Category Archives: social media

HuntFit or HuntFat?

In the preceding few years, I have noticed a trend creeping into every aspect of the hunting community, and that is an increased focus on the health benefits of hunting, which is a noble thing to be focusing on.  Time spent outdoors is undoubtedly beneficial, a tidy hike through the woods being far preferable to dozens of other sedentary pastimes, and the numerous health benefits of consuming wild game has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

That said, there also seem to be an effort afoot to glorify an ultra-fit outdoors lifestyle as somehow ‘better’ or in some way more rewarding method of pursuing game.  Under Armour or Sitka Gear do not have hunting pro-staff members.  They have “Athletes”, which in a hunting context sounds patently ridiculous.  This whole thing has been on my mind and has been thought-provoking to say the least.

Is this purely self-aggrandizing machismo?  Marketing? A way to sub-divide the hunting community into classes?  Is there merit in the dichotomy between the HuntFit movement and what I lovingly call the HuntFat movement, and does this dichotomy denigrate anyone who isn’t fit enough to pack out whole elk quarters or climb mountains in search of bighorn sheep? Does this devalue the hunting experience at large of those who are not in peak physical condition? What are the metrics?

This fellow did not take care of himself very well. Photo Credit: Rory Eckenswiller

I can remember the first time my own lack of fitness impacted my hunting experience.  A one-time collegiate athlete, I had let an inactive lifestyle take over, and between nine hours at a desk every day, a long commute in the car, and a generally poor diet, I had gotten more than soft…I had gotten fat.  My cousin Luke and I were hiking out to a couple of deer stands in the Parry Sound district are we hunt in, and I was rapidly getting sweaty, winded, and leg-weary.  More than once I stumbled slightly over fallen tree limbs that my legs were just too sore to step over.  I was breathing hard and loud, and I was so damp from sweat that I almost immediately caught a chill when I finally reached my stand. Luke, never one to exercise an internal monologue, basically asked if I was going to keel over from a heart attack on the way back out.

Now there are certainly areas of the hunting experience that don’t simply benefit from being ultra-fit, but that essentially mandate it.  I would be courting danger to head on a high-country goat hunt in miserable physical shape.  I would be doing the animal a disservice if I were pack-hunting and managed to shoot an elk or moose in a spot where the butchery had to happen at the kill site.  It takes physical strength and stamina to pack out meat, horns, and hides. I can see why they say that safari hunting on the ground in Africa requires physical and mental stamina, especially when hunting dangerous game.  All valid points in favour incorporating high levels of physical fitness into the hunting tradition.

But what about the ‘rest of us’?  Last year, my doctor told me it was time for a change, or I was staring down the barrel of obesity, diabetes, and cardiac problems, and I wasn’t even 40 years old. I was a hunter that indulged in rich food, both at deer camp and day-to-day.  I did hardly any physical fitness and had not been into a gym for years. I rode the ATV if the country got rough, and I got winded dragging deer or carrying a backload of decoys. I was fat, and it was a source of good-natured ribbing from the camp boys. Maybe I was not ‘okay’ with it, but I was comfortable with it.

So for myself and my family, not for hunting, I committed a whole lot of time, effort, and money to getting in shape.  I’m there now.  Down 50lbs, way down from almost 32% body fat, and up lean muscle.  I feel great, and some say I look great.  All good things, but none of which much to do with hunting.  I’m sure it can’t help but be beneficial, but I don’t think it makes me a better hunter (because I have no idea how to quantify ‘better’ in a hunting capacity) and it certainly doesn’t make me think less of anyone who wants to live differently.

This fellow does take better care of himself, but it hasn’t made him any better at deer hunting.

For a long time I’ve personally resented the HuntFit movement, because I took it (and still do to some degree) as an attack on the majority of hunters who simply enjoy the outdoors recreationally and may, in the course of their day-to-day lives, be out of shape, or slightly obese, or otherwise physically inferior to those who subscribed to this model of physical fitness uber alles.

