Fighting the Anti-Hunters
About 10 years ago, I logged onto America Online for the first time. Suddenly there was an entire global community at my fingertips. One of the first benefits I realized through AOL was the opportunity to virtually meet hunters from all over the country. The forum gave us an opportunity to tell tall tales, share tips, and discuss issues. Our topics ranged from regional differences in game behavior to caliber choices for hunting rifles and, eventually, to anti-hunters. At that point, I had always lived in the South-- a bastion of hunting tradition, where the spectre of anti-hunting sentiment seldom reared its head. I was familiar with some basic issues, but had never really encountered the rhetoric or been involved in the debate. Someone directed me to a discussion board where hunters and anti-hunters debated the pros and cons of hunting. Months (or was it years?) later I emerged, exhausted and a bit depressed from what was truly a battle royale.
Oddly enough, at the same time that I discovered AOL, I was completing my college coursework with a senior seminar entitled "American Nature Writers". My lifetime as a hunter provided me an interesting perspective in a course composed largely of much younger, more idealistic, non-hunters. We all had an interest in the environment, but it was surprising to me to see how my hands-on experience colored my attitude, as opposed to the opinions and ideas they had formulated from books and television.
Where is all this going? The tie-in is that the juxtaposition of academic and practical made a huge impact on the way I look at the arguments for and against hunting. Because of my involvement with the AOL discussion boards, and issues that had come up during that college course, I developed my senior paper around the arguments in the defense of hunting. The question to be answered, "Is Hunting Defensible?"
When I started into the paper, I was fully expecting to attack and expose the myths and misinformation presented by anti-hunting organizations such as the Humane Society of the US (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). What I ended up with was a much less clear-cut conclusion. To be sure, the anti-hunting movement is providing a lot of misleading and often downright incorrect information. But I found that the pro-hunting side is equally ill-equipped for the debate, especially when it came to scientific support for most hunting practices. I eventually withdrew my initial proposal, and completed the paper on the premise that the hunting/anti-hunting debate is a purely emotional argument, where neither side could provide a solid, scientifically sound case.
Essentially, the anti-hunters feel that it is intrinsically "wrong" to kill animals for recreation (sport). Hunters feel that there is nothing wrong with killing wild animals. Challenged to defend their sport, hunters provide justifications which the antis are quick to counter. For example, a commonly quoted defense of hunting is the need to control populations. The antis are quick to point out that most of the animals (most birds, many "varmints", etc.) we hunt are not in danger of overpopulation. They're right. On the other hand, antis have claimed that teaching children to hunt leads to a lack of respect for life and a predisposition to violence. Hunters, of course, counter that there is no factual basis to that claim, and in fact, most psychological and sociological research indicates that there is no relationship between hunting and societal violence.
It's not, of course, as though all of the non-emotional defenses of hunting are invalidated by the antis. For example, the amount of money generated by hunting and fishing goes a long way toward the protection of habitat. Anti-hunters may try to put other spins on this fact, but without the dollars generated both by licenses and taxes, as well as voluntary contributions through organizations like Ducks Unlimited and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, many of the wild places we now have would simply not exist. Also, there are some cases where hunting is, truly, an effective management tool. For example, in most of the East, whitetail deer populations have overrun the habitat. Without any other large predators, man is the only animal available to reduce their numbers...whether that reduction should be facilitated by sport hunting or professional extermination is the only reasonable argument here.
But in general, most of these arguments are weak and unsupportable. Logical argument in this issue almost invariably leads to a draw, because the heart of the whole thing is an emotional decision. It is truly a belief system, just like religion or spirituality, and systems of belief cannot be conclusively debated (as the millenia of warfare and violence should have demonstrated).
So, how can we defend hunting? Only by defending the value of personal choice, and by understanding that facts and figures can be as misused by the proponents as they can by the opponents. We have to recognize and expose the emotional nature of the argument, and do away with the trite and overused justifications upon which the whole debate has hinged in the past. We don't hunt to preserve populations or to keep animals from going hungry. With very few exceptions, we are not hunting for subsistence. We hunt because we love the sport. Let's stop denying this basic argument and put our cards on the table. Then we need to let the anti-hunters try to explain to the non-hunters why one personal choice is "wrong" while theirs is "right".
It's been a long time since I moved away from AOL, but I learned a lot from my intitial introduction to that global community. It's an opportunity to learn, as well as a chance to teach. As hunters, we need to do plenty of both.
What Else Can We Do?
How do we, as hunters, defend our sport from the constant assault of anti-hunters? How do we counter the media hype and negative portrayals? I addressed this question in another essay I wrote several years ago, wherein I suggested that we take a deep look inside, and try to see ourselves and our sport as non-hunters see it. I argued that we need to address the negative aspects of our public image, even to the point of sacrificing or restricting some activities and methods which are often perceived as questionable (e.g. road hunting, baiting, hound hunting) in the public eye.
