19-year-old Kendall Jones caused international controversy recently by posting pictures of her exotic animal kills to Facebook. Her argument? Hunting them helps protect the species. Can it? We asked The Texas Huntress.
The Texas Huntress is Ashley Chiles (pictured below), an otherwise prototypical resident of the state, complete with hair product and a stylish wardrobe. Until she picked up a gun a five years ago and became a passionate advocate for hunting, she was exactly the kind of person you'd expect to find Kendall's photos offensive. That she still does requires a bit of explanation and a look into what hunting actually is.
IndefinitelyWild: Who's The Texas Huntress and what does she stand for?
Ashley Chiles: My 92-year-old grandmother Barbara Chiles is a great example of a quintessential Texas huntress. After World War Two, my grandparents moved down to South Texas for the oil boom. At that time, it had some of the best quail and dove hunting in the country. Trust me, my grandmother became an incredible shot and she always looked fabulous while out on a hunt, with her hair done, nails done and while dressed to the nines.
Dressing up and going on dangerous outdoors adventures do not have to be mutually exclusive.
People find my lifestyle contradictory. They think that because I'm now a hunter, I must be a gun nut. But, I'm actually very pro-gun control. I only own one-gun — a beautiful Beretta Silver Pigeon over-under. I also happen to be a super progressive feminist who voted for Obama and I'm a huge supporter of Senator Wendy Davis!
My work appeals to a wide variety of demographics. I've got slow food advocates, anti-Monsanto/anti-factory farming people and then a bunch of redneck hunter dudes who like the photos of attractive women with guns.
I once made a statement against "Hog 'n Dog" hunting and I was getting comments like, "Do you think this is a fashion show?" Or, "Have you ever even shot a gun?" The good ol' boys are incredibly threatened by a strong, opinionated woman. Of course hunting can be a fashion show. Dressing well didn't stop me from making four kills the first four times I fired a gun.
IW: What's the difference between the hunting you do and what Kendall Jones does?
AC: I hunt for food out of a desire to participate in the animals' life and as an alternative to eating factory-farmed meat. Kendall is hunting big game in Africa in order to bring back a trophy. The two are very different; it does not make me feel big or powerful to kill an animal. I don't think an animal is a trophy. http://indefinitelywild.gizmodo.com/shooting-baboo...
IW: Is there any truth to the statement that the fees Kendall's parents pay for her hunts actually help protect African Wildlife?
AC: My friends in Africa tell me that yes, each country allocates a certain number of "Big Five" animals to be hunted by tourists per year. The game reserves charge a huge amount of money, which then pays for conservation efforts to protect all endangered animals. I'm not convinced this is totally true, it's doubtful that all the money goes to conservation without it being pocketed by greedy politicians.
This article from Conservation Magazine addresses the complexity, ambiguity and paradoxical nature of this issue.
I also asked my friend Chris Bolton, a guide in South Africa, about it. He said, "Yes, hunting definitely aids the conservation of wild animals. Where there were stock farms before (goats, sheep and cattle), there are game farms now. If there were no paying trophy hunters, this would not be the case. If there were no value to the wild animals, then the farmers would not keep them. The money paid by trophy hunters has a profound effect on the local economy."
IW: Why do you think her story created so much outrage?
AC: The photos she's taken and publicized are offensive to me and many people — gloating with her foot up on the back of a lion with a shit eating grin on her face. She is not demonstrating respect for the animals she has killed and is doing nothing to educate the public about conservation. It's just tasteless. I guess all you have to do to become famous in America now is to make a sex tape or kill an endangered species.
That said, is there really a difference between what she's doing and those of us who love our leather or fur fashion items? Aren't those trophies of a kind too? And often, those are trophies made from unethically raised or just plain tortured animals.
IW: Would you ever kill a lion, elephant or rhinoceros?
AC: No, I don't fancy eating lion or rhino meat. I actually eat less meat now that I hunt; doing so has forced me to examine our society's over consumption and made me appreciate what's actually in our food.
IW: How'd you get into hunting?
AC: Despite coming from a family of hunters, I had rejected that for most of my life. I was raised in Houston, where you would just buy your meat in a package at the grocery store. It was not until I spent years being educated by vegans, vegetarians, farmers, chefs and slow food advocates that I decided to take a rifle into my hands and shoot an animal. I realized I either needed to shoot, dress and cook an animal — and face my fear of the process — or stop eating meat.
Factory farming is destroying the land, torturing the animals and causing us disease. If more of us hunted and participated in the process of harvesting wild meat, I think it would bring much greater respect for animals into our society, while helping to protect the environment and eliminating disease and poison from our diets.
Are you brave enough to pull the trigger yourself? If not, then stop eating meat.
IW: If Kendall is hunting on private game reserves, with animals kept in enclosed environments, is there really any sport to it?
AC: Probably not. But, I don't actually have an issue with whether it is or isn't a sporting kill. If the animal dies quickly and without pain and if you're killing it not for a trophy, but for food, then the process is actually more humane than buying a pack of burgers at the grocery store.
But, I mean yeah, if you're trying to brag about what a badass hunter you are and you've really just been sitting in a deer blind, with corn out at the feeder, shooting through a scope, then I am going to think you're an idiot.
Photos of The Texas Huntress by Tai Power Seeff.
The Texas Huntress is an upcoming series of films, photographs and stories in which Ashley explores the literal and metaphorical manifestations of hunting. Coming Fall, 2014 to TexasHuntress.com.
IndefinitelyWild is a new publication about adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.