By Mark Kenyon
The most recent estimates available today put the population of the United States at 317 million people. Of those 317 million, somewhere around 13.7 million of them (over age 16) self identify as “hunters.” That means just over four percent of of our nation hunts. Four percent!
The way we live, the passion that consumes us, the sacred pursuit we cherish so much – guess what – it’s not understood or experienced by over 300 million of our fellow Americans. Other than just being plain scary (and sad), what does that mean for us hunters?
Quite simply, it means this. Our fate is not in our own hands. In a democratic nation, such as ours, the majority rules. And we hunters are not anywhere near the majority. For that reason, we are at the mercy of this non-hunting public. If we wish to keep this right to hunt, if we wish to continue to have public lands to enjoy our pursuit, if we wish to maintain the means to hunt and kill our own food – we will need to become very, honestly aware of our position.
If we wish to maintain our hunting tradition for generations to come, we must come to terms with this reality, and then take heed of these three virtues.We as hunters, must act with care, speak with care, and then care enough to cooperate with non-hunters.
I believe David Petersen put it much more eloquently …
“In order to assure a meaningful hunting future for our children and theirs, in order to give something in return for the many joyful returns hunting and wild nature has to offer – we who call ourselves hunters must relearn our ancient ancestors’ respect for all nature, not only that which serves us directly. We must learn to cool our culturally codified impulse to control and modify and meddle. And, most of all, we must join hands and hearts with likeminded non-hunters to celebrate and preserve wildness for it’s own sake.
In the end, we must prove, and improve, our hunter’s hearts … by striving ever more diligently to “take every kind of care” of what remains of truly wild nature, inside of us as well as out.” – David Petersen
Acting With Care
While only a bit over 4% of our population hunts, the most recent data show that 79% of Americans at least approve of hunting. That’s the highest recorded approval rating to date (for this specific survey organization), and that’s great news. But, as we’ve seen as of late, public opinion is fickle. Just look how quickly public opinion was turned against hunters in the recent controversies surrounding Melissa Bachmann and her lion hunt photo, and the Dallas Safari Club Rhino hunt raffle debacle. In today’s world of social media, traditional media sensationalism, and the recent craze of grass-roots activism – it’s no so hard to imagine real damage being done to our hunting way of life if we screw things up enough to elicit the negative attention of the other 95%.
So what kinds of “screw ups” result in opposing hunt? According to Responsive Management, the organization doing this polling, one of the most popular reasons was hunter behavior. To further explain, a quote from the report, “Public Opinion on and Attitudes Toward Hunting”…
“One study found that hunter behavior strongly affected opposition to hunting, with the researchers concluding that, in general, the public is not against hunting, but the public “sure feels differently about the hunter”.”
I explain all of this because we must understand that our personal actions as hunters directly impact the perception of hunting, and in the end will affect the approval or disapproval of our way of life. If we want to maintain our right to head to the aspen cloaked mountains or the timber choked draw with rifle in hand in the future, we’d better think long and hard about our actions and how they represent hunters as a whole.
I’m talking about ethics here. Moral codes. Basic behavioral conduct. I realize that when speaking of these things – ethics, morals, proper behavior – I tread on very subjective waters. And so I won’t lecture you on what proper hunting ethics are. We all come at things a little bit differently, with a unique perspective and set of experiences that form how we belief the act of hunting should be conducted. But, I will ask that you at least be aware of the ramifications of your ethics, or in some cases, lack thereof.
If we hope to continue hunting, we must act with respect and care for others, for the wild animals we pursue and for the wilderness they call home. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. This is a truth.
I beg you to keep this principle close to your heart.
Finally, while I cannot, or at least will not, attempt to push my hunting ethics and morals upon you, I would encourage you to allow yourself to be challenged in this arena with a few good reads. If you’re interested in exploring this topic further, books such as A Hunter’s Heart, A Sand County Almanac, Heartsblood and others of the same ilk are well worth a read.
Speaking With Care
Just as important as what we do, is what we say – and in today’s media landscape, sometimes it’s even more important. Our words reflect on ourselves, and ultimately on the entire hunting community. Whether speaking about our hunting way of life or in defense of it, we must take care.
