Less than 10% of America’s population are hunters, and though participation has been in an upward trend in over the last decade, we are a minority. This is significant especially in our home state of California, where numerous pieces of anti-hunting legislation are in the works. Another minority, those adamantly opposed to hunting, are lobbying to end all hunting in California. Their method is death by 1000 cuts. While they might not be able to outlaw hunting outright (yet,) they have achieved many “victories” for their cause. From adding cougars to the protected species list despite thriving populations, to outlawing the use of hounds, to banning lead ammunition, and requiring a license and a background check to buy it, the opposition has made great strides in taking away parts of hunting. They have infiltrated the DFG, and favored lobbyists and special interest groups over science and research. Decisions of conservation are being made at the ballot box and in litigation rather than by those paid by the state to collect and analyze data and make decisions based on their findings. We may be outnumbered, but the clear majority of the populace lies somewhere in-between the card-carrying PETA member and us hunters. We are unlikely to convince the opposition, but we can surely reach those in-between. Aside from explaining why hunting is sustainable and important to us to friends and family, social media can be an excellent tool to present hunting in a positive light to those who are unfamiliar with it. Conversely, social media can cause serious damage to the effort if we are not careful. As hunters who wish our beloved pastime to continue for future generations, it is our responsibility to be intentional about the message we are putting out there for the world to see.
“Never apologize for being a hunter.” This statement has been made popular, and even been featured as a t shirt. While I can certainly empathize with the sentiment, this is not the best approach for gaining support. I’m not telling anybody to feel bad about being a hunter; I’m not asking you to say sorry. I am, however calling you out to be an apologist; someone who offers an argument in defense of something controversial. If we share hunting photos on the internet, eventually, someone who is not familiar with it, and perhaps disagrees with it will see it eventually. It is not uncommon to get hateful comments after posting photos of a hunt. Rather than engaging in name-calling and belittling, we must be prepared to give a fact-based defense of hunting, while keeping the mindset that our goal is to show someone the light, rather than to belittle and demean them that we might feel justified and “unapologetic.”
While social media can be used as a tool to educate, it can also do great harm to the movement. We must be cognizant of how the things that we are posting will be viewed by non-hunters, and furthermore, how the opposition could use it against us. Recently, a video posted to YouTube, went viral after an anti-hunter with a large sphere of influence took issue with the method of take used in the film. The hunter, Josh Bowmar took a bear with a spear while his wife Sarah filmed. Because of the outrage by the anti-hunting crowd, the Bowmars lost a sponsorship from Under Armor due to bad publicity, and there is now a petition to outlaw spear hunting. I doubt that when Josh and Sarah posted the video to YouTube, they expected the likes of Ricky Gervais to cause it to go viral with such a negative message. Aside from losing endorsements, the couple has also received numerous death threats and hateful messages. What was not shown in the short YouTube video were the months leading up to the hunt that Josh spent building the spear, practicing, and planning. It didn’t say that he was an all American collegiate javelin thrower, nor did it say that the kinetic energy and the cutting diameter of the spear meant almost instant death for the bear. No. It only showed a muscle-bound dude in camo screaming in triumph after accomplishing what he had spent a year preparing for. As a hunter, I get it. I was excited just watching the film, but I also immediately though “oh no” as I saw how it could be misconstrued.
While most of us don’t have a major sponsorship to worry about losing, we can certainly learn from this story. The Bowmars were not making a film with the intention of the whole world seeing it. They did not anticipate it going viral on an international level, and the surely did not expect it to evoke the kind of anti-hunting rage that it did. Admittedly, the average social media account is on a much smaller scale, but if we are not careful, we can do great damage to the future of hunting.
We must be deliberate in painting a picture of hunting that is palatable to the people who are on the fence. Share photos and anecdotes of the entire process, not just the trophy. Tell people about the time you put in in the offseason preparing and scouting. Show that you are utilizing the meat, and that getting it back home is a lot more involved than buying a package of steaks. Show that you respect the animal in your photos; avoid distasteful images, try to present your trophy in a natural pose.
Come with facts. If someone gives you the opportunity to advocate for hunting, or to defend your position, be prepared to explain the success of the Western Model for Conservation. Know about the Pittman-Robertson Act, a voluntary excise tax on hunting equipment that goes directly to conservation. We as hunters know how important conservation is to us, but the fact of the matter is that the general non-hunting public does not. The opposition is working tirelessly to tell the rest of the world that we are ignorant savages who get our rocks off by killing things. They use terms like “Sport hunting,” and “trophy hunting” to muddy the waters. Sure, we hunt for “sport,” though I wouldn’t word it thusly. Some of us are in pursuit of a trophy animal, but that doesn’t mean that we shoot an animal merely for its head and leave the meat to spoil. The opposition to hunting is busy litigating and funding propositions to take rights away from hunters in the name of “animal rights” while giving less than 1% of funds for real conservation efforts. Meanwhile hunting license sales generate 1.6 billion annually per the NSSF. Yes, I said billion.
Approval ratings for hunting with the pretext “for meat” are much higher than those of hunting “for sport.” While it is noted that the real meaning of the term “sport hunting” is misconstrued, it is important to take notice of the fact that hunting for meat is much more palatable to the general populace. Obviously responsible hunters are hunting for meat. Things like wanton waste laws legally obligate the hunter to utilize the meat, but the general non-hunter doesn’t know that.
If you care about leaving a legacy for future generations and preserving a way of life, you must take action. We can no longer afford to stand idly by in the background. Social media gives each of us a unique platform to take part in the fight. Make no mistake, the opposition is aggressively trying to tell the rest of the world that we hunt to satisfy some unevolved primal rage because we are uneducated and uncivilized. In the interest of self-preservation and conservation, we must show the world otherwise.