Category Archives: hunting ethics

Not A Fan

In social media circles over the few years, it has become increasingly popular to kill turkeys by “reaping” them.  If you’re reading this, odds are you know what I’m talking about, but if you don’t “reaping” a.k.a. “fanning” is the method (if you can even call it a ‘method’) of hiding behind a wild turkey tailfan or strutting decoy and then shooting the gobbler when he comes to fight you.

And, as the salient point in what is about to follow, it is cheating. It is no different than jacklighting deer, or electrofishing, bear-baiting (which is a whole other missive for another day).

Now in a moral sense, I do not have the least issue with someone using a cheat code to win while playing a game. After all, I had a Nintendo Game Genie once. I was a noted pilferer of excess $100 bills when my friends and I would play Monopoly. I even once tried the “ace up the sleeve” in a university poker game but was too inebriated to know that I had dropped the card on the floor.

But cheating just so you can kill an animal? That is a step too far.

In the past, proponents of this reaping dumbfuckery have been vocal with me. Called me grumpy. Called me elitist. Called me a coward or a keyboard warrior. They’ve probably called me other things too that they chose not to write. Whatever. Sticks and stones, and all that.

I think it’s important to note here that we’re not some anonymous troll on the internet. Our name is on this. We are not shy with our unpopular opinions with this topic, but we try to be at least logically sound here. So, in that vein, we will now outline the key arguments we hear most often from people out reaping turkeys, and why those arguments are, by and large, pure nonsense.

“If you haven’t done it, how can you have an opinion on it?”

I have not run my arm through a thresher either, but I have a good idea that the outcome would not be great. This fallacy is so laughable it is hardly to be addressed. But I will here just to be fair.

Every one of us has a choice to make about what our ethical line in the sand is. That’s fair of hunting turkeys, and that’s fair of life. Choose to dishonor yourself if you will, choose to break game laws if you will (some areas that have already banned reaping…and I sincerely hope more areas follow suit), choose to disrespect the game animal if you so desire. These are choices.

Of course “freedom of choice is not freedom from repercussions” should also be an axiom that everyone is familiar with. People are choosing to mortgage the future of the wild turkey, and the future of the tradition at large, just to make a sale, or to get social media attention, or for the sake of their own egos, and those choices are not beyond criticism, just as what follows here is not beyond criticism nor is this a magnum opus meant to be a definitive final statement on the matter. But I and those like me who see the problem here aren’t obliged to lower our ethics just to check and see if we like it or not. Have a higher standard.

“I bought a tag, so I can kill that bird however I want.”

Fair enough, I guess, but since when does buying a tag represent some contract whereby your payment means that a turkey owes you his life?

If he won the game and outmaneuvered you, or if your calling and hunting skills fell short that day, or if biology did what biology does and hens took him away, or maybe it’s just too windy and he’s loafing out in the middle of 250 acres and you’ve got no way to get him that day, my simple question to you is “why do you need to cheat to win”? Almost none of us are sustenance hunting anymore, so although I too thoroughly enjoy fried wild turkey nuggets, I do not need to kill him just to survive. Nor do I have a level of disrespect for the bird so high that I would reap or fan him out of frustration that he’s bested me on that day. Buying the tag gets you the opportunity to hunt him. That’s it.

It’s a ticket to a dance that your prospective partner does not even know they are a part of, and your state or provincial resource managers get some cash in the deal.

That should be enough.

“Hunters need to be united.”

First off, we absolutely do not. As with anything, debate and questioning the status quo is about the only way to make progress. Hunting is a democratic pastime, free to those who wish to pursue it, and so long as there is a sense of right and wrong in any hunter, most of the time you’ll know when you or someone else has done the bird wrong. Saying so is not some taboo, and good faith debate, or even vigorous arguments, will not endanger the tradition.

But if you are completely tied to the concept of hunter unity, I would then propose total unity in a stance that puts the bird first. A standard of unity that places woodsmanship, calling, and the close-range encounters those skills alone an afford you above all other things, including the kill. It does not mean the gobbler gets to walk every time, but it means that a turkey hunter is attuned enough to know when you tricked the old tom and beat him fair and square, versus when you choose to pull the chute, give up, and reap him. We should try to provide a level of unity that does not give ‘the law’ or ‘the antis’ or ‘the tree-huggers’, or whatever other imagined enemies you have an opportunity to point to turkey hunters and say that we are cheating. That would be true unity, not this “any legal means’ aberration.