As an example, and fully well expecting some backlash, let us examine the case of Ted Nugent.
I thoroughly enjoy “The Nuge”. I grew up listening to his music, and still today “Fred Bear” echoes from within my truck every time I head out on a hunting trip. On top of his musical achievements, I greatly appreciate his passion and support for our second amendment rights and our right to hunt. I really do appreciate what he’s trying to do, and I think much of what he proclaims is spot on. That said, I fear that the way he’s going about it, far too often, is dead wrong. In the end, the very public image and sometimes abrasively delivered opinions of Ted Nugent hurts hunters more than it helps.
The screaming and yelling and insulting, his overall over-the-top behavior, the “whack em and stack em” war cries, and other sometimes off-the-wall comments unfortunately all get reflected back on all of us hunters. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to non-hunters about hunting and have had people start to describe the negative stereotypes that surround our lifestyle and end up explaining, “You know, the Ted Nugent kind of hunter, thats what I can’t stand.”
I love Ted Nugent, but with all due respect to the Motor City Madman, if we all take the Ted Nugent approach to talking about hunting and killing, we’re not going to make a whole lot of allies in the non-hunting public. That’s not a risk we can afford to take.
If we want to keep the support of the people, we need to speak with reverence, with respect and with care about our lifestyle and the animals we hunt. Choose your words carefully and consider how you deliver them.
We owe the animals and our fellow hunters as much.
Caring Enough To Cooperate
Finally, if we want to protect our rights to hunt we must realize that the basic necessity of hunting is the presence of wilderness, and wilderness is a resource valued by hunters AND non-hunters alike. For this reason, we need to band with those on the other side of the 95% in protecting our wild lands, preserving our access to them, and conserving the creatures that reside within them.
The Us vs Them mentality is a losing proposition for both sides, and while there will always be some non-hunters who vehemently oppose our way of life, there are many others out there who are open to it. We must find these likeminded individuals or organizations, and work with them to protect our shared resources. There’s nothing wrong with being a hunter and also being a member of environmental groups. And to those on “the other side of the aisle”, I wish that more non-hunters could come to realize how important conservation and the preservation of wild environments is to many of us hunters. It’s unfortunate that so many non-hunters don’t realize this – but remember, it is our actions and words that can help spread this message.
Richard K Nelson sums up my thoughts much better than I ever could below:
“We belong to an era marked by tremendous growth of concern for the natural world, but also an era of unparalleled threats from population growth, industrialization, land development, and loss of biodiversity. People who are deeply concerned about wildlife and the environment often disparage hunting and ignore the fact that hunters are perhaps their most important allies. In the United States, hunters are probably the largest, most diverse, and most important potential advocates for preservation of natural habitats and protection of wild animal populations. American lands set aside as parks, preserves, and refuges – totaling millions upon millions of acres – demonstrate the hunting community’s early and continuing prominence as a conservation force.
After we’ve lost a natural place, it’s gone for everyone – hikers, campers, boaters, bicyclists, animal watchers, fishers, hunters, and wildlife – a complete and absolutely democratic tragedy of emptiness. For this reason, it’s vital that we overcome our differences, find common ground in our shared love for the natural world, and work together to defend the wild.” – Richard K Nelson
Taking Our Hunter’s Fate Into Our Own Hands
Sadly, most people in our country will never know the joy of a light October breeze spiked with the edge of alertness imperative to the hunt. Too few men and women will ever receive the satisfaction of consuming a meal provided by their own hands, blood, sweat and hard work. Far too many children will grow up believing wild animals are what they see in Disney movies, and breakfast and dinner are nothing more than purchases to be made at a fluorescent lit grocery store.
We, hunters, will for the foreseeable future remain the minority and for that reason we must respect the fact that those unfortunate masses unaware of “the sacred game” will determine the future of hunting in America.
But we still can make an impact, to a degree, if we care enough to do so.
To ensure the preservation of our hunting way of life, we must act and speak with care, and then finally care enough to cooperate with others to protect the wildness that we so love.
It is our greatest imperative.