Category Archives: hunting ethics

Honour Among Thieves & Unity Among Hunters, or, The Seven Deadly Sins of Hunter Relations

As surely as there are death and taxes, you can bet that however, wherever, and whatever you choose to hunt that there will be someone out there that knows how to find fault with the way you do it.
 
I long ago got used to the opinions, taunts, jibes, and snide remarks of the taciturn, illogical anti-hunter or the misinformed and self-assured non-hunter (which are two distinct sides to the same coin), but it was not until I started this pseudo-public, completely unprofitable forum for my hunting stories, opinions, and general bunk that I came to realize how much hunters truly hate other hunters.
 
Now before you send the hate mail which would only go to prove my thesis, hear me out.  I’ll also apologize for a moderate use of salty language in the following.
 
In observing this, I’ve found that there are a few ‘classifications’ for this hunting community ill-will and for lack of a better term, bullying, which I’ll outline now.
 
Jealousy
Some people don’t get to hunt as much as they would like, and others don’t get to hunt the species or areas that they would like.  Sometimes this is a function of time, occasionally this is a function of funds, and sometimes it is mixture of both.  Regardless of the cause, jealousy at the opportunity, success, or enjoyment that other hunters experience can be a catalyst for much resentment.  The jealous hunter will scoff at others, and disparage their skills or outcomes, solely because the jealous hunter cannot or has not yet had that opportunity themselves.  Consistently successful hunters have to deal with this as well, and can fall prey to all sorts of accusations of unethical hunting or benefiting from being in a ‘target-rich’ environment.
 
Low Self-Esteem
Related to jealousy, but with its own distinctive patter, hunters that don’t hone, respect, or value their own abilities often find every opportunity they can to denigrate and humiliate those with skills, no matter how modest or extravagant those skills are.  This type of hater calls the seasoned marksman ‘lucky’ or ‘nothing without a scope on their rifle’.  They may have never placed a decoy in their life, but they’ll tell you how your pattern isn’t working.  They tell you you’re doing everything wrong, or too much, or too little, but they don’t ever do it themselves.
 
Competitiveness
Competitive hunters attempt, and are sometimes successful in their efforts to suck all the joy out of hunting for others.  You shot a 10-point buck?  They’ll make it their life goal to shoot a 12-pointer.  Shot a banded mallard?  They shot ten of them.  Trying for a wild turkey Grand Slam?  Well they have five of those and are working on an Ultra-Super-Extra-Difficult-Intercontinental-Mega Slam.  I don’t have any issues with hunters driven to succeed; I know and hunt with plenty of those and in some ways I’m one of those myself.  But when every personal goal comes at the comparison of the outcomes of others, I fear you may be missing the point of hunting altogether, or worse, you are using hunting to compensate for some psychological deficiency (see Low Self Esteem above).
 
Anger
Unbelievably, I missed a deer this year.  Several factors I could not control, and one that I could (my decision to shoot at all), contributed to this.  I don’t get a lot of opportunities to shoot deer, so I can safely say I was ticked.  Maybe even angry.  It happens.  But within two hours, a steak, and a couple of beers later, I was fine.  What I’m referring to here is not the attendant frustration that comes when you make a mistake.  No, no, what I’m talking about now is the hunter that is always mad at something.  They are mad at the weather, they are mad that game isn’t moving, they are mad that game is moving when they themselves aren’t there, and most of all they are mad at other hunters for having the temerity to hunt with, near, or remotely adjacent to them.  They want all the hunting to themselves, and they are visibly and permanently enraged that anyone else impinges on their ‘right’.  These people are not fun at all to be around, and if you find that no one wants to spend a lunch hour in a cabin with you, odds are you’re an angry hunter too.
 
Puritanism
It is the job of the puritan to keep hunting elite. Do you use a turkey box call?  They use their voice, and think you should too.  Do you shoot rifles at deer?  They bow hunt and are smug about it.  Did you pack mule into an elk or sheep hunt?  Sacrilege, why you should have been doing it on foot, humping all your equipment in on your own back you lazy schmuck.  See where I’m going with this?  The puritan not only understand ‘fair chase’ but they feel it is their sole responsibility to define and enforce the standard. 
 
Now, there is a difference between adherence to a high ethical standard and puritanical ways of viewing hunting, and this is often the grey area of the debate.  Laser guided scopes, ultra-high quality electronic game calls, and high-definition camouflage and scent elimination systems often push that ‘traditional’ envelop, but there is a reason we aren’t all still chucking pointy sticks at mammoths.  Progress happens and you can only avoid it for so long.  Likewise pride is different from puritanism, but when you value ‘your way’ as the ‘right way’ or worse the ‘only way’, well then I haven’t really got any time for you.
 