But that level of unity in the tradition is not what fanning and reaper apologists want. They want their version of unity, only with hunters who think and act like they do and that validate their actions, and that buy their products or watch their videos. Moving on.

“It’s legal, so it’s not unethical.”

Defining fair-chase is the holy grail of the hunting community. One day someone is going to accurately, definitively, and concisely define what fair-chase is, and then (hopefully) a big subsection of the hunting tradition that beaks off about this will know which side of this they fall on. Now, I’m not nearly erudite enough to be that person, so all I can really do is define fair-chase in the context of comparing that ideal to what it most clearly is not. In a philosophical conundrum, what is fair-chase is almost invariably legal, but what is legal is not always necessarily fair-chase. But for the “it’s legal, therefore a-okay” crowd, they either willfully, or through a simple lack of reflection, spend no time concerned with that conundrum. They prefer obedience to introspection and so long as their statutes okay it, then they’ll work within those boundaries. But there’s the rub you see. It is perfectly legal where I reside for me to swat a gobbler out of his roost tree while his head is tucked safely beneath his wing, but that is hardly a sporting way to kill one. I could sneak up on a bearded hen while she incubates the next generation of wild turkeys and whack her with a pile of copper-plated sixes, but why on earth would anyone think that’s okay for just two drumsticks and pair of turkey breasts? If it were legal to smash them from the roadside with a .243WIN, would you do that too? The answers here often say a lot more about the person proposing the argument of legality than they do about the people trying to refute it. Which is unfortunate, because there are a whole hell of a lot of good people saying that in the context of turkey hunting, what is “permitted” is not the same as what is “permissible”.

“It’s a rush.”

At least this argument gets as close as possible to telling the truth about why people fan/reap turkeys. Monstrous as it is, it’s at least the one that I can most clearly understand.

They want to kill things. They need instant-gratification. They get bored waiting for a stubborn gobbler. Fanning is exciting for them, and fair-chase advocates can stick all that ethical bullshit in their ear.

I like being close to turkeys too. A few years back, my cousin and I were working a pair of longbeards in a hardwood edge, and they were absolutely breathing fire. Both birds double and triple-gobbling and getting closer with each call. Their racket called in a hen, and she nearly stepped right on my shoulder in her haste to get to those lover boys, and you can bet that having her so close I could hear her breathing and that I could have pet her with my hand was exhilarating. Close encounters with wildlife are a rush, but you can have all those that you want without scooting along behind a goofy decoy.

Calling a gobbler in and having him completely give it up is also exciting, and I’ve never had a turkey hunt yet where the act of calling the gobbler in didn’t make my motor run high. And if he’s not cooperating? Move on and find one that turns your crank. Or enjoy the woods and have a snooze in the sun, those things are fun too.

“This is the natural progression of turkey hunting.”

Wrong. This is the natural progression of the commercialization of turkey hunting, and no one is immune. I’ve got a high dollar shotgun, and I’ve got optics, and I’ve got expensive turkey calls, and I have even bought moderately expensive turkey decoys, so I get it, these fanning miscreations seem like just one more tool in the arsenal of hunting’s modernity. But they are oh so different. The fixed action pattern these provoke make an animal that is crafty, wily, wary, and supremely adapted for survival (…but hardly “smart”) occasionally helpless in the face of their biology. And that dozens of outdoors companies and industry-professionals, and social media influencers want to make wealth and fame off the back of this blind-spot in a turkey’s biology is frankly sickening. So many of the anti-fanning narratives start with “we are not going to judge how others hunt”, but not this one. We’ll say it plain: if you fan a turkey for notoriety, or financial gain, or for marketing for your company so you can buy another lease on which to fan turkeys, then you are complicit in every piece of bad press and anti-hunting rhetoric this scourge creates. Many of them then make some manner of chimerical super-justification by combining positions mentioned above that any legal means is fine, or that their opponents a dividing the hunting tradition. Nothing could be further from the truth. Marketing a shortcut and the desire to exploit the hunting community for cash via some new and more effective turkey killing product every year are the things that are detrimental to the tradition.

