A generation ago, American kids learned all about a hero in a coonskin cap named Davy Crockett, the King of the Wild Frontier. He was, according to the theme music of the TV series, "raised in the woods so's he knew ever' tree. Killed him a b'ar when he was only three."
Ol' Davy came to mind last month when Sierra Stiles became the first person to shoot a b'ar in the eastern state of Maryland's bear-hunting season.
Sierra isn't three, like Davy; she is all of eight. But the notion that someone taught this little girl to put two shots from a .243-caliber rifle into the chest of a black bear inflamed those who find hunting bloodthirsty and cruel. They railed that if there were but one bear -- or elk or quail -- left in America, hunters would line up from Fresno to Philadelphia for the chance to shoot it.
Nonsense, say hunters. It's not bloodlust but camaraderie that draws us to the woods -- the rite of passage with our kids, the smell of coffee on the fire, the breathless anticipation as a 14-point stag crunches through the pines upwind. And as for killing off species, we gladly pay taxes and license fees that go to organizations that save wildlife and habitat.
Even in states like Maryland and Minnesota -- rich in liberal tradition but also woodlands full of game -- hunters boast of bagging or taking deer and ducks and bears. If you want to stay friends with them, you'd best not talk about killing defenseless deer or even hint that somebody might take away their 006 shotguns.
While Americans no longer must hunt to eat, some hunters proudly turn their kills into venison steaks or squirrel stew. Little Sierra Stiles says she wants her bear's carcass to be made into a rug.