:

    Part of the problem is that we talk about a 22 year old man as if he was 14.

  15. Bob S says:

    I personally believe that the human ability to feel the pain of others develops with age. It is well known that some hunters abandon the chase later in life. We all know that “children can be cruel”.

  16. Two Cents says:

    I am not a Military Service guy, but then i persued another path.
    If a high school graduaute has no life path marked out, no college, no job, no carreer, mandatory Military Service should be enforced.
    The boys who did this (their age is not a sign of maturity, so yes boys) need to learn how to properly vent their frustrations in society, or feel the full punitive recourse for their actions.
    They need specific councilling, mandated from the court, and yes it will fall on taxpayers to foot the tab. Perhaps they could repay that bill by required service to a veterinary clinic. Let them see first hand from an animal’s perspective. They may turn their life around and persue a carreer in the field.

  17. Paul says:

    “This incident reminds of an experience I had in the woods when I was a kid. I had been hunting white tail deer all day with my father. It was cold and rainy and we hadn’t seen a single buck.”

    Brian, this is a very strange phrase coming from a hunter? You always spend most of your days not seeing a buck. In the Adirondacks you are lucky to see a deer say anything about a buck. I don’t want to be mean here but if your dad was frustrated enough by spending just one day in the woods without seeing a deer he could shoot and he had to blow away a grouse he had some serious issues.

  18. Paul says:

    “If you don’t plan to eat it, don’t even think about shooting it.” There are a number of examples where animals are shot for reasons other than food, so I would not take such an extreme position. But when you are talking about hunting this should be the rule. Coyotes are usually only shot for the fur. Same for many trapped animals. But you would be surprised, most animals (even some pretty funky ones) taste pretty good. And most game animals are way more healthy than most USDA store bought meat. Get out to the SL fish and game club dinner sometime for some pretty exotic fare!

  19. Dave says:

    Hunting appears to have a code of what is right and wrong when it comes to killing things. But it seems to differ from one hunter to another.

    Your standards are apparently extreme to Paul, for example.

    I personally know people who kill anything just for the heck of it while out hunting… and I know people who follow state hunting regulations to the letter and adhere to very strict personal standards… and I know plenty of people that fall somewhere in between the two.

    But I have yet to have any of them adequately explain to me – in any logically consistent way – why what they are doing is right, and what others do is wrong.

    It is ok to kill this animal, but not that one. It is ok to hunt this way, but not those ways. It is ok to kill if you eat the meat, but not if you don’t… unless you take the hide… or plan on mounting the carcass for show. And on and on with mostly frivolous distinctions between what is acceptable and what is not when killing something.

    If being exposed to such wishy washy ethics about killing animals confuses a few young people about right and wrong when it comes to how wildlife should be treated… I wouldn’t be surprised.

  20. Dave says:

    “But I also have to wonder at the parenting that leaves young men with the impression that this kind of behavior is anything less than revolting.”


    It sounds like you were exposed to parenting that could have left you with the impression that this type of behavior was ok…

    Yet, it didn’t. Any thoughts as to why?

  21. Mervel says:

    It is not about confusing young people. This is a 22 year old man who tortured a protected bird for the fun of it. It is not about hunting at all, it has nothing to do with hunting it is likely that this loser has never hunted. Once again we keep looking for excuses for the small percentage of usually younger men who are cruel, there is no excuse and it is not societies fault.

  22. Paul says:

    Mervel, Don’t confuse comments related to hunting generally to this outrageous action perpetrated on this poor bird. There is absolutely no excuse for that kind of behavior.

  23. Paul says:

    “I personally know people who kill anything just for the heck of it while out hunting… and I know people who follow state hunting regulations to the letter and adhere to very strict personal standards… and I know plenty of people that fall somewhere in between the two.”

    Dave, there is no room for interpretation. A person who kills anything “for the heck of it” has a serious problem. The rules are the rules and they are fair.

  24. Paul says:

    Dave, if you have a chance check out this book for many interesting perspectives.


  25. Paul says:

    Brian Mann, the book I link to above I think you would appreciate as well. It is very well written and gives a good perspective on this topic.

  26. Dave says:


    Brian asked this question, “what leaves young men with the impression it is ok to harm animals”

    22 year olds were not always 22 years old. They were once children. And if they grew up in the North Country, they were likely exposed to hunting culture.

    And, for a lot of people (including Brian M), that also means they were probably exposed to incidents that could confuse the lines between when it is ok to harm a wild animal and when it is not. Brian M shared one such incident that he experienced. I could share, literally, dozens and dozens of similar stories that I have overheard through the years.

    It would be hard for me to conclude that there is no connection between growing up with such ambiguity around killing wild animal and how some people then go on to treat wild animals later on in life.

  27. Mervel says:

    Except that young men raised in cities not around hunting culture do the same things.

    I think it is wrong to draw these sorts of conclusions easily from point a to point b.

    It is more likely that these guys grew up in chaotic homes and have been in trouble for some time. I think the connections are certainly there between family and how young men act. I think it is far more tenuous to suggest that somehow growing up where hunting exists will then make you torture a bird.

    I think it far more connected to things like, bullying, fighting, violence, vandalism and cruelty in general than it does hunting.

  28. Dave says:


    It seems a bit inconsistent to recognize that exposure to violence and cruelty can have a negative impact on children, and then dismiss that impact if it is experienced in a different setting… don’t you think?

    I’m open to hearing an explanation of how exposure to violence and cruelty in a city is different from exposure to violence and cruelty in the woods.

  29. Two Cents says:

    The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, no matter where it grows.

  30. Mervel says:


    Maybe I misunderstood.

    Yes I think exposure and acceptance of violence and cruelty is a problem however it occurs for young people as they grow into young men. So yes if you grow up around people who stone birds or smash loons nests etc, I think you will be more likely to do that.

    I don’t think going hunting with your family would qualify however. If it is done legally and morally as it should be done, I think it actually has the opposite affect.

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