But let’s say I’m wrong and scientifically accepted fixed action patterns are horseshit, and fanning and reaping is not the magic bullet it is portrayed to be in hunting media and by those who would shill for those companies, then this brings us to the next argument.

“It doesn’t work 100% of the time. It’s not foolproof”

It is an unusual argument to hear that “fanning and reaping isn’t nearly as successful as you think” only to be bombarded constantly by videos and hunting industry television shows and advertisements reporting a precise refutation of that argument, but since when does logic apply to fallacies?

You can find ample proof to the contrary, and way more turkeys are being killed by using this method than might otherwise have died. I appreciate that no hunting method is 100% effective, but since when do we need to tilt the ledger so far towards 100% that we lose our self-respect? At what point did hunting become quantity over quality, and in this modern hunting space (with all the biological information at our mere fingertips) why would we ever believe that the resource is infinite to the point that taking the bird at all costs (both ethical and financial….some of those fanning rigs ain’t cheap) is acceptable?

“Let the biologists worry about populations, they sold the tag, so the population must be able to handle it” is such a brainless argument that it staggers the mind. As though wildlife managers had some crystal ball and were prognosticating based on 100% hunter success…give your damn head a shake. Or conversely, don’t give your damn head a shake, keep overkilling turkeys with unethical tactics, and then reap the reward of reduced tags and opportunities. It is happening now, and it might get worse before it gets better.

But odds are a smattering of those same people will then complain that wildlife managers don’t know what they are doing.

“You’re a hater/elitist.”

So first off, I do not hate other hunters, but there are times when I do hate what they do to hunting, and I am unabashedly vocal in my belief that holding others accountable is not ‘divisive’ or creating a schism in the hunting community that will give anti-hunting organizations leverage. Even if they are not biologically bad for turkey populations (and I’m still inclined to believe that fanning is a tool effective beyond conventional hunting practices, but I’ll concede momentarily there for this purpose) what gives anti-hunting organizations leverage is glorifying some of the stupidity inherent in this reaping nonsense. People behind fans appearing on television and social media trying to grab wild turkeys by the legs, people wounding turkeys at point blank range because their pattern is the size of a golf ball, people swinging hammers at them from behind tailfans or dressing up in Halloween costumes to prove how “effective” fanning a turkey can be. Those things are what degrade the tradition; telling you it degrades the tradition and jeopardizes the hunt is the only defense mechanism against this we as a community have. That’s not hate. I am, like you, imperfect and I have a small and generally minor list of moments afield that bring me shame. I’ve learned from them by having good mentors who told me not to do dumb shit, and by having some self-awareness for how my actions impact the perceptions of others.

As for the elitist bit? Not a thing I ever expected to be called by a faceless social media pundit, but then it happened. Does that mean I’m judging you? No, I’m not judging you as a person, you may be perfectly enjoyable to be around and real fun person to have a beer and watch sports with. But I am unreservedly judging your actions in light of how they represent hunting to a non-hunting public. That’s a judgment more important than whether you’re fun at parties or a good parent.

But even then, I have to ask, why do you give a rat’s ass what I think? Are you yourself the elitist, incredulous that I am so backward that I cannot see this game-changing potential to be found in reaping gobblers? Or maybe, just maybe, you know that you’re cheating the bird, and you know that you’re cheating yourself, and you know that you’re cheating the men and women who fought for decades to bring this abundance back from the brink of an extinction that was nearly caused by the same shit you’re espousing to do now, and perhaps you’re just projecting and justifying and clutching at straws?

Who knows, these are just thoughts?

The above is far from an exhaustive list of excuses from a segment of the turkey hunting community that is unashamed of this trend, and so long as it grows, as will the scope of ridiculous justifications for trash behaviour. I care a lot about this. I was raised by my hunting mentors to have a high bar for killing animals the right way, and I was raised directly in the turkey hunting tradition by a parent that worked in conservation and loves hunting so much that sketchy practices marked as “progress” were taught to be pure anathema to me. I do not shrink from the accusation that this is a problem of my own opinions, but I can also take a stance that (at least arguably) none of my opinions and actions actively harm the tradition in the way that reaping a turkey has, and that reaping unfortunately continues to do.

As I close, I’ll refrain for now from questioning what kind of individual builds their self-esteem and personal brand around mallet-swatting a turkey in the face with an ounce or two of lead from behind a molded plastic monstrosity. But what I will state is that without a doubt, legal or not, it is not turkey hunting but simply turkey-killing

And that distinction is key to the survival of the bird and of the tradition we all proclaim to love so much.

