Hunters' growing perception problem

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D.S. Pledger
Sunday, February 2, 2014

“O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us.”

Robert Burns

Occasionally I run into a thought-provoking piece or column in the various publications I read, concerning the image of hunters.

Such was the case last month. One, titled “Our Future” (as in the future of hunting) written by author Sterling Holbrook, gives a rather candid assessment of what at least one segment of the non-hunting public thinks of us.

Holbrook describes how he piloted a helicopter for the National Park Service in Alaska, ferrying park workers to various remote locations. Then he writes about a group of “parkies” he worked with, which consisted of five women and a man.

These were not “tree huggers”—the kind of anti-hunting zealots that shooters and archers often regard as the enemy.

As Holbrook puts it, “All were experienced naturalists who spent months in the bush, had rafted hundreds of miles of Alaska rivers and enjoyed the harsh interior winters. Hardly overeducated urbanites, these were tough outdoor people who, except for one person, supported subsistence hunting and ate wild meat.

”As the team worked during the fall, however, they were limited to areas where there was not some kind of a hunting season in progress. Everyone except Holbrook (who, unbeknownst to the rest, was a traditional bowhunter) was upset with the notion of interrupting their work to accommodate a bunch of yahoos.

“Each,” he writes, “reported bad experiences with hunters” and expressed the opinion that the notion of hunters as “woodsmen” or “naturalists” was a joke.

“Their experience was that hunters littered, only cared about killing the animal for the antlers or head, wasted the meat and would use any means to obtain a trophy. They considered our major failing to be support of the constant lobbying for development of public lands and wilderness by big business.

“My guess is that a lot of this perception came from observing over-equipped, under-skilled 'out-of-state sports' who were more interested in taking trophies than in the actual hunting experience itself, but to the parkies, this was the way we all operate.”

Another “hunter image” piece that caught my eye was a commentary on the way today's sportsman is portrayed in advertising by the outdoor marketers. In an editorial titled, “Lookin' Good” writer Don Thomas begins:

“Is it just me, or have others noticed that all the hunters appearing in mainstream outdoors publications suddenly look like a cross between movie stars and Navy SEALS on a mission?”

He compares the portrayal of the hunter from a generation ago, when the guys in ads looked more like your father or Uncle Ned to the current one.

“… Glaring back at you from the magazine rack today: male model good looks complete with two day's worth of fashionable stubble, physiques that owe more to Nautilus machines than mountain trails, expressions intended to convey determination and resolve but that more often suggest Rambo-style anger at the quarry and the desire to get even.

“What's going on here?” Thomas asks, and then answers his own question. “The problem begins with marketing demographics. Industry just loves 18- to 30-year-olds, the group most likely to fall for the technology-inspired shortcuts to success that have changed hunting so dramatically of late. And they're more apt to identify with hunters who look like celebrities than hunters who look like hunters. Ours has become a youth-oriented popular culture concerned first with how we look, and second with how we feel. What we do comes in a distant third.”

How does this macho image play with those who neither hunt nor totally understand it? I suspect that it certainly doesn't do much to make them think of us as thoughtful, conservation-minded users of the outdoors.

Unfortunately, if that image sells gear, this portrayal is not going to change and there's not a lot we can do about it.

The biggest detractors to our sport might not be the folks who take potshots at hunters, portraying us as aggressive insensitive boors who are trampling nature, or as sullen tough guys. Perhaps it is those within our own ranks who provide the ammunition to back them up.

D.S. Pledger is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at maus16@centurytel.net.

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