I still believe that the most important first step in creating positive attitudes about hunting is to promote positive images of the sport and the practitioners. . . and then getting those positive images out to the non-hunting public. And I still feel that pro-hunting media sources such as major magazines (e.g. Outdoor Life, Field and Stream, etc.) or television programs (e.g. TNN Outdoors, ESPN Outdoors, etc.) aren't doing enough in this vein. Where HSUS promotes programming such as Animal Television, directed at a more general audience, the "hook-n-bullet" outlets are focussed on a hunting and fishing positive community. They are preaching to the choir. Non-hunters don't tune in to hunt elk with Ted Nugent, but they do tune into Animal Television. How to get that mass-media message out is beyond my expertise. But with the resources of Time Warner (publishers of Outdoor Life and Field and Stream) and Ted Turner at hand, someone ought to be able to figure it out.
One of the most persuasive arguments that I have found in dealing with anti-hunting discussion is simply to ask, "how does regulated, sport hunting hurt the environment?"
Notice that I qualified the question, addressing only "regulated, sport hunting." We are all aware of the excesses of the past, such as market hunting and wholesale slaughter. But we also know that those practices no longer exist. I have willingly staked my future as a hunter on the answer to this question. If, by sport hunting according to the regulations, I am damaging the environment, I will gladly stop the practice. Not only that, but I will work to stop others from practicing as well. But the fact of the matter is, we're not hurting anything. Often, we are making things better... if not through personal actions, then through the money we pour into the sport.
The environmental aspect has another angle as well. For some reason, hunters have an underlying distrust of environmentalist organizations. Many hunters equate "environmentalist" with "anti-hunter". This is a dangerous misperception, and has resulted in hunters finding themselves portrayed as anti-environmental. A current example is the resistance by hunters to the designation of new wilderness areas. Because the wilderness designation will mean the removal or closure of roads, some hunters mistakenly feel that the wilderness movement is part of a conspiracy to close the areas to hunting. Media coverage of the issue puts hunters in opposition to a plan that is widely accepted by the public, adding to the negative image we already have.
I have suggested in many discussions and forums that hunters push past this division, and get involved with environmental organizations. Most hunters would be greatly surprised to find that the aims and goals of environmentalists are generally aligned with the aims and goals of hunters...namely, more healthy habitat. I think that many environmentalists would also be equally surprised. Perhaps there are different philosophical drivers, but should that matter? A primary benefit to this alliance is that hunters can have more impact in designing and driving the environmentalist agenda, thus ensuring that hunters' concerns are met early on.
Other strategies that I would recommend to the individual hunter include familiarizing oneself with the anti-hunting arguments. Read the anti-hunting material and see what they're saying. Then take the time to find out if they're right, especially if you plan to use this material in debate. With the World Wide Web, an incredible amount of data is available for rapid retrieval. Sad as it is to say, I wouldn't rely on the standard hunting magazines as sources of information. Misinformation and propaganda flows freely from these venerable sources (this seems especially true in recent times).
Participate in dialog with an anti-hunter (one on one dialog is best, since it eliminates the "gang mentality" of a group discussion), but control yourself. There is a lot to learn from listening, and an amazing amount that can be taught by speaking only the bare minimum... as long as that minimum is meaningful. Remember that you will probably never convince an anti-hunter to change that personal philosophy. But you can work toward exposing their feelings as just that... personal philosophy. Remember you are not trying to turn this person into a hunter. You only want them to accept that some people are hunters, and that the choice should be personal rather than forced on anyone.
Dialog is also useful for putting a human face on "the enemy". I know several people who generally condemn hunters, but make exceptions for the hunters they have met personally. The obvious reason for this exception is that meeting an individual breaks away the stereotypes and shows that hunters aren't the monsters they've been portrayed to be. And it works both ways. It's very useful to meet someone and to realize that the only difference between anti and hunter is a simple philosophical bent. It's perfectly OK to agree to disagree, which is what my anti-hunting friends and I have come to.
I have found, though, that my association with some anti-hunters has caused them to work harder to justify their position. This is a reversal from the norm. Typically, the onus of justification is on the hunters, who find that they must defend something that they had always taken pretty much for granted. It is no wonder that some of our arguments fall so short, given that we're being forced to defend ourselves against an illogical position.
If you are unwilling to make the effort of informing yourself with facts, or if you do not think you can maintain calm during what is guaranteed to be an emotional dialog, then I'd respectfully suggest that you not involve yourself in public debate. When a hunter loses his temper on a message forum, or in a public debate, it only reinforces the negative stereotypes the antis want so badly to promote. Hunters who rail incoherently, spouting misinformation are as damaging to the sport as poachers and slobs. There are other ways to help the cause of hunting, such as setting a good example in the field. Getting involved in habitat restoration work is always good, as is involvement with organizations such as Hunters for the Hungry (where available).
Finally, question the status quo. There are a few large organizations out there that presume to speak for all hunters. Most hunters never bother to speak out or publicly disagree with these organizations, no matter their true feelings. Use letters to the editor to challenge magazine articles, for example. Make a phone call. Post to discussion forums. Occasionally these organizations have lost touch with their perceived constituency, and a few voices raised can help redirect policy or position.
It's not a lost cause, but it is becoming more of an uphill battle. You can get involved, or you can watch from the sidelines. I suppose that's another of those personal choices. But one choice could be productive. The other... well...
Here are a couple of very interesting links exploring both Hunter Ethics and the Defense of Hunting.
A few great books to read include:
Read this stuff, and learn.
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Copyright 2000 WPL