Having never hunted a day in his life, Vincent Chapman, a rap and hip-hop music video producer, was invited by John Annoni, Camp Compass founder, African-American teacher and sportsman, to film a short documentary titled, “Camouflaging Our Differences.”
From the depths of a cold January duck swamp, the nine-minute film highlighted black, white and Latino hunters and their shared passion for the wild. The crew of hunters, accompanied by World Champion duck caller Antonio “Duckman” Jones, only killed one duck over the three-day trek. Annoni told me he was frustrated at the lack of shooting and didn’t know how they were going to pull together enough footage for the film. Chapman was moved by the experience and wrote to Annoni after the hunt:
“Coming out to Arkansas changed my perspective on many things, especially race relations. All races have much more in common than differences. If everyone would find that common ground instead of looking at the color of skin, stereotypes and differences, then this world would be a loving place.”
So an activity like hunting, often typecast as something only conservative white guys do, is a pursuit African-Americans not only enjoy, but also find central to their cultural history. Organizations like Camp Compass, Outdoor Afro, and The Black Wolf Hunting Club, and individuals including NFL players Trent Cole, Fletcher Cox and Bo Jackson, and outdoor industry personalities Josh Carney and Bub Jackson, show there is a strong interest in the wild among minority groups.
Outdoor Afro, a global organization that helps coordinate simple trips like hiking and backpacking in the African-American Community, has over 2 million members worldwide. Meanwhile, Annoni’s Camp Compass engages inner-city youth and provides a structured introduction to the outdoors.
Carolyn Finney, an assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley, wrote a book titled “Black Faces, White Spaces.” In it, she uncovers the deep connection the African-American community has with the wild. She also notes the impact of racial barriers such as segregation and Jim Crow laws in the early parts of the 20th century. The outdoors weren’t excluded and the impact was lasting. A 2014 Boston Globe article reported:
“Finney traces the environmental legacy of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, which mapped the wilderness as a terrain of extreme terror and struggle for generations of blacks—as well as a place of refuge.”
The National Survey of Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife-Associated Recreation — as compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — reports participation in hunting by African-American and other minorities at around 5 percent.
“The product hunting is supposed to produce is not antlers, but people,” said Annoni. “The wild shapes people in ways we cannot fully explain.”
The wild, cast as a place of refuge, needs no explanation for Indianapolis Colts linebacker Trent Cole. An avid sportsman and host of “The Blitz TV,” Cole said, “I don’t ever play the race card or draw that line of distinction. Our culture may be one of the safest places for people of all races because of the intensity of the passion we all share.” Cole says he doesn’t see race as the barrier. Instead, barriers are about relationships and limited time for African-Americans, just as they are for any other race. “It is who you have the chance to watch and learn from,” he said. “It is the extra time, access to property and basic gear, not race.”
Cole, who is known as “The Hunter,” among teammates and players in the NFL, says he watched his stepfather hunt rabbits every weekend and learned from his Uncle Jerry, who hunted with Fred Bear, and was the driving force behind Cole’s infectious love for archery and, eventually, filming. “I know I am lucky that I was raised in a family where hunting was just a part of what we did and I had people to take my brothers and me afield,” Cole said. “My middle school years were the years which impacted my life the most and turned me into the hunter I am today.”
Introducing someone new to hunting is as easy as simply inviting them to join you in the blind. Annoni told me that, as hunters, we do not always do a great job at promoting ourselves as good and caring people.
“We often make ourselves inaccessible at times instead of lending a hand outside of our scope,” Annoni said. “The hardest part of introducing anyone to hunting, not just a black person, is building the bridge to access. Our industry leaders need to lead in this way.
Shifting demographics in our country to urban centers does not necessarily mark the end of hunting as we know it. It will require more effort on the behalf of dedicated hunters everywhere to spread the message and provide opportunities to others. While people like Cole, Annoni and Chapman do not see distinctions among black or white sportsmen, hunters throughout the country can take lessons from some of the outdoor leaders in the African-American community who practice the outreach they preach. If we can highlight the positive impact the wild has on people of all ethnicities, then we will be able to preserve the future of hunting for generations to come.