Excalibur TwinStrike, or, Some of the Reasons That This is Bad Idea

I woke up on January 7th unaware that I was going to see (without hyperbole) the most unnecessary piece of hunting equipment to be marketed in my recent memory. I even managed to make it through half the day, blissfully unaware of its existence. But then during my lunch hour I scrolled through Instagram and was confronted with the Excalibur TwinStrike. I blinked my eyes, hard. Surely, I was experiencing temporary double-vision. I drew my phone closer to my eyes; maybe I needed bifocals now. Then I checked the date to make sure I had not been time-warped ahead to April Fool’s Day. But all the above were incorrect. I was looking at a legitimate picture of a twin-bolt crossbow.

My first, admittedly ineloquent, thought: “This is pretty stupid.”

As I delved deeper, I was heartened that literally hundreds of hunters were likewise confused and incredulous, in fact the vast majority of hunter feedback ranged from scathing to hilarious in their condemnation.

“The answer to a question nobody asked.”

“A chance to break two sets of recurve limbs.”

“Now I can ruin two $20 bolts instead of one.”

And so forth.

Now of course the hunting entities benefitting from Excalibur as a sponsor had excited, glowing, predictable things to say promoting this elegant monstrosity. Praise like ‘game-changer’, and ‘innovative’, and ‘revolutionary’, and ‘a new era in archery’ were being bandied about as though they were true, but it was either transparent or hypocritical or transparently hypocritical.

To anyone (it would seem) outside of those beholden to Excalibur, this should be so obviously awful that the fact this cleared the conceptualization, design, and build phases is utterly shocking.

Now as a disclaimer, writ large, I generally like Excalibur. A stable Canadian company and for a long time the makers of arguably the most reliable and simplistic crossbow interface on the market. And I guess that’s the problem. You see when you sell a solid product, how do you improve on it? The answer is you do not, or more accurately, you probably cannot. So now we have the Excalibur models of recent times. Smaller, lighter, some corners cut (google the limb reliability issues cropping up in more recent models if you’d like), more mass-produced, and ultimately formulated into a take-down model. Because that’s all you can do with an initially strong product; tweak and tinker with it. Try to convince a consumer to get ‘the latest thing’.

Thus, the TwinStrike.

Photo c/o


So enough about how I think we got here, let’s talk about just a few reasons why this looks to be bad for hunting.

The Slippery Slope Away from Traditional Weapons

We are not going to wade into an argument about the place of crossbows in the archery/traditional weapons/special season category because that is a fundamentally fruitless debate. What we will say is there are very contentious feelings around crossbows. For the majority of jurisdictions, they are considered archery equipment, so we’ll leave it at that. But that classification for so long has been predicated on the understanding that the interface is one arrow/bolt then the hunter has to reload the weapon. The only way this new product is innovative is that it is going to challenge that paradigm.

Now, do traditions and classifications change? As a firearm owning Canadian, I can assure you that classifications do change, but rarely to the ‘inclusive’ side of that ledger. Imagine dropping over $2k on a weapon that (I honestly hope) will not allowed for bowhunting.

Of course, a modern compound bow is also technically advanced, and hardly a traditional weapon either, but it is still one shot at a time. What would anyone think of a hunter with a compound bow if they drew back a bow string and arrow in each finger?! I have no doubt that modern muzzle-loading firearms are again nothing more than accurate single shot high-powered rifles, but still, one shot at a time. Progress is absolutely inevitable, but what amounts to a ‘double-barreled crossbow” is hardly the technical progress hunting needs.

Wounding Game

Even if I could concede ground that this mutant crossbow is still “technically” archery equipment, a much more pressing issue here is my belief (and the belief of many other hunters based on social media commentary and banter) that this will contribute to more wounded animals. I believe that as much as I believe the sun will rise tomorrow.

Now of course I can hear you stammering a riposte that the weapon is not to blame, hunters must take responsibility for ethical shots, know the capabilities of their weapon, etc, etc, etc and I agree with all that, in a vacuum. But I’ve been in situations where I have that second shot in my rifle or shotgun so that I can back up a miss, and I can tell you that in 100% of cases when I have to use that second shot, it has been more challenging than the first shot.