I consider it in many ways to be exclusionary, and there are certain individuals out there that privately and publicly act in a definitively exclusionary way.  The outdoors just seems to be an extension of the gym to them, some personal best just waiting to be conquered.  I find it offensive at worst, ridiculously myopic at best. It takes away the democratic feel of the North American hunting tradition, and boils it down to ‘fit’ versus ‘unfit’.

I can also safely I’ve never shared a hunting camp with a hunter of the ‘physically fit’ variety.  That’s not to say I have not hunted with very athletic and in-shape people…because I have.  But more accurately, my hunting per group is just a group of average guys, some that could use to drop a few (or more than a few) pounds, some that while slim, couldn’t jog 5 minutes without breaking down, and others who ripple with muscles and live a lifestyle that renders them terrifyingly strong.  But no one in my goose, duck, deer, or turkey camps makes a point of staying in shape as part of their preparation for hunting. And feats of strength rarely factor into what we value in our hunting camps…although arm-wrestling does occasionally break out.

Likewise, in the past I have shared hunting camps with some of the most physically out-of-shape people I’ve ever seen. Fat guys, chain-smokers, heavy drinkers, party animals, loud-snorers, fatty-food loving guys, and more.  And you know what?  Every one of them all loved hunting, and I never saw their experience diminished by their bad habits.  Are their personal (and by extension, deer-camp) lifestyles beneficial and worth emulating?  Probably not, but that’s not for me to decide.

I’m reasonably fit and healthy now, and I still have the same obsession for chasing waterfowl and turkeys that I did when I had sleep apnea.  Losing weight and getting stronger did not ignite some hidden love of deer hunting that I did not know existed.  I still like it just the same as I did when I was creeping up to 270lbs.  Can I get to a deer stand without getting winded? Sure. That’s a nice fringe benefit, but is my deer hunting experience quantifiably better? No sir, it isn’t.

I’ve tried to think of all the arguments that are coming my way.  People will say I didn’t love hunting enough to give it my full physical effort.  That I don’t have ‘appreciation’ for what it takes to hunt fit, whatever that means.  That is am just condoning lazy, “slob” hunting habits. And so on, and so on.  There is an absolute truth here, and that is if you are in the minority of ultra-fit hunters and you treat that as some means to demean and devalue the vast, vast, vast majority of everyday hunters…or worse yet, try to use this HuntFit trend to make a tidy living off exploiting this majority of everyday hunters, then you are one of the things wrong with the modern hunting culture.  Not a popular stance, but I stand by it.

Anyhow.

I decided to change for my kids and my wife.  If there’s a hunting benefit at all, it might be that I’ll get to enjoy hunting experiences with my boys for a longer time if I’m healthier.  That’s still a ‘might be’ only because I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and all the burpees, crunches, and wind-sprints won’t help me then.

So, just go out and enjoy your hunting however you like it. If it means indulging in rich food and whiskey at dinner, riding the ATV because you can’t climb hills, and hunkering into a weather-proof blind in a comfy chair, so be it.  If you want to do chin-ups and push-ups before you head out to scale craggy peaks in search of game in some test of man against nature, or you against yourself, then go ahead and do that too, even though I just don’t understand it.

In either case, just be safe, have fun, and pass on the tradition. Because the future, and history of hunting is bigger than you, despite whether you choose to HuntFit or HuntFat.

Stop Telling Me Why You Hunt, or, What’s Your Real Motivation?

As is often the case, social media has been a wellspring of inspiration for content on this site, and in this case I was moved to start thinking about motivation. More specifically, I started thinking about what really motivates hunters.  You see, for the last few days I have been seeing all sorts of pictures, and memes, and slogans, and catchphrases from dozens of people about “Why I Hunt”, and two things are baffling about this to me.

First, all of them seem to, at least in part, ascribe the sole motivation of going hunting to items that in my mind are simply component parts of the whole.

Second, since when was an explanation necessary?

To the second point first.  You see it isn’t that I don’t care why you hunt, it’s more that I don’t consider it to be any of my business.  So long as you are doing it within the confines of the law and your outward representation of the hunting tradition isn’t negatively influencing non-hunters and/or baiting anti-hunters, then my stance is that you have no call to justify yourself to me. In fact, unless you are trying to simply get attention for the generally commonplace fact that you went hunting or you are trying to soft-serve the anti-hunting community with more palatable explanations for why hunting is important, I can see no real reason why you need to crow about it.