Hypocrisy
Hypocritical hunters will criticize and lambaste other hunters for things that, admittedly, they have no problem with.  Their issue and argument always seems to be that there is only a problem when you shoot a duck on the water instead of on the wing, when you shoot a big whitetail over a bait pile, or when youenlist an outfitter for a trophy hunt.  They like to reserve special privilege to their own situation and worldview.  Again, we all recognize hypocrisy when we see it, so start identifying it and cutting it out of the hunting dialogue.
 
Expertise
The most insidious of the groups of hunters hating hunters are the “Experts”, both of the self-proclaimed variety, as well as those acclaimed as experts by consensus.  I would wager that the ‘expert’ class, or the ‘expert’ mindset is responsible for reducing hunter enjoyment more than any other of the above.  I’m not talking about the benevolent, avuncular mentor that guided you to your first deer or took you pheasant hunting for the first time when you were a child.  I’m talking about the ‘expert’ that finds fault in the methods, ethics, and outcomes of even the most earnest and experienced hunters.  They are in your hunting camp and they are in magazines.  They are online and on TV, and part of the hunting ‘industry’ at large is based on this servile toadying to the “expert” caste.  These people hold others to a moral standard that they themselves have defined, and only they will ever be above their own judgment.  They know the better way, the secrets, and the overall fashion of how this sport of hunting should be done because they are experts, and you never will know those things, because you won’t ever meet their standard of excellence.  They take the democratic equality out of hunting, and they boil it down to a contest.  In short these people are the embodiment of all the above types of unpleasant person, which makes them assholes to be around.  Avoid them.
 
I guess all of the above is somehow tied up in the psychology of the kill in some way; maybe seeing someone else’s success or enjoyment of the hunting pursuit somehow diminishes the self-worth of people with the above character traits, forcing them to belittle others so as to aggrandize themselves.
 
I don’t know…maybe some people are just jerks and cannot help themselves.  The truth is probably a fraction of both at play.  The worst part about all of it is every one of the above traits (and I’m sure there are more that I haven’t discovered yet) is that they all serve the same purpose; to divide hunters against hunters.  It may well prove the downfall of the modern hunting culture.
 
I also guess that there is a bit of irony in me taking the pulpit to sermonize and decry these types of hunters, but that’s not really what I’m doing with this piece (or at least I hope it isn’t what I’m doing with this piece).  My policy has long been that so long as it is legal, safe, and that it most importantly does not negatively impact the public perception of the hunting tradition, then I don’t really care how you hunt, so long as you’re enjoying yourself, and I’ve been on record in this forum and other social media with that stance for a long time.  I think we all have a bit of enviousness, puritanism, or self-exalting expertise about ourselves; that’s just how people are hooked up.  The hard part is to set those traits aside when we’re discoursing and involved with other hunters.
 
Hunting is an intensely personal thing, and people forget their impact on others when it comes to things they are passionate about.  I get it, and I know that it’s a fine line, but it may be the only chance hunters have to see the common ground between themselves.

