Long ago and far away I was a young 2nd Lieutenant taking a U.S. Army course for new officers. The senior officer/instructor emphatically insisted, “Don’t kill girl babies”, presumably because doing so would prompt the enemy to fight more intensely. At the same time by implication he was conveying that it was OK to kill boys.
I’ve never forgotten his statement and it frequently comes to mind in a different context. Now when I think about it, it’s in the context of hunting.
In Pennsylvania the seven species getting the most attention from hunters are cottontail rabbit, gray squirrel, ring-necked pheasant, ruffed grouse, wild turkey, white-tailed deer and black bear. Of those seven, three have restrictions of one kind or another on killing females so they can breed and increase the respective population:
Ring-necked pheasants are an exotic species native to northeast Asia and extensively introduced to North America where they have become a popular game bird. Intensive farming and the resultant habitat changes combined with more efficient harvesting of crops have led to put-and-take hunting of farm-raised birds. In some parts of Pennsylvania hunters may take only male birds –
Wild Turkeys are another bird where the sexes can be told apart, although not as readily as those of ring-necked pheasants. Male turkeys have a tuft of modified feathers called a “beard” dangling from their breast and the females do not.
In Pennsylvania, as in most other states, only male turkeys can be legally hunted during the spring. This is accomplished by restricting hunting to the morning when the males are actively seeking females and challenge other males – and many females are on their nests incubating eggs.
And then there are white-tailed deer, the most sought after quarry in the state and one over which there has been an on-going, noisy and frequently acrimonious dispute regarding hunting of females for decades. Here too it’s easy to tell the girls and boys apart, at least when they’re adults –
In the other four species that are popular with hunters it’s not so easy to tell male from female.
In the case of ruffed grouse, gray squirrels and cottontail rabbits the animal usually has to be in hand before the genders can be distinguished. Not many folks would want to grab a black bear and hold it up to check – and the bear might object a bit.
Any argument against killing of female pheasants, turkeys or deer so they can produce more offspring falls apart when it becomes obvious that it isn't important with the other four species. If a white-tail doe is necessary to perpetuate a huntable population of the species, why not a female bear? Is that because it’s inconvenient to protect female bears?
What ever happened to “Don’t kill girl babies”? – looks like it depends on the situation. Ahh, situational ethics.