If the first shot you took at a deer or a turkey or a bear or whatever else you are shooting a TwinStrike at was poor, it is not unreasonable to think that the animal will likely be moving away, making the follow-up shot likely longer, likely at an alert and moving target, and likely at a range that will need to be guessed at, since the thought being able to pull out the trusty range-finder and ensuring the follow-up is true seems about as likely as me purchasing a TwinStrike. And, for that one time that you miss that first shot and the animal takes one or two steps and just stops dumbfounded, well, I’ll ask if that one scenario is worth all the others where the second shot is rushed and at indeterminate distance?

It is all a matter of risk reward when you boil it down, and if you as a serious hunter can look at me straight-faced and without a shred of doubt tell me that this gives hunters anything more than an opportunity to wound more game, that tells me a lot about your level of responsibility, braggadocio, and capacity for cognitive dissonance. Yes, I (and others) will be rightfully judging you.

 Just Because You Can, Does Not Mean That You Should

All hunters make mistakes, I do it, hunters in my circle do it, hunters you know do it, and ‘professionals’ on TV and social media do it. There are all kinds of ways to screw up, but for me all fall into either errors of omission or are errors of commission. You either forget to do something and it leads to a mistake, or you actively (although I hope unintentionally) do things that lead to a mistake.

I recall being in my Hunter’s Education class with ten other candidates some decades ago, in the converted basement of a suburban home, the small space lit by the glow of an old overhead projector, listening to my instructor talk about the above two points. In this lecture, my instructors stressed with much gravity that the key difference between a gun and an arrow is that while both require practice and expertise, archery was a vocation requiring much more precision, composure, and required the elimination of as many errors of commission as possible. If I make a mistake with a shotgun slug or a high-powered rifle bullet, there is still a chance the animal will sustain hydro-static shock and trauma on even a marginal shot; an arrow wound in a marginal spot may just end up with your deer being a lame piece of coyote bait one county over. I have four other rounds in my .308 to redeem myself with, and for turkeys, two more rounds of lead pellets that wallop like a hammer. At the time, crossbows gave you one chance to get it right. You owed it to the animal then to be sure, and you still do now.

I like to file the TwinStrike under what I call errors of false security which are type of ‘commission error’. The belief that ‘there’s another round in the chamber’ (in a pseudo-metaphorical sense for this particular weapon) can actually create the circumstances for the excess wounding that I’m concerned about above.

I cannot see into hunter’s minds and souls, but as fallible humans, I can reasonably presume that someone with this weapon may take a risky shot at a quartering or moving deer, because they have that second bolt primed. A hail-Mary second bolt arcing into a rear ham or up a turkey’s cloaca. Elegant isn’t it?

Likewise, I cannot wait for the rapid-fire YouTube videos I’ll no doubt have to witness where sportsmen and amateur marksmen try to show how quickly, and in their minds accurately, that they can send two bolts downrange. Just keep building up that hubris, because I also know eventually a non-sportsman is going to post a picture or a video of a deer with two non-lethal crossbow bolts sticking out of it. And then we’ll all have some explaining to do, even if we were morally opposed to this weapon from the get-go.

Standing Up to Ridiculous Things

This ties directly to that last paragraph. We all like to have cool things, and a lot of us also like to have the newest cool things. I’ve fallen for it, but generally for harmless things like overpriced under-engineered duck, goose, deer, and turkey calls, or gimmicky ammunition that promised good things and let me down emptied my wallet faster than I could empty my gun. But this is different. This is bad for the sport, for all the reasons above and likely more if you’d care to add your opinion.  I can assure you that I will never own one of these, even if given as a gift, because I believe each of us has a personal responsibility not to encourage things that negatively impact the tradition, the perception of the tradition to the non-hunting public by whom we have the privilege, and the debt of respect we owe to the wild game in making their end as prompt, clean, and precise as we humanly can.

It is dirty business, killing for your food, and the reverence for the act lies in its expedience.

I am not going to over-philosophize you here, but this weapon does not pass that test, not even a little. So, please just call it what it is, a gimmick designed to appeal in its controversy and peculiarity, and devised to increase a corporate bottom line. But as a sound and ethical means of killing game? Hardly.