Fair Chase & The Hypocrisy Line

It has been some time since I last had the time or inspiration to write something here, but a recent conversation, as well as some troubling media that I’ve seen has prompted my crotchety and opinionated side to come out for this particular post.  Despite the murky and nebulous philosophical wrangling that is about to take place, this may become an item that will make recurring appearances throughout whatever lifespan this blog has.
Let me start with an anecdote that will nicely frame what follows.
When I was a much younger and much more academic man, I had a professor that really influenced how I viewed the world.  He was relatively young by academic standards, being perhaps only seven or eight years my senior.  He was extremely intelligent in matters historical, and he was very articulate.  He was of a level of handsomeness that made every young female coed in my program an instant Scottish history devotee.  He also was as passionate about soccer as I was, and he played the game in a similarly direct fashion to myself.  Very often we would play a pick-up match for a couple of hours and then go grab some cold beer and pub food.  All in all, a rather nice fellow who became a bit of a mentor for me, as at the time I was seriously considering a career in academia.
So where is all this pseudo-academic bro-mance going, and what in the blazes does it have to do with hunting?
This particular fellow was not a hunter, but he wasn’t an anti-hunter either, as I recall.  I was much more passionate about converting non-hunters at the time, but he just wasn’t interested in the sport.  Once over several post-soccer beers(or possibly post-exam beers, I can’t precisely recall) I directly asked him if he saw an inherent hypocrisy in his not being a hunter, even though he was a carnivore.  He said no.  I pressed him more, and while not a direct quote he answered me along the lines of this: everyone has what he called, at the time, a hypocrisy line.  I’m sure he didn’t invent the term, and I’m sure others have recognized its existence, but I had not really considered the concept.  Since then it has always intrigued me, and it is something that has really framed how I view the world, so I guess this professor actually did teach me something after all (his European Reformation class, which really was excellent, notwithstanding).
The hypocrisy line, which I have found to be a sure of a test for any argument, is basically the point in any given debate, discussion or decision at which one is willing to compromise a stated value.  That value can be almost anything, from big important things like religious and political viewpoints, down to trivial things like which brand of whiskey you are preferential to (although I consider whiskey loyalty to be a VERY BIG thing).  Make no mistake, the hypocrisy line exists, and it is something that people are constantly reconciling themselves to, even if they don’t realize they are doing it.  It is extremely apt to understand the hypocrisy line if you participate as a hunter, and it is as pervasive as it is complicated.
By definition the hypocrisy line is intensely personal.  No one knows your level of hypocrisy more than you yourself.  And since I don’t want to make any presumptions about you, I’ll talk about my own personal hypocrisy line as it pertains to hunting.
First and foremost, my hypocrisy line pertains to the concept of fair chase.  Right off hand, anything prohibited as illegal is by definition, beyond the realm of real valid debate.  I’m sure there are hunting traditions that may fall outside the current structure of what the law allows, but that isn’t up for debate.  Break the law, shoot over your limit, or endanger others, and the hypocrisy line isn’t applicable.  But more interesting things start to happen when types of hunting are legal, because then the reconciliation with the hunting ‘ethic’, as it were, comes more tightly into focus.
I would state explicitly that canned shoots, high-fence hunting, or any other method that restricts not only the immediate, but also the longer term ability of game to evade the hunter are not “fair chase hunting” scenarios.  I am a very large proponent of the ideals of the Boone & Crockett club, and a lot of my pre-existing bias about fair chase comes from their mission statement, as well as the ideals handed down by my hunting mentors (which I consider to be a positive for of brainwashing).
But my belief in fair chase comes at a price, and that price is my own personal hypocrisy line.
I am rabidly opposed to baiting for bears.  I consider the practice of habituating a bear to a set location, and sometimes part of the day, for what is essentially a feeding time is deplorable.  One could have as easy a time going to the local zoo and shooting a bear when the frozen meatsicle is thrown into their exhibit.  I consider bear baiting at large to be an act of standing and shooting, and not even remotely equivalent to “hunting”.  But in terms of explicit fair chase principles almost every organization in the world considers it ethical and accepted.  So all my moral outrage won’t mean spit.  Proponents of the practice of bear baiting point to the benefits of predictable, humane shots on basically stationary targets, as well as allowing the hunter time to make informed decisions surrounding the sex of the bear and whether it is a mature, healthy animal.  Fair enough, but still not as thorough an argument as would be required to change my mind.
However, I am not opposed to hunting waterfowl over recently harvested grain fields.  In the eyes of many, even myself on occasion, this constitutes a hypocrisy.  Much like baiting of bears, hunting ducks and geese over naturally occurring waste grain is legal in almost every jurisdiction.  Where the difference for me lies is that the corn or wheat or peas or rice or whatever it may be is not being placed specifically as a waterfowl attractant, at least not where I hunt.  But countless outfitters, guides, and private landowners also plant grain fields with the explicit purpose of attracting waterfowl, so the issue can be murky.  Geese and ducks also become habituated to the food sources, and I’ve had on more than one occasion moments when geese were landing around me in a corn field, and I wasn’t even hiding.  The birds just wanted to eat there, and it didn’t matter that I was standing around in the middle of the field.
It is completely legal to bait for deer, and food plotting is big business.  I have hunted over bait sites of corn and apples for deer, and although I have never had any success in doing so, I have several family and friends that have shot deer in this method.  Some of them have a sticky ethical conundrum, but others don’t, and I guess that’s fine.  My hypocrisy line here is that I don’t consider this as egregiously unethical as bear-baiting because deer respond to bait nocturnally in general, and the predictability of deer frequenting bait is sporadic (based on trail camera photos I have reviewed) than with bears.  Not much of an argument, I know, but that’s my hypocrisy line.  I’m not completely comfortable with food-plotting, but again there is no truly debatable difference in hunting over food plots and hunting over bait, and if I’m going to be okay with one, I suppose I have to be okay with the other.
Advances in gear and equipment have also muddied the waters in which the definition of fair chase swims.  High-powered firearms, precision optics, modern camouflage and scent-control, and ultra-realistic game calls (when deployed in the hands or mouth of a competent user) have all tilted the playing field, if only slightly, in favour of the hunter.  Riflescopes can now provide hunters with precise aiming points based