I appreciate now if anyone wants to point out the irony of my blog/social media presence as being hypocritical to what I just wrote, but read on and you’ll see what I’m driving at.

I, of course, have my own thoughts and standards about what some might call ‘acceptable practices’ or ‘ethical hunting’ and I may not even personally like how, where, or what you use to do it.  But what I think about you doesn’t matter, and I frankly don’t really have to justify my actions or impress anyone else.  Because despite the mass-social-media, let-me-take-a-selfie, bigger-is-better, and gosh-I-hope-the guys-at-Realtree/Mossy Oak/Remington/Under Armor-see-my-feed-and-offer-me-a-sponsorship mentality that seems to be at the corporate root of all things in the modern hunting world, how I choose to commune with nature and find my happy place does not concern you at all, and so long as you’re okay and your actions don’t jeopardize my ability to independently pursue game in the outdoors, then I have no real right or desire to lecture you about what you are doing. I truly could not care less, in the best, most benignly friendly sense of that statement.

Let’s discuss it over a beer some time.

But to the first, and to my mind more troubling point, is my confusion with the willingly or ignorantly delusional stuff I see used to justify or purify the hunting experience.  I see things like (and I’m paraphrasing) “Frosty fall sunrises are why I hunt” or “Seeing game in its natural environment is why I hunt” or “Spring sunsets are why I hunt”, or “Supporting conservation is why I hunt” or my personal favourite “Being outside in nature is why I hunt” and, frankly, you can do all of those things without actually hunting.  In fact, if they are the prime motivator to what you deem to be the hunting tradition, then you can be a hiker, or a birdwatcher, or a nature photographer and (provided that the memes that you have been posting are true) I can assure you that you will get precisely the same level of fulfillment from any of the above activities, and you won’t get any blood on your hands at all, I swear.

Now, all of those experiential and conservation-themed items above are vastly important and I love all of them probably a little too much myself, but they are not the primary reason that I’m out there.  They are a happy benefit to being out there and they are to be cherished and shared in my mind, but if you are hunting…truly hunting… then you are out there to find and to kill game.

Let that sink in.  Not because I’ve just turned you on to a fact you did not already know and have been perhaps in denial about, but rather let it sink in because if you are saying that sunsets, and sunrises, and pretty birds, and peaceful reflection, or money in the conservationists coffers are the things that get you out to hunt, then you can either leave the rifle at home next time and have a less burdensome walk, or you can start to speak in actual truthful terms and not clichés.  When someone says “I hunt for the meat” or “I hunt to challenge myself against wildlife” then they have my undivided attention.  Even people who say “I hunt for a trophy” or “I hunt to make myself feel important” get a bit of my time because although I can’t say I share their motivation, I can be relatively certain that they are telling the truth and to do those things in the above paragraph you actually have to, you know, hunt.

If you’re proud of being a hunter and want to tell the world about it, knock yourself out; I do it all the time and very much to the displeasure of my friends, coworkers, and loved ones.  But paint the whole picture.

Tell that story about the time you sat for eleven hours in a treestand during a snow storm and saw screw-all.  Tell that story about the time you got lost and tasted those first sickening pangs of fear and confusion.  Tell the story about the time you made a snap shot and then had to track a gut-shot deer for hours before giving up and losing sleep fretting that it probably died in agony because you made a mistake. Explain the inner workings of what it takes to gut a moose or skin a squirrel.  Be not profane, but tell the tales about the shitty side of things and make it real, because it is never always a steady stream of magenta sunsets, meditation to a birdsong soundtrack, and one-shot kills.

And if you think it is or that it will be, I’m sorry, but I’ve got news for you.

