Would you attend a job interview with a stained shirt full of holes or in a clean button-up blouse or polo? Would you swear and complain or smile and try to make a good impression? Probably the latter because looking and being professional will help you get the job. Managers don’t want to hire people who look sloppy or act rude because it might put their business in a bad light.
The same goes for hunting. People will judge you by how you look, talk and act. And because only 4% of the American population hunts, the other 96% are actively watching, analyzing and critiquing what hunters do at home and in the field.
Research proves the majority of Americans approve of hunting for meat. They also support legal, regulated hunting and respect people who pursue game animals with a bow and arrow. While most hunters are ethical and responsible, those who disrespect wildlife and disobey laws tend to give all hunters a bad rap. Those destructive behaviors could push people who approve of hunting to eventually oppose it, and that puts the future of all hunting in jeopardy.
In other words, your hunting image makes an impression. So, ask yourself, what impression are you giving people about hunting?
Allie D’Andrea, aka Outdoors Allie, said a hunter’s image has two parts: a physical in-person presence and a digital online presence. “Both are a reflection of how the world views hunting,” she said.
People hunt for all different reasons: to secure meat, for camaraderie, because it’s a family tradition, to shoot a trophy buck, and to exercise or have fun. D’Andrea said condensing all those reasons into one cohesive public image of hunters isn’t possible, but telling each individual story is. “I think it’s okay that there is not just one narrative and one story being told because everyone hunts for different reasons,” she said. “But is the nonhunting community okay with all of those different reasons? No.”
Nonhunters often frown upon trophy hunters, but they may also misconstrue what trophy hunters do and how they approach the sport. In fact, many nonhunters think trophy hunters shoot an animal for its antlers or horns and leave the meat behind, but in reality, wasting game meat is illegal just about everywhere. Most “trophy hunters” either enjoy the meat themselves or donate it to those in need.
Regardless of why you hunt, if you’re going to tell your story, you must do it honestly and genuinely to help nonhunters understand who you are and why you do what you do. It’s easy for someone to misinterpret a hunter’s photo or comment on social media. Phrases like “If it’s brown, it’s down!” might seem harmless to other hunters who’ve heard them before, but a nonhunter could think it sounds ruthless and vengeful, or that you’re killing just to kill. Saying instead, “I’m open to shooting the first legal deer I see to provide meat for my family” explains the same intentions, but in a more respectful manner. What you say and how you say it matters, and unfortunately, a negative reaction can have a lasting effect on a nonhunter’s opinion and perception of you, and of hunting in general.
It’s also important to be cautious if you post gory content or share sensitive topics. Killing and blood are normal parts of shooting and processing game animals, but they can be off-putting to nonhunters, so you must approach the subject with compassion. If you want to share potentially polarizing content, D’Andrea said to be kind and positive in your response to comments or questions from friends and strangers. “Invite people into your world openly and honestly,” she said.
For example, if someone says, “How can you kill an innocent animal?” you could respond by saying, “Hunting has been a way of life since the beginning of time. I prefer to take an active role in sourcing my own meat instead of buying it from the grocery store. Wild animals have survival instincts and the ability to escape. I’m open to sharing my beliefs and having a discussion about hunting. Give me a call if you want to talk.”
If possible, try to focus on what you love about hunting, and why you’re passionate about it. “Your story, told with passion and kindness, is what creates a positive hunting image,” D’Andrea said.
Plus, research shows that it takes a hunter to make a hunter. Talking about hunting and explaining why you hunt brings awareness to the activity. It also piques curiosity in nonhunters, which might prompt them to try it. As you share your passion, be mindful of your approach, language and intention. Don’t just talk about killing the animal. Explain that hunting takes skill and patience and requires practice, scouting, and knowledge of game animals and their habitat. Many nonhunters see only bits and pieces of a hunter’s success. Show them the entire process. You might even want to explain that hunters fund conservation and habitat management efforts by buying licenses and equipment. They also practice fair chase principles. The more positive things you can bring to light about hunters, the better.
The hunting community must appeal to nonhunters through common goals, motivations and values. Show you care about wildlife and wild places and let your story reflect how safe and ethical you are afield. You can also invite people along on hunting-related adventures, like managing habitat or cleaning up trash in the woods, so they see firsthand the work you do to improve the quality of life for animals. Whatever you do, know you’re in the public eye and you’re representing all hunters. Do your best to portray the hunting community positively. Doing so creates allies and advocates, which helps ensure the future of hunting.