Article contributed by Field Staff Writer J. Minich.
Chances are I am speaking to the choir here, but it’s on my mind today. I started writing largely to learn more about the conservation aspect of being a hunter. This is a principle that I see as being inseparably tied to the conservation aspect of hunting.
Let’s face it; we live in a hyper sensitive time and place. No matter what we do, rest assured that someone is offended these days and has a platform to share their discontent. As hunters and conservationists, where do we fit into this dynamic?
The latest outrage, which prompted me to write about this, is over a video I saw today posted by a guy named Josh Bowmar. Mr. Bowmar speared a black bear in Alberta. No, this bear did not have a human name or live on a zoo-like refuge. Yes, he killed it using a spear thrown with his own powerful right arm.
Sounds pretty awesome, right! Well, not really. The problem is that Mr. Bowmar posted a video of the hunt on YouTube, and it has since offended countless people, of course, to the point of the story being picked up by some national media outlets. In my opinion, the primary issue lies within the fact that Mr. Bowmar had an absolutely ridiculous ego driven, joyous reaction after he fatally wounded the bear with a less than ideally placed throw. He also baited the bear, but in my opinion that becomes a fairly insignificant debate had he not disrespected his prey, which ruined an otherwise impressive feat.
Why should we care?
Because each viral fiasco like this or the Zimbabwe lion incident incrementally jeopardizes the future of hunting, plain and simple. Imagine a world where hunting is illegal. It may not happen in my lifetime, but it’s closer than you may think. As much as we like to run around touting fancy terms like the “North American Model of Conservation” and “sound scientific management”, anyone with a lick of common sense knows it is a good old fashioned public relations battle that will ultimately decide the fate of hunting as we move forward into a bizarrely uncertain future.
It’s really quite simple. Hunters, I don’t think I need to explain to you how ingrained hunting is in our souls. It’s almost insulting to call it a sport, it is more than a lifestyle, it is us; hunting is who we are. We are predators just as much as a wolf is. Here is the thing; this is an exclusive bond we share with our ancestors and fellow hunters dating back millennia. Non-hunters simply do not understand this bond; the hunting instinct is so dormant in them that they have absolutely no understanding of it.
Anti-hunters, on the other hand, have a strongly emotional opposition to what we do. From our viewpoint, it is clearly irrational, but what we lack in perspective is that their viewpoint is skewed from lacking this essential element of humanity, from connecting with their past through the hunting instinct. We will rarely, if ever, change the minds of anti-hunters because they are just as emotionally vested in their cause as we are in ours, even if theirs is based on completely irrational factors such as humanized animal traits.
That leaves the large majority of people who are relatively neutral about hunting. They may hold opinions of what methods are fair, or quibble over which animals constitute fair game, but largely they remain deferential to what we do as a whole. These are the people that we cannot afford to offend and turn into emotionally vested anti-hunters, because each time we do that, we move a step closer toward the end of legal hunting. Yet I can promise you each time a video like this goes viral, it does just that. This is why the public relations battle is absolutely critical to conservation.
So how do we win the public relations battle, and keep the general population from becoming anti-hunters? The answer is so simple: TREAT THE ANIMALS WITH RESPECT!
Whether you are in the business of filming hunts or just describing your hunt to some friends in a bar, we must always respect the animals we target. To take a life is a reverent, sacred act. Do not scream and carry on like you just won the lottery. Do not use derogatory language to describe the kill. To respect the animals is not to use a filter or censor the real story, either. Sometimes we don’t always hit the animals perfectly, and they suffer. To do so is the most miserable thing that can happen, far worse than an unfilled tag. I’ve been there, having wounded an animal, and I count it among the worst moments of my life. We cannot sugarcoat the facts that are out there, we just have to tell the real story, and logical people understand that nature is cruel and humans have an inherent right to participate in it. Sometimes things go wrong. Just don’t be disrespectful.
What’s remarkable about this from a conservation standpoint is that it’s not just rogue Youtube boneheads; this issue pervades the biggest players in the hunting industry. Tune into the Outdoor Channel and you regularly see animals being disrespected by hosts carrying on disrespectfully, shouting about dirt naps and the like. How the sponsors can be so short-sighted to sink to the lowest common denominator of bloodsport entertainment is a completely illogical travesty. Don’t get me wrong, there are so many good representations out there that focus on the hunt, not the kill, but these get lost in the shuffle and the “good guys” get lumped in with everyone else in the minds of the general public. [Steven Rinella has always been one of my “famous” role models and is a great example of the “good guys”. Check out his work if you need to reprogram your respect for hunting]
I say all this not to divide hunters, but as a plea to start healthy conversations and stick together to ensure that hunting is represented for what it really is. To represent ourselves the right way as we lead into the future.
Hunting is conservation, hunting is ingrained in us, hunting is us and we are hunting. Realize what hunting is and act appropriately about it for the sake of everyone, and thank you to all of those that do so.