Two Types of Attention, or, What a Kindergarten Teacher, Twitter, and Media Studies Have Taught me About Hunting

I took a long time writing this post, partly because it is over 2500 words long, but primarily because I was agonizing (okay, not agonizing, but certainly having second thoughts) over what these words were going to do to my “image”.  Now I’m not referring to my image on this blog, or on Twitter, or in the vast real estate of the internet, because frankly I have no reputation there worth sneezing at.  I was mostly worried about what guys I hunt with that read this blog would think.  This kind of personal confessional is not really in keeping with this forum’s Mission Statement, but in the past three months or so, I’ve come to notice a few things as I’ve been attempting to expand this blog’s reach, and I thought I just had to get these out there.  Come to think of it, my “image” is probably pretty bad in the eyes of my hunting buddies anyways…oh well, here goes anyhow.
I’ve received some emails lately that this blog (and my extended Twitter feed about this blog) are altogether ‘boring’ or ‘dull’ to quote directly.  By the way, this post is not going to change those beliefs.  At the same time I’ve noticed that many other sites and organizations that seem to be doing significantly better than this one have gone, shall we say, over the top in their representation of the gory, macho, or intense imagery of the tradition we all participate in and love.  Now I’m not going to start dragging out names or publications for ridicule or negative examination.  They’ve put their own names out there with their approach and they aren’t hard to find; but I will touch on a couple of positive examples by name because my (minor) recognition is probably worth something.  Now I’m not looking for validation and I don’t need any “You can do it!” or “Don’t change a thing!” emails, because honestly I intend to keep the status quo here.  Why?  Because I’m a stubborn S.O.B. deep down and I’m set in my ways.  But like I said all this social media and somewhat increased traffic it has brought to the blog did get me contemplating what a heightened, edgy approach to advertising and media representation has in store for the future of hunting.
When I was five years old, I had a very excellent kindergarten teacher I won’t name because I respect her a lot and I don’t have her explicit permission to use her name in this forum.  Suffice it to say she was, if I were to use a cliché, the kind of archetype that I think all kindergarten teachers should be.  She was kind, but firm and had what even at my young age I believed was a genuine care for the kids in her charge.  She was in a sense old-school disciplinarily and while my kindergarten year was well past the age of straps or rulers as a means of corporal punishment, she did run a tight ship and didn’t tolerate backtalk or violence or crass behaviour.  In short, I got the feeling that to disappoint her would be sin of near titanic proportions.  Plus she was not above reporting your actions bluntly to your parents, and I don’t know about yours, but mine always sided 100% with the teachers.
Now I told you that glowing review of this teacher’s character to tell you this story.  Patience, I’m getting to the part about hunting.
To use a casual euphemism, let’s just say I had “precocious tendencies” as a child.  I spent a lot of time between the ages of five and ten in front of some pretty hard-case vice-principals and principals, primarily because I had a smart mouth and no (initial) desire to follow rules, instructions, or agendas.  While in kindergarten, I have a vivid memory of doing some sort of spelling exercise at that young age, and I did very well at it.  I already had a slight reputation for being problematic my teacher took me aside and very directly and concisely explained to me the difference between good attention and bad attention.  The bad attention came from running my mouth rudely and getting in scraps (verbal or otherwise) with other kids.  The good attention came from excelling in school and helping others do well, and that dichotomy resonated with me.  (Not an afterthought, but I also had an exceptionally good librarian and a superb principal in grade school that both echoed the same mantra to me frequently.  What ever happened to good teachers getting involved with youth development?)  Anyhow, while the criteria of what constitutes positive and negative attention have obviously changed as I’ve grown up, that distinction between good and bad attention has always been with me…sometimes vocal and proud, other times (usually when I’m making knowingly poor decisions) as a nagging voice reminding me that at the very least, my one-time kindergarten teacher likely wouldn’t approve.  So the goal is to try to make the “good attention’ type of acts more than the “bad attention” column. 
But enough history and psychology for now.