Now of course, “you do you” dear reader. I’m not talking about banning or boycotting or pulling anything off the shelves. I am not some crotchety old man who hates progress; in fact, I was looking at an Excalibur Matrix on New Year’s Day as a way to extend my deer seasons. I’ve been given pause for reconsideration right now. But if this appeals to you, I’m shocked honestly that you made it this far into my missive against it. I congratulate and thank you for sticking it out through almost 2000 words of contrary opinion, the world needs more of that these days.

I am also fully aware that no one is forcing myself or anyone else to buy this terrible, terrible idea. Yes, I am also sure that there are many equally ridiculous and unnecessary things out there being marketed to hunters, and I’m likewise sure this is a business and product marketing decision equally as much as it is about really improving the state of hunting as a tradition.

After all, no reputable hunting company would mortgage out the future of hunting or the fair and ethical pursuit of game simply to make a buck, would they?

Piles Makes Smiles…Or Do They?

We shot a lot of geese the other weekend, or as they say in the current vernacular we “made a pile”. In fact, that’s precisely what we did.  In the tradition of almost every successful waterfowler since time immemorial we made a pile of dead geese, and we took a photo of it.  It is without a doubt a common practice to take such a picture, in fact there are pictures of hunters and dead waterfowl going back for as long as there are photographs. I’ve heard people make a connection between ancient cave paintings of hunting and the act of taking photos, arguing that they share a common ancestry; I’ve always considered that to be a bit of a “reach”.

Regardless, in my advancing age, I’ve developed an increasingly tactful approach with my ‘pile pictures’ in the age of social media.  In a pre-social media age, pictures of hunters grinning behind some stacked up mallards or a row of belly-up geese lived in print photo albums, pulled out for the occasional trip down memory lane, and then tucked safely and inoffensively away until the next time.  But with the culture of sharing (and some might argue, over-sharing) prevalent, I’ve opted not to subject my non-hunting friends, coworkers, and acquaintances with big body counts on their Facebook, Twitter, and other news feeds. If they want to see that sort of thing, they’ll follow the website pages, and not my personal page.  Which leads me to the handful of social media hunting forums I frequent, where I felt I was among brethren.  It was there I posted an evening photo showing a tailgate-bending pile of sixty-two geese for their perusal. Just eight birds shy of our 14-man limit, we’d had a truly unforgettable hunt and I was generally, if not a little naively, certain that if there was feedback it would be positive, after all I really enjoy seeing other waterfowlers having success and I’m not shy with my Facebook ‘likes’.

I was more or less right, but one hunter took exception.  He likened the photo to ‘market-hunting days’, labelled it disrespectful and twice called the character of myself and my friends (total strangers to him mind you) into passive-aggressive question.  He said (I’m paraphrasing) that only through those kinds of interactions could waterfowlers “get better”.  Now, it was certainly not metaphorically a mountain nor was it a molehill of chastising on his part, and since I really try not to argue with anyone on the internet I just kindly thanked him for his feedback and apologized in true Canuck fashion for my misreading of his sensibilities. Other hunters had the expected feedback, defending the photo, the hunt, and my responses, which was an unexpectedly pleasant outcome.  In the end though, even that it all ended in a surprisingly respectful fashion, it did give me extensive pause for thought.

Because although I won’t stop shooting piles of geese, nor will I likely stop taking pictures of those piles of geese, objective self-assessment is healthy so here’s what I came up with.

The offending photo.

First off, waterfowlers ceasing their ‘pile pictures’ or ‘grip and grins’ or ‘hero shots’ or whatever you want to call them would only be constitute the situation getting “better” if you take as fact this anonymous commentator’s opinion that we are currently in a state that needs some manner of improvement…and I’m not so sure we are in that situation. After all it would certainly not be a faulty argument to state that ‘pile pictures’ give a nod to conservation.  There was a time not too long ago when seeing 100 geese in a whole season would have been unthinkable, never mind shooting almost 100 in a weekend. To be certain there are several contributing factors to the current plentiful state of goose populations, and the efforts of hunters and other conservationists are surely part of that equation, so why not reap the bounty?  All our geese get processed and eaten, and several recipes have graced this website previously (and more are coming) which would put us on the vanguard of field-to-table culture, and we have introduced many young kids to the tradition, future conservationists and hunters with awe in their eyes while hundreds of geese trade the skies and whirlwind into the decoys.  So, excuse my ‘pile photo’ if it offends you, but sorry I’m not really that sorry.

