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11 March 2011

House committee rescues Montana from stone age hunting

Updated on 14 March 2011. Montana’s would-be spear hunters can put their loincloths back in storage. Yesterday the Montana House of Representatives’ committee on fish, wildlife, and parks tabled SB-112, Sen. Greg Hinkle’s Stone Age Hunting Act of 2011.

I listened to the committee’s hearing. Hinkle was the only proponent. Dave Pauli opposed on behalf of animal control workers. The Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks’s head honcho took his position atop the fence, one leg on each side, to deliver informational testimony. Among the problems raised were:

  • A spear was not defined.
  • If the spear were to be legalized, it should be for the bow season, not the rifle.
  • The bill legalized “hand thrown” spears. That excluded spears flung with atlatls, but that was not what Hinkle intended.
  • Would a 12-year-old boy be strong enough to make a clean kill with a spear?

The last question may have been the best, and Hinkle had no answer for it. But it went to the heart of whether a spear, even one assisted by an atlatl, had enough killing power to justify its use.

It certainly doesn’t in the hands of a 12-year-old kid. Like stones, clubs, and knives, a spear’s kinetic energy is a direct function of the strength of the person throwing it. That’s why humankind switched to the bow and arrow, later to the crossbow, and finally to the firearm. With the bow and crossbow, energy is transferred from the human to the bow; directly in the case of a bow, indirectly through a mechanical assist in the case of a crossbow. One still needed the strength to pull the bowstring, but — and especially so with the crossbow — the transition to decoupling the power of the weapon from the strength of the person using was underway.

Gunpowder completed the transition. The energy in a speeding bullet or shotgun pellet was provided by the propellant, not the shooter. That’s why firearms are known as equalizers.

Spear hunting is a throwback to the stone age, to the era in which a weapon’s killing power was a direct function of a man’s strength, and in which the frustration and inefficiency of this limitation led to better and more powerful weapons that finally separated the strength of the hunter from the power of his weapon.

If the spear hunters of the stone age had the opportunity to use a modern hunting rifle, they’d drop their spears in a second. And they’d scratch their heads, wondering what the devil Hinkle was thinking when he introduced SB-112.

One issue neither raised nor discussed, but certainly one germane to the bill, was Governor Brian Schweitzer’s denunciation of the bill as frivolous. With his VETO branding iron glowing cherry red in the background, the GOP’s leaders may have preferred quietly tabling the bill to having Schweitzer scorch it with the VETO-iron in a gleeful public ceremony.

Senators Zinke, Sonju, and Jackson: explain why you voted for this

SB-112 passed the senate 27 to 21, with two excused. Three of the Flathead’s four senators — Ryan Zinke, Jon Sonju, and Verdell Jackson — voted for it. Tutvedt was excused. I invite them to send Flathead Memo a note explaining why they thought spear hunting was such a good idea, and why they found no problems with legislation so poorly written and deficient.