Literature Study GuidesA Sand County AlmanacPart 3 Wildlife In American Culture Summary

A Sand County Almanac | Study Guide

Aldo Leopold

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A Sand County Almanac | Part 3, Wildlife in American Culture : The Upshot | Summary



There are three kinds of value found in renewing contact with the wildlife of one's country. First this contact can remind us of our cultural origins, our own history. This makes us better prepared to meet the challenges of today. Second it can remind us of our dependence on the natural processes and food chains of nature. Our growing dependence instead on "gadgets" tends to dilute our appreciation of this other fundamental dependency. Third, activities in nature that encourage "sportsmanship" remind us that we should approach wilderness with an ethical framework. Through sportsmanship the hunter voluntarily limits the use of gadgets and guns according to his or her conscience.

However, gaining these kinds of value from wildlife doesn't happen automatically. Leopold asks, "Is culture fed by our present forms of outdoor recreation?" He explains that the development of "sporting goods" or "gadgets" has offered aid "to self-reliance, hardihood, woodcraft, or marksmanship" but at the same time has functioned "as substitutes for them." So as people have made hunting easier by use of gadgets, they have taken away some of the value of hunting, which is to build self-reliance and other positive traits. He suggests hunters use these gadgets in moderation so as to preserve the value of hunting, though he finds it difficult to define a general rule for what moderation entails. He suggests people find ways to adapt their interactions with wildlife so they can make use of some gadgetry without diminishing the value of the experience. He uses the example of pursuing wildlife research as a sport as one way this better approach can take place.


In this essay Leopold again tackles the topic of outdoor recreation, this time exploring it from the perspective of a sportsman who participates in hunting as a leisure activity. He begins by noting that there are three main ways people can gain something from hunting, the third of which is the application of the idea of "sportsmanship" to interactions with nature. He points out that the idea of hunting as a sport is different from hunting by necessity, as our ancestors did. The rules of sportsmanship, such as the "go-light idea" and "one-bullet-one-buck" idea, were not arbitrary: they were necessary at a time when bullets and guns were precious commodities, not to be wasted. Yet these two rules remain with us, as we have come to admire them as virtues: we "made a virtue of necessity." So, too, have we done with the traits of "self-reliance, hardihood, woodcraft, and marksmanship." We made these necessary traits into what can be seen as distinctly American virtues. And so what was once necessity has now become part of our cultural identity. We maintain that cultural identity by fostering those virtues, even if they are less necessary to our survival than they once were.

However, Leopold points out a contradiction in what Americans say and what they do. On the one hand they say they admire "self-reliance, hardihood, woodcraft, and marksmanship." Yet on the other hand they remove those parts of hunting that foster just these characteristics. Self-reliance and hardihood do not grow if there are no challenges to meet or hardships to endure, so making hunting easier tends to diminish the self-reliance and hardihood of hunters. This is an idea Leopold develops in several of his sketches and essays, including in "Escudilla" from Part 2; here, however, he delves more into just what develops these virtues, concluding that it has to do with the contrast between the primitive outdoor recreations and more modern human civilization: "Their value is a contrast-value; that excessive mechanization destroys contrasts by moving the factory to the woods or to the marsh."

Leopold sums up the problem in his conclusion: "Wildlife once fed us and shaped our culture. It still yields us pleasure for leisure hours, but we try to reap that pleasure by modern machinery and thus destroy part of its value." Then he sums up his solution: "Reaping it by modern mentality would yield not only pleasure, but wisdom as well." The fact that one of his solutions is to treat wildlife research as a sport is fitting for a man who did that very thing and changed conservation in the process through research and knowledge.

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