Now I know that hunters who read the title of this post bristled at the thought of “defending” hunting in any capacity. I know this because, well, I would have too. When a person is passionate about something they enjoy, having to defend it to others is a sore spot. Add to it the potential of conflict by those who oppose hunting outright and we as hunters in my experience choose to take one of two paths; return negative comments with negative responses, or shut down the conversation completely. I’ve done both, and in my opinion, neither creates a positive outcome.
I grew up during the 90’s when hunting television began to come into it’s own. I remember watching Buckmasters with my dad on TNN, and marveling at what they accomplished. Big bucks and bulls were the name of the game for shows like that, and as consumers of their content it was what we wanted to see as well. As hunting television evolved and expanded, big animals, big bag limits became the norm. You couldn’t scroll through the new hunting channels or the DVD section of a sporting goods store without seeing content that screamed “big animals is what it is all about!” The stories were more about pursuing these big animals or full limits of birds than about the hunt in it’s entirety.
As hunters we are able to look at this content and understand the hours of work it took for that specific hunt, the amount of editing it took to create the content, and truly how unique those experiences are. We understand that it is entertainment. We understand our own values and what we consider a successful hunt. However, to those who don’t hunt, the media that we as hunters consume represents us, whether we like it or not.
Feeling like I needed to defend hunting, I was duped into participating in a PETA propaganda campaign.
Social media can be a great tool to spread information (hence why my blog posts are shared on Facebook and Instagram). However, it can also be used to spread falsehoods or used to further a point, as in the case of the PETA profile picture filter from last year. In a cunning act of propaganda, PETA created a temporary filter for profile pictures supposedly encouraging their supporters to take a stand against hunting. Well some in the hunting community (myself included) decided to poke fun at this in an act of defiance, or unity, or maybe both and made it our profile picture filter along with a profile picture of us showcasing one of our kills. Thus PETA successfully used us against ourselves, showing, in their minds, how barbaric we hunters are.
Steven Rinella, a well known hunting personality and someone who in my opinion shows hunting in a positive light, called out those of us who willingly participated in this for furthering PETA’s cause. Rinella is very sensitive to issues that could cast hunting in a negative way. While his show Meateater is a hunting show, he also shows how he prepares the meat of the game he takes, sometimes in the field shortly after the kill, and also covers the conservation story of the animal. He is a conservation minded individual, well educated and well versed in how hunting and conservation are one in the same. He is someone who’s words on topics such as public perception of hunting I take very seriously. He made a Facebook post the following day saying how disappointed he was that the one time the hunting community united as one it was to fall for a propaganda campaign. Once I realized what I had fallen for, I felt embarrassed that I had misrepresented the hunting community.
It is easy for us hunters to say, “You know what, screw them,” and then continue on doing something on social media that can be misinterpreted or all together misunderstood by our non hunting friends. One of Steven Rinella’s podcasts talked about how we aren’t going to convince the 10% of the population that hates hunting that it is ok or acceptable. Let’s face it, they don’t agree with it and are just as passionate in their stance as we are in ours. Getting in Facebook spats or using some filter to prove a point is not going to change their mind. As a community, we need to recognize this simple fact.
Instead we as hunters need to focus on the other 80% of the population (and for you math geeks I’m considering the hunting population to also be at 10%) and their perception of hunting. A majority of Americans don’t think much about hunting one way or the other, so long as they don’t have it shoved in their faces. Images of dead animals on a newsfeed to people who don’t hunt can have a negative impact on their outlook on hunting. Couple that with stories about Cecil the Lion or any other named animal that can grab headlines, and suddenly all hunters are shoved into the same basket.
Now I’m not saying we need to hide who we are or what we do. I’m not saying to not be proud because I’M DAMN PROUD to be a hunter. What I am saying is we as hunters need to be mindful of what we put out there and how we portray why we do what we do. There is no shame in being proud of your accomplishments, the amount of work that goes into hunting makes it a labor of love, and when you are successful of course you can celebrate. But be mindful of how it is portrayed, and ask yourself “will someone who doesn’t hunt truly understand why this is so meaningful to me?” If the answer is no, find a way to portray it in a more understandable way, because not only will you then celebrate your accomplishments but you may give someone a better perspective. Like it or not hunting isn’t a right, it’s a privilege, one that can be altered at the polls if public opinion wanes against it. PETA’s filter campaign proved to me and others that they, meaning PETA, know they need to shift public perception of hunters and hunting in their favor to ultimately get rid of hunting. Don’t believe me? Well look at British Columbia grizzly bear hunting.
No doubt in my mind images similar to this one were used by the anti-bear hunting movement to sway public opinion in British Columbia. While a sign of success to hunters, to those on the fence when used in conjunction with a non-scientific emotional propaganda campaign, it can have a negative impact on public perception of hunting.
In August of 2017 British Columbia announced it would place a ban on grizzly bear hunting based not on a threat to the health of the population of the species, but as the British Columbia Forest Minister Doug Donaldson claimed, “it is no longer socially acceptable to the vast majority of British Columbians to hunt grizzly bears.”
Now there are far more qualified individuals who can speak to how the issue got to be on a ballot, voted on and passed, but want concerns me as a hunter is that the decision to ban grizzly bear hunting was done purely for the sake of popular opinion. Time will tell what negative impact this will have not only on ungulates in the area, but the grizzlies themselves. Also, there is an economic price to be paid, as this move puts guides and outfitters out of business, and also now the government will be tasked with taking care of problem bears as their population begins to expand.
Why should American hunters care what happens in Canada? Well, because similar campaigns have happened here and have shaped hunting around the nation. California did away with mountain lion hunting because it was unpopular, Colorado passed a ban on spring bear hunting for the same reason. These were voter initiatives put before the electorate, and with help from organizations like PETA, these bans got passed. Now California and Colorado have an issue of increased predator/human conflict in residential areas.
The problem the hunting community has is that we all are in our own little cliques, and very rarely unite on any issues. A majority of deer hunters don’t really care about laws that affect waterfowlers, waterfowlers don’t generally care about what laws or rules impact bear hunters, it goes on and on. You can take it further and say Midwestern hunters rarely take notice of western hunting issues, or southern hunters could care less about what happens up north. But those who are opposed to hunting have one goal in mind and you better believe man they are united in it; an outright ban on hunting.
Hunters need a similar united front when it comes to defending our heritage. We can’t turn a blind eye to issues simply because it doesn’t directly affect us. Believe me, the small victories the anti-hunting crowd wins that seem insignificant to you, in fact sets a precedent they intend to repeat. We need to stop the infighting and start paying attention. It isn’t enough to argue on social media or post a sarcastic meme or change your profile picture filter.
Change happens by becoming involved, by contacting elected officials, understanding their stance on issues and holding them accountable. Also, don’t fall into the emotional side of the hunting debate, have passion but don’t let emotion overrule you. When someone goes at you about hunting, come back with a fact based rebuttal not a counter insult. Let their own emotions get the better of them and their true selves will come shining through. Hunters as a community have enough passion for wild places and wild things that if united in one goal can make changes and counter the anti-hunting crowd. That is truly the best defense of hunting.