If we’re not careful, we hunters could be in-part responsible for the end hunting. That’s an upsetting thought, isn’t it? Today we have a guest post from Wired To Hunt audience member Donald Rank examining this very topic – the risk that our hunting lifestyle currently faces, in what ways we might be complicit, and what we can potentially do about it. Our hunting community is being attacked from more angles than ever before, but we ultimately hold our fate in our own hands. So read on, and remember that we each are representatives for and defenders of the hunting community. And that is an incredible responsibility. – Mark Kenyon

By Donald Rank

I worry about the future of hunting. It is a significant part of who I am. And I am raising my children to be able to say the same. Whether or not my children hunt, I worry about the world in general if there are no hunters. There is an obvious repercussion to the end of hunting, the end of funding. The loss of money for habitat and conservation work would be irreplaceable. But the even bigger loss would be the loss of stewardship. With the disappearance of hunters would come the disappearance of a community of people that provide thoughtful care for and participation in nature, people who understand the natural world as no other group can. I believe it would be disastrous for the natural world. Could hunting end tomorrow or even next month? No. But that is a real threat in the future. It is a death of little cuts, not one big battle. And we must do a better job of protecting it than we are right now. If not for us, then for the world we leave behind.

Under Armour’s decision to drop Sarah Bowmar has sparked outrage in the hunting social media community. Has the company caved to pressure from anti-hunting activists? Yes. Of course they have. Is this a potentially dangerous precedent? Again, yes. But Under Armour is a fitness clothing company that happens to have a line of clothing that they sell to hunters. They, despite the advertisement campaigns, are not a hunting company. Whoever drafted Under Armour’s statement about what was a lawful hunt, does not understand much about hunting. In order to protect the sales of the rest of the fitness merchandise they peddle, a ceremonial sacrifice has been made. Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I particularly worried because they have attacked a young female hunter, an important part of hunting’s future? Absolutely. But I am not surprised. We as hunters study and accept the behaviors of an animal as part of its nature. Deer become more nocturnal in the face of hunting pressure. Caribou travel in herds. Under Armour is a corporation and will act as such. Just as the herd will sacrifice its most vulnerable members to predators while leaving the majority of the herd unharmed, the corporation will act thusly when protecting profits. If they had a true moral opposition to hunting they would drop Cameron Hanes. Or simply, they would not sell hunting apparel. But that was not the intent of dropping Sarah Bowmar. Their intent was to protect the herd. I am not defending them. In fact, I may never buy another Under Armour product again. I am just not surprised at the company’s actions.

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This is just the latest incident. Hunting has been under attack for years. With the advent of the Internet and social media, attacks come quickly and spread with ease. And very often, we assist those who would do us harm. Every “grip and grin”, every attempt at being a You-Tube star, every hunting picture, ethical or not, has the potential to put hunting in a poor light. In the past a picture of a successful hunt would only be seen by those at hunting camp, family or other friends who hunt. People who understood the context. Nowadays these pictures reach a much wider audience – hunters, anti hunters and everyone in between.

Anti-hunter’s will never understand the respect and care we have for animals. They will never acknowledge the conservation work that goes hand in hand with hunting. At most we can have an intelligent debate, but that is not likely either. Those we can affect are those in the middle. It is their perception that we should seek to enhance. And we are doing a piss-poor job of it. All the while, anti-hunters are doing a great job of spreading their message and inciting histrionic responses across social media. And we are providing much of the material.

When I see a picture of a hunter with an animal, I know the context. I understand the effort involved, care taken and biological consequence behind the picture. I see the low environmental impact of the meal that will follow. I understand that keeping the antlers is a keeping a memento of that day and that it is not the most important part of the animal. A bigger animal is an older animal, a smarter animal but also an animal closer to the end of it’s life. And ending your life in the natural world without involving a hunter is often gruesome by the standards of “civilized” people.  I know this because my father hunted. My father took me hunting. He taught me how to act with respect, responsibility and stewardship. He taught me to continue my education for the duration of my hunting lifetime. And I am lucky enough to still have my father as a mentor. The majority of people in our country don’t have that. They don’t understand hunting and most likely don’t think about it unless an Internet firestorm crosses the newsfeed. And what they see, they can’t interpret. It is a foreign language. All that they see is a dead animal and someone doing a touchdown dance. That is where we fail as a community.