That said, I’m not so pedantic to think that we as hunters should not temper our pride or prowess with an understanding that a whole lot of people don’t like to look at heaps of dead animals.  I just hadn’t experienced it with and from other hunters. But such is the world we live in now. After all, just what are we exactly celebrating in this photo? We almost shot a limit, so do pile photos illustrate restraint, proof that we stayed under the legal maximum? Were there hints of vanity or an air of dominance of man over flying beast? Objectively, there probably is a sense of “Look at us and what we did!”, and in the submission to my peers I’d be lying if I said there was not validation sought and gained.

Of course, with every piece of technology now a camera, is it time we re-assess what hunting photos even are anymore.  The old saying “photos or it never happened” seems haggard and overused, and more than once I’ve rued the requirement to accumulate images and engagements and that oh-so elusive “content”. There are so many of them, I don’t think I’m out of line to ask if all hunting photos are even celebrations anymore or are they just becoming the perfunctory and ubiquitous by-product of our time?

If I put myself in the mind of this commenter, I have even further questions.  For example, in that individual’s eyes what would be the acceptable number of geese or ducks to show in a photo? Would it be zero?  If it were to be zero, would that in some way sanitize the hunt or show some elevated level of respect for the birds? As much as I respect the non-hunter viewpoint when expressed rationally and respectfully, at the root of things to hunt is to kill. If we take the kill out of the medium and narrative, why take photos of anything? Why tell any stories? Nay, why hunt? Why anything at all?

Okay, so it got absurdly nihilist there for a moment but I’m back.

This all boils down to the theory I’ve had for years, and written about here clumsily, around what I call the Hypocrisy Line; that nebulous and elusive stage where the things you could reasonably participate in cross the line into the things you find offensive when others do them, but are still okay for you to do for no other reason than that you yourself are doing them and can use rational gymnastics to justify the act. It is the hunting embodiment of “Do as I say, not as I (might) do.”

There absolutely are hunting photos I find distasteful. I once saw a harvested wild turkey in close-up with half of its face blown clean off. That wasn’t for me. I found a photo of a legally-hunted rhino draped in an American flag. I had reservations and a few questions. There has always been something a little off to my eye about shooting and then posing with a lion or a giraffe or a leopard, but that’s a bias of my upbringing more than any deep-seated objection to the act.  But in all those scenarios, and the sporadic others I see now and then, I’ve never been so incensed that I took it public with another hunter and their posting.

Because sometimes that’s hunting, warts and all.  Also, I refer you to my earlier remark about not arguing with people on the internet.

Anyhow, I debated a bit about the ‘offending photo’ and whether I’d leave it up in the social media group.  In the end I did, and I’ve put it in this post too, because if you’re reading this far you’re either very generous with your time for my rambling, or you’re in consensus with me.  And if you’re not, that’s fine too; shout at me on the internet if you want.

I’ll probably not engage in the banter though.

Wasted Gifts

I was doing laundry and taking stock of my equipment for the upcoming second round of my rifle season for deer here in Ontario when the storm broke on all of my social media platforms. Another “TV hunter” or “hunting-industry celebrity” or “outdoors personality” or whatever term is in style right now was allegedly caught poaching deer. I was instantly depressed, but I had to know more.

The case in question is of one Chris Brackett, host of “Fear No Evil”. Video surfaced yesterday of what is allegedly him shooting two deer in Indiana, when he was only licensed for one. There is also the nature of the killings, which I’ll touch more on below, and the aftermath which I’ll also delve into, but what I want to primarily focus on here is the alleged act.

Never mind that this person has a litany of detractors for his personality and how he generally comports himself; I can excuse being a bad person to a degree because there are a lot of bad people all over the place in the world. I do not really expect a man or woman to be a good person just because they hunt too.

This video has apparently been suppressed frequently in the past 36 hours, and the most recent place where I can still find it as at so check it out for yourself, but know that it is not pretty and for sensitive viewers there is some language and some cringe-worthy visuals.

