Each individual hunter has his or her reasons for going afield every year, none better than the other. I’ll admit, for years I wouldn’t have agreed with that statement. I hid behind the “meat hunter” label like a coward. Like a carcass scavenging coyote afraid to run with the real wolves. Do I hunt for meat? I sure do. Do I hunt for the challenge? No question. Do I hunt for the scenery and the connection to nature that is unattainable through any other means? Absolutely. But do I hunt for the sport? Now that’s a tough one.
If we use the classic definition of “sporting,” then you’re damned right I hunt for the sport. Stalking in on a grizzly is bar none one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had in the outdoors. I’ll do it again just for that high. But if our definition of “sport” is the modern “whack ‘em and stack ‘em,” score-keeping version of hunting, then I most certainly do not hunt for sport.
The modern media, of course, loves to emphasize the latter definition, and in most circles the concept of sport hunting has been completely marginalized – it’s now the pastime of soulless, blood-lusting bastards whom the general public, ironically, believes deserve their own gruesome deaths. In some cases the negative press is absolutely warranted. In most situations it’s undeniably irrational, if not downright outrageous.
With the coming of age of social media we’ve seen, perhaps not surprisingly, that no matter how advanced our society becomes, common sense still isn’t very common. Technology doesn’t fix stupidity and ignorance. If anything it enables it, and this is precisely the point of this article.
As we all know, in the majority of “sport hunting” situations, the money spent and/or the animal taken by the sport hunter has a positive, or at minimum, a net-zero effect, from the standpoint of conservation. But I’m going to come out and say it: that doesn’t fucking matter.
We have been trying for decades to convince the general public that what we do as hunters is good for the environment, good for the conservation of a multitude of species and habitats, and when compared to industrial meat production or a natural death in the wild, is in fact pretty damned humane. Again, it doesn’t matter.
As much as we’ve made massive inroads through the societal emphasis on organic foods and an appreciation for the physical side of hunting, we’re still losing the PR battle. Massively. Don’t believe me? If you’re not a BC resident you likely don’t pay attention to the annual “Stop the Trophy Grizzly Hunt” movement that begins in earnest every spring, perennially attracting serious TV, online, and print attention. The antis will always have their axe to grind. We’re unlikely to ever sway their fanatical, irrational beliefs about hunting. But they’re not the ones I’m worried about. It’s the 80% in the middle, the people neither for nor against hunting, which we need to be focused on. Their opinions and votes will decide the future of hunting for generations to come.
And the reality is Joe or Jane Public can stomach the thought of killing a deer, moose, or elk for meat, but is put off by the thought of someone going out to kill a bear. We could debate the whole “charismatic megafauna” phenomenon where certain (often “cute and cuddly”) animals are held in higher regard than other species. To us hunters this is, of course, ludicrous. What makes a bear more valuable than a deer? Nothing. And we know it better than anyone.
But again, it doesn’t matter. As modern hunters we have an obligation. Not to ourselves but to future generations. We’ve tried the rational, science-based approach. We’ve tried the food-centric approach. We’ve spent, pledged, or donated millions to conservation groups and hold this up for all to see when we’re called to task about our “senseless killing.” And in many ways, we’re making headway. Vegans are becoming hunters. Outside Magazine features articles about hunting. In fact by many accounts, hunting is making a comeback.
But then it happens. Cecil. The blonde and the giraffe. And one of the worst in recent memory, last year’s horrific mountain grizzly kill captured against a perfectly white snowy canvas and spread around the globe for all to see in gory, blood-spewing detail that would make Quentin Tarantino cringe. And with one picture, or in that case one video, we lose any momentum gained and an immense amount of public support.
Our arguments regarding science-based management and conservation, or the humane and sustainable nature of hunting when compared to other methods of procuring our dietary protein, become secondary if not outright inadmissible in the court of public opinion. This is the world we now live in. It is our obligation to acknowledge this and to start being proactive and working with the system not against it.
As Spike Lewis noted in his podcast interview, we hunters have for too long taken the stubborn and reactive approach to these PR messes and continue to sit high-and-mighty on top of our conservation and scientific righteousness. We all know this is a rational, and frankly indefensible, position. But that assumes a rational and logical populace. This, of course, is not the case.
As humans we all harbor irrational fears, beliefs, and opinions. That’s a big part of what keeps life interesting. It’s pure folly on our part to ignore this aspect of human nature and the realities of the socially-networked world. Any picture, any video, any comment can be used against us. We can stubbornly ignore this reality and rationalize our actions by thinking and saying that our pictures and videos are for us to share with friends and family, the rest of the world be damned. If they don’t like it, then they shouldn’t look at the pictures or watch the video, right? WRONG.
This is a selfish and ignorant stance in today’s world. Everything we do and everything we say is scrutinized. Every image, video, blog post, article, story… every damned piece of content that is shared into the ether of the internet can and will be used by those looking to eradicate this way of life we all love. To even for a second believe otherwise is no less ignorant than the belief that hunting is “murder” while wearing leather shoes and a leather belt is not.
So what’s my point? As many of you go afield this spring and later this fall, do not forget this reality. The irony of all this is we’ve never had a better opportunity to showcase the many facets of hunting that go far beyond the act of killing. But it’s up to us to take the initiative, to be proactive, not reactive, as Spike so astutely pointed out. And this is especially true with bear hunting.
It is our obligation to take photos and videos and write and publish material that respects the sensitivities of the general public. Is it right? Maybe not, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary or essential. If not for us, then for the next generation. Am I suggesting we censor or hide everything we do? Absolutely not. But we have to make a concerted effort to emphasize everything else about the hunt, along with the kill. Think twice about posting an overly gory trophy shot, and at minimum show the animal the respect it deserves. Actions speak louder than words, and the most soulful comments will mean nothing if the photo accompanying those comments is a mouth-gaping, bloody-tongued bear draped over a log. I’m not suggesting you don’t take those pictures, but think twice about the photos you choose to share with the masses.
We owe it to ourselves and to those that will come after us to take a different approach. Some would call it the authentic approach, a term that certainly resonates with me. Others might consider this as going soft, or bending to the needs of those who “don’t get it”. If you’re one of those, get off your high horse and pay it forward. We owe it to the forefathers of conservation and we owe it to our young friends and family members dreaming of going afield in the coming years and decades. The world has changed. Like any predator would, it’s time for us to adapt to the new environment.
Editor in Chief