Being a hunter is about accepting certain realities. The fact is, we set out into the fields, forests, and mountains to take the life of an animal, plain and simple. We do this not out of some perverse bloodlust, but rather because we choose a lifestyle that keeps us connected with the land. We choose to know where our food comes from. Hunters care about the animals they hunt, and they care about the environments those animals live in. We understand that to be a hunter is to be a steward of the land. We connect ourselves entirely to it and to the natural balance of the world by participating in the eternal struggle of predator and prey. It is a beautiful and honest thing, yet so many people in the world don’t understand it. In a world dominated by media, where so many only understand and learn about things through popular portrayal, we hunters are giving ourselves a bad name—and it’s hurting our sport.
Many people think of hunters as mindless Bambi-killers that simply go out and murder things for some sort of primal thrill. Hunters in films are made to look like ignorant rednecks and savages that drive around in big trucks with deer strapped to the hoods. Hunting reality shows depicting men brain-shooting alligators and gunning down feral hogs from helicopters, while entertaining, only show hunters in the act of killing rather than hunting. The general public only gets to see this one aspect of hunting and, for many, it causes them to shy away from hunters, fueling anti-hunting movements and negative societal views that damage the sport as a whole. With anti-hunting sentiment growing among the general public, the future of hunting is threatened.
We hunters are doing ourselves no favors. From magazines and television to social media, so much of hunting culture seems to have become singularly fixated on glorifying the kill. We emphasize and celebrate the harsher, more brutal aspects of the sport. Hunting products and tools on the Walmart shelves have names like “Blood Therapy” and “Killzone.” Most hunting shows are shot on game farms or fenced private ranches where animals are raised or stocked, emphasizing a strictly trophy-hunting mentality. They push the idea that in order to be good hunters we have to kill the biggest bucks, get our limit every time we’re in the duck blind, go out into the woods and always come out with some sort of trophy. It erroneously communicates a message that we hunters always exalt in an animal’s death with hooting and hollering and high-fives over a carcass.
This mentality is often reflected by hunters posting bloody grip-and-grin photos of their trophies on social media with hashtags like #didntgotwenty and #killemandgrillem, which in turn feeds back into the public’s perception of hunters as people who kill things with a joyous smile on their faces and no consideration whatsoever for the price paid by the animal.
Many in our community will view this with a “who cares” attitude, celebrating that hunters thrive outside of cultural norms. But the reality is cultural norms rule the world and its future. If hunting is viewed negatively by the mainstream, urban population, there’s a tangible threat that it will eventually be eradicated from our society by popular opinion. So despite what many hunters believe, this is an issue we must care about.
We need to modify our culture, or at least the culture we portray to the rest of the world. The whole “kill ’em and grill ’em, shoot me a big ol’ buck” mentality stands as a threat to our hunting future simply because killing beautiful wild animals does not fit into non-hunters’ view of a “civilized society.” Instead, we need to emphasize the beauty of hunting, the connection with nature, and the respect and love hunters have for wildlife. Without our being accepted into mainstream culture, fewer and fewer hunters will be in the woods, and fewer dollars will be available to protect wildlife and the hunting tradition. Instead, the longstanding legacy of conservation we hunters embody will fade away, swallowed by a world that doesn’t accept us anymore. Without changing, we face a future without hunting. That is a terrifying future, indeed.