What Story Are You Telling?

John Bradley

By John Bradley

Only five percent of the U.S. population hunts. That leaves 95 percent of the population as non-hunters. They are our neighbors, family, friends, or friends of friends, and so on. That population will ultimately decide if hunting is allowed to continue. If someone who hasn’t been closely exposed to hunting from a friend or family member watches or sees a hunting show, a video on YouTube, or a “grip and grin” Instagram post, how will they view hunting?  Now, suppose that same person asked you why you hunt. What would you say? Would your response engage this non-hunter through positive messaging or turn him or her away from it? We can’t always engage non-hunters in conversation, but they do still judge the hunting community by the media we put out and our behavior in the field.

Given the obstacles that already stand in the way of hunting participation, we cannot take the chance of outraging non-hunters. Every opportunity we have to talk about hunting with someone or portray it on social media is a chance to highlight the importance of legal hunting, and we must do so in a way that tells the whole story of the hunt, not just the end result. That’s the best way to ensure hunters and hunting maintain a good reputation.

What to Avoid

It goes without saying, that how hunters behave in the field will be the number one factor in how non-hunters view hunting. Very rarely does a legal hunt make the news. Instead, stories like a huskie being mistaken for a wolf or a very famous lion getting killed makes the headlines. Locally, hunters often get a black eye from a few bad actors who leave trash in the field, dump carcasses in shelter belts, or rut up roads. Avoiding these activities and policing our own are the duties of all hunters.

Online, hunters often gawk over a turkey’s beard length or a buck’s antlers. When talking with other hunters it’s easy to discuss what an animal scores. While it is natural to admire the trophy game that we harvest, that trophy component cannot be our sole focus. While there are many benefits to targeting mature animals, non-hunters can and will get the wrong impression and may view it negatively as trophy hunting. Instead, keeping the focus on the high-quality meat from the harvest, whether for yourself or to share it with others is critical. Additionally, sharing the entire process of the hunt – the scouting, the hiking and glassing, the camaraderie of hunting camp, the harvest and the butchering process, and the delicious meals – helps paint a more complete picture of hunting. They won’t know the full story unless we show and tell them.

What to Emphasize
Like most hunters, the number one reason I hunt is to obtain meat. Wild game makes up most of my diet. Each trip to the freezer reminds me of the successful hunt, but more importantly, it instills peace of mind. Hunters know where the meat we eat came from, how it was harvested and handled, and by whom it was cooked and prepared. Those are good points to share with non-hunters.

Another benefit of hunting is that it often brings together family and friends. Whether at hunting camp or in the preparing of a meal, spending time with family and friends is an important aspect of the American hunting heritage that we must preserve for upcoming generations and share with those who may not hunt.

Finally, hunting is wildlife conservation’s largest component. Without regulated hunting, and the funds it generates, wildlife habitat and game populations would suffer. Hunting generates billions of dollars that allow our state and federal agencies to manage wildlife and habitat. Hunting also provides a wildlife management benefit, too. For example, in areas where game populations are exploding, wildlife agencies have a close eye on everything and can increase harvest objectives. Likewise, when populations are decreasing, they can reduce harvest objectives accordingly to ensure we maintain healthy populations. Hunters also have a vested interest in game and non-game species. We often volunteer our free time, donate dollars to conservation organizations, and advocate for wildlife issues on the local, state, and federal level. Without hunters’ dollars and advocacy, the future of wildlife of all kinds that everyone enjoys, hunter or not, would be grim.

Being a hunter is a privilege, and with that privilege comes responsibility. It is important to keep in mind that we, as hunters, are in the super minority. Because we are outnumbered by people who do not hunt, each one of us has a significant role in representing the larger community. It is up to us to convey the hunting way of life well. As ethical hunters, we have nothing to hide, so be open to questions and share honestly with non-hunters. Most of the time, we are not trying to convert them; we are attempting to explain what hunting means to us and why we do it. Sending the right message about hunting is the standard we all must strive for, regardless of whether it is through social media or in person.  

John Bradley is a Dakota Edge Outdoors contributing writer and the Executive Director of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation.

Featured Photo: A Fuller View.  Beyond photos of the harvest, sharing the full experience with non-hunters as to why you hunt helps bring the heritage into better focus.  DEO Photo by John Bradley. 

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