The short version of the story has it that while hunting in Indiana with a muzzleloader a few years ago, Chris Brackett was instructed by a landowner to shoot a 10-point buck on the landowner’s property, but to pass on a younger, tall-racked 8-point buck, which the landowner wanted to continue maturing. Video has surfaced with purports to contain Chris Brackett not only defying the landowner request and making what clearly looks like a fatal shot on the 8-pointer, but then (with no cutaway and on the same reel of film, if you will) making a critically wounding shot on the 10-pointer. The 10-pointer is obviously paralyzed from being hit in the rear of the spine (which is commonly known as a “Texas Heart Shot”, and in my strictly personal opinion is an absolutely unacceptable shot to take on any deer, let alone a huge trophy whitetail) and it crawls and struggles off frame, with no documented follow-up finishing shot. The accusation continues that the 8-pointer was never recovered, and the 10-pointer was recovered quite some time after the shot, so I can presume that trophy animal suffered a very painful and unpleasant death. Audio on the video even states that someone (either the cameraman or the shooter) has no idea where the 8-pointer ran off to.

So, two dead deer, one tag, one hunter disobeying a landlord request, one arguably unethical and cruelly wounding shot later, here we find ourselves.  It is tough to watch.  Without hyperbole, I can say I was legitimately sick to my stomach watching it all unfold, especially after the hunter cripples an absolutely huge and beautiful deer.

Apparently, the video is surfacing now because the cameraman had been struggling with his conscience, the landowner was also looking to go public with footage, etc, etc. Again, these are likely all valid reasons, but they are corollary to the actual allegations of poaching.

Now this video quality isn’t great, and defenders of all sorts are saying that it proves nothing other than ‘someone’ shot two deer (one very badly) and then at the very least did not document any recovery efforts. I’ll grant that, but there are apparently also supporting statements from the cameraman and the landowner to back up the allegation, and the Chris Brackett camp has been suspiciously quiet. All social media for the accused has either gone silent or has been shut down, no official defending statements have come out, and his television sponsors in the industry are either making ominous statements or dropping him outright.

I believe in “innocent until proven guilty”, but the internet and corporate sponsors are not necessarily of the same mind. It is a big, unpleasant mess to say the least.

So, what are we, the hunting laity, to do? Does it matter if a handful of us stop watching his show? Are product or network boycotts effective? Or have we become so jaded to this that it just meets our expectations of what televised hunting is?

Because the real issue here is that the public-facing arm of the hunting tradition, which is no doubt an ‘industry’ and as such is tasked with making content, selling advertising, and generally being profitable is more and more often being exposed to the public as a field littered with questionable characters that are not really conservationists, or stewards of the resources, or anything other than opportunists interested in fame and growing nominally wealthy via hunting.

They have been given the gift of being able to live out their lives hunting beautiful wild game in beautiful places for hundreds of thousands of viewers, and time and again these gifts are wasted, not only at their personal cost, but at the cost of another public black-eye for the hunting tradition. It’s truly upsetting and although I do not in any way doubt their ‘love’ of hunting, which I honestly believe is the same love you and I have for the outdoors, I do doubt their character, and will keep doubting it until I see compelling reasons to stop.

Are these celebrity hunters ‘under the microscope’ or subject to greater scrutiny? Probably and that’s a good thing.  It is a common theme on this forum and it bears repeating again, even if I do sometimes feel like the lone voice crying in the night.

How hunting is popularly represented is far more important than what hunting truly is.

Like it or not, the violations committed on camera and the dodgy ethical decisions made by a Bill Busbice or a Chris Brackett or a Ted Nugent, or a Warren Spann, or whomever inevitably comes next are the demons we’ll have to fight with. These things become the fodder for anti-hunters and they poison the opinions of the neutrals.

Let there be no doubt about it, we need the ‘neutrals’ more than anything.

So, in all it has been an unpleasant 36 hours or so for me and my mindset on ‘the industry’, but hey, at least I’m back in the woods in a day-and-a-half, which will ease some of the pain. Maybe I’ll put some venison in the freezer this week…stranger things have happened after all.

Likewise, I’m sure (even if he arguably does not deserve any sympathy) it has been a real shit-kicking for Chris Brackett the past day or so.  If anything positive can come out of this wasteful, morally ambiguous situation unfolding in the public sphere, it is that we will all hold these heroes and celebrities to the highest standards, and perhaps those heroes and celebrities will take notice and hold themselves to the same level. But sadly, I’m not hopeful.

In the meantime, I’ll see you in the woods everyone.