Most people have obtained knowledge of wildlife through Disney films. For evidence of this just look to the numerous encounters with nature at our National Parks, most notably the bison calf taken for a ride in a car because it looked cold. A well meaning but wildly misguided effort that led to the calf’s demise. Few people have the understanding of nature that we in the hunting and fishing community possess. We don’t just understand it. We immerse ourselves in it. But most people don’t and will never have the same knowledge that hunters do of ecosystems, habitat and life cycles. But a barrage of animal harvest pictures in response to every attack on hunting won’t help them to understand either.

In response to an attack we as a community circle the wagons and lash out with a litany of outrage and hunting pictures but offer no meaningful response. And the anti-hunting community appreciates this. They use the opportunity to poison the mainstream media and politicians with misperceptions about hunters and hunting. We play checkers while they play chess.

Hunting is full of self-reliant people. This has led to a rather insulated culture. Traditionally we have not inserted ourselves in the larger world of society and politics. We can take care of ourselves and don’t care what other people think. But in this modern age we are not protected from the outside world. Outsiders see us. And if the perceptions of those outsiders are tainted, those outsiders can take away that privilege. Notice that I didn’t say right. I said privilege, because that’s what it is. A privilege. And we are in danger of giving it away through poor portrayals of hunting and inactivity as a group. Whether it is an ethical or unethical act of hunting, the world is watching. We defend against every anti-hunting remark but fail to take responsibility for framing the argument.

Yes. You have a right to film your hunt or take pictures with an animal you have taken. You have a right to share them with the world. But others also have a right to hijack them and use them against you. And we must be aware of this. The hunting community must do a better job of portraying itself in the wider world. We must think about how our actions will be received by the non-hunting community before we allow it to be shared with the world because they don’t understand the context. There are already those who are magnificent ambassadors for hunting, most notably Steven Rinella and Randy Newberg, as well as the work of Shane Mahoney. But overall we need to do better.

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I wish I had an all-encompassing answer but I don’t. But I do have some thoughts on where to begin. First, think before you share. Will this shed a positive or negative light on hunting? Are you documenting the hunt or making a spectacle of it? Any up close kill shot is fodder for anti-hunters and perhaps should be edited. Sharing pictures on Facebook can be limited to a chosen group with just a few clicks of the mouse. Including a discussion of the meals that follow or even a picture of a prepared meal from the animal can go a long way towards enhancing the reception of any hunting picture. Personally, I live in an area where most people don’t hunt. I try to share food and recipes with my non-hunting friends and acquaintances whenever I am lucky enough to have a full freezer. I hope this gives them a better understanding of what I do.

I am by no means advocating that we hide our actions away from the world, just that we do a better job of controlling the messages we send. But that is only part of what I want to spout from my soapbox, for we can be much more active in the defense of hunting.

While we are not the majority of the population, we are a large community that is present in all 50 states. We have power that we just don’t use. For example, if Under Armour did not sell a single piece of hunting apparel for the next month or if every hunter called and emailed in response to dropping Sarah Bowmar, I’m sure that Under Armour would think twice before kowtowing to pressure from social media. If every single hunter contacted his/her state and federal representative about hunting and conservation issues, or filled up the public comment section for any wildlife initiative I’m sure that we would get some notice. Politicians need to be held accountable for supporting bills that hurt hunting, fishing and conservation. And that goes for either party. And if we all supported the hunting organizations that support us, either through dollars or sweat, we could enact change. It doesn’t take a majority to guide policy. It takes an organized, determined and vocal group.

We need to come forward and take charge of our legacy.

– Donald Rank