Where this plays into the future of hunting is that, for this observer, the distinction between good and bad attention (from the perspective of public perception and social media vis-à-vis hunting) is at best blurred and at worst a distant memory.  For now it seems the only thing that people in the hunting media and industry want is “attention” regardless of its nature, and usually at the motivation of money, notoriety, or otherwise.  This is the thesis statement.  It is also where most who think me a crotchety old bat will navigate away, stop subscribing to the blog, and cease following me on Twitter.  That’s fine; my personal worth is not valued in those metrics.  I’ll likely get some hate-mail too; fair enough.
For those still around, I’ll bounce a few contextual examples off you.
In a magazine I recently read an article about responsible land stewardship and low-impact usage of ATVs, with the aim of educating the reader on how to minimize erosion and negative soil effects caused by ATV use while hunting during the wet spring and late fall seasons.  Four pages later (literally) was a glossy full-page ad of a guy bombing through a deep mud-puddle on an ATV, and looking pretty aggro-cool in doing so.  Talk about your mixed messages in the magazine.  Advertising revenue trumps the message of the previous article I guess.  In reality, if you’ve ever been on any public land (or private for that matter) where people actually do this with ATVs, you’ll be keenly aware of the erosion and damage to sub-soil that this practice causes.  One chunk of county forest in Simcoe County actually has a berm in the trail that is (no kidding) four high.  It is a little tough to negotiate in the dark, thinking nothing of the fact that nothing will probably ever grow in that spot again.
In another (this time, online) magazine, I read a truly great article on a reflective, peaceful outdoors experience that lead the writer to comment on how little it truly mattered if a kill was made.  Same publication, some pages later I found a great ad for a new goose call that would guarantee more lethality.  The term “whack ‘em and stack ‘em” was used…and I hate that term.  Nothing like reducing the hunting experience to a bloody game of “Count the Bodies”.
On a trip to the United States for work in March, I was watching a deer hunting program that devoted a good ten minutes of the show to discussions of ethics in shot selection, aging deer properly on the hoof, and being a good role model for the youth of today that want to learn the art of deer hunting.  They then proceeded to shoot a deer that was standing broadside under a corn-dispensing feeder.  I suppose if the law allows it, flowery talk of philosophy and ethics then become a moot point in favour of what they define as ‘success’.
I watched another hunting show recently where the host talked about the safety required in turkey hunting, mentioning that stalking a gobbler is ‘probably not the best idea’.  Guess how he bagged his bird?  Snuck right up on it.  Sigh.
Now these are examples of arguable hypocrisy, and they may fall into the ‘poor choices’ bucket, but when invariably these acts and indiscretions come to define the hunting experience for youth and the non-hunting public who determine the future of our tradition with their votes they become the examples of garnering “bad attention”…I suppose by pointing them out I’m not helping, but hopefully my end will justify the means.  And once that preconception exists, it is far harder to remove it from people’s minds.
I was recently invited on Facebook to ‘like’ a new hunting show featuring the catchphrase “If they run, they’ll just be tired when they die” or something to that effect.  Certainly catchy marketing and I’m sure some guys had a bar-room chuckle over the wording, but I had to ask…is this really the way the hunting tradition should be marketed in public.  I chose not to ‘like’ the show.
This blog is on Twitter.  I like it, actually because I’m able to keep apprised of the good work that organizations like Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited Canada, the NWTF, and the OFAH are doing.  I may not always agree with some of the decisions or approaches these groups take, but I do agree with many of the long term goals and their advocacy role, so Twitter is a great tool to stays informed in that regard.  I also enjoy following some hunting products (Primos is a great example of classy guys giving back to the community that made them successful) for new gear updates because I’m a gearhead, as any frequent reader of this forum knows.  I also have personalities in the industry that I follow and some of them follow back or recommend me to the public.  Great, I’ll take the exposure (albeit somewhat uncomfortably).  But in the Twitter world I found a disturbing trend, and that was the segment of the hunting community on social media (it also exists on Facebook, other blogs, etc, etc) that loves to antagonize non-hunters, proudly relate how they “made that critter die!” (Yep, that’s a direct quote) or otherwise seek the ‘bad attention’ that is so detrimental to the public opinion of hunting.
What’s funny is most guys and gals I talk to about this feel like I do…yet there is a market for this approach.  That’s confusing to say the least.  But I digress.
This segment of the population, as I have alluded to before, has always existed, but they now have a much more public platform to do their damage.  The tired argument about saying what you want, and not giving a damn about what others think of you is fine by me…but in this case it is not what others think about you that is the problem, it is that the world at large thinks about you in the context of what you are talking about that is the issue.  Like I said, that segment of oafish, slob hunter has always been around and likely won’t change, and that trait is not exclusive to the hunting community.  There are slob motorcyclists, slob anglers, slob skateboarders, and so on and so on.  What is troubling for me as a hunter is that the trait is increasingly glorified in hunting media and online, making the obligation now even heavier on those who are maintaining an ethic of respect for the game, respect for the land, and respect for the tradition.  I guess the old axiom that there is no such thing as bad publicity has taken hold and there’s no distinction anymore between good attention and bad attention in many of the public messages related to hunting.
I hear it often that “you’re missing the point” or “that’s not what I meant” or my favourite, “well that’s the image but that isn’t our message”.  Like it or not though, images generally speak louder than words.  Also, for those that say that the issue of stereotyping is the problem of the public and not the hunting community I would refer you to history for a guide.  Marshall McLuhan, who was not a hunter as far as I can tell, said it famously in a way that addresses both arguments. 
“The medium is the message”
Basically, the content is equally important, or sometimes trumped, by the way it is delivered.  My favourite analogy was the old cigarette ads I’d read in the 1960’s and 1970’s vintage Outdoor Life and Field & Stream magazines my Dad kept around.  They showed tranquil, beautiful vistas or bustling nightlife with cigarettes as the focal point…and a small tagline on the bottom from the Surgeon General of the United States that tobacco smoke will kill you.
So it goes with the new media of the hunting industry.  You can have the flowery, positive, tradition affirming language you want in your hunting show, ads, website, magazine, or otherwise.  If the take away message is all blood, guts, and self-important machismo triumphing over beautiful but ultimately secondary nature, that is how you’re going to be known.  By everyone.  That process seems to be proving true of almost all things in our media-centered lives now, so it seems that the quiet, classy, modest approach to hunting is just a victim.  Still, it seems it would be far easier to keep the message positive from the get go than it would be to change the imbedded stereotypes held by both the hunting and non-hunting public.
We as hunters seem to be of a group-think mentality that believes we are exempt from the modern trappings of media saturation, advertising, and stereotyping.  I’ve frequently needed reminding myself that we are not.  We seem to think that since we engage in a millennium-old tradition that it is somehow timeless or untouchable, that nothing negative we do could ever endanger it.  We continue to believe it at our collective peril.  I’m not trying to sanitize hunting, I don’t want catch and release hunting, or have to resort to using darts or paintballs on game animals.  The kill will always be the constant and ultimate goal for those that hunt.  My argument is that ‘hunter’ should not be celebrated as synonymous with ‘killer’ as there is so much more to the hunt than whether or not the animal dies.  Framing ourselves in that ethic of “kill at all costs” or “look at how much I shot today” does a disservice to the tradition and a serious disservice to the animals we pursue.
So fine accuse me of being a negative reactionary, accuse me of being anti-fun.  Say I’m old, or incapable of evolving into a new media age.  Say “who gives you the right to judge me?” or email me that “I don’t know you”.  Tell me I’m outright wrong…doesn’t bother me one bit.  I know the majority of hunters out there are doing the right things, or trying to.  I know that the ones out there muddying the water for us are people too, and they pay their license fees, and some may volunteer their time, and that many probably have kids they want to pass the tradition on to…just like I do, and just like you might.  I am aware that by simply buying a license they get the privilege to hunt on the same terms as you and I.
The question, and this whole post is about one question, is what kind of tradition will our words and actions leave today if we stop treating hunting as a privilege to be quietly honoured and instead behave as though it is an inalienable right to be boasted and crowed about rudely and at a volume unfit for human endurance?
It is a hopeless cliché, but this time it is apt.  As our kindergarten teachers (and our parents and hopefully our hunting mentors after them) tried to teach us, the “good attention” has rewards that the “bad attention” can’t come close to.  And in this case it is the enduring dignity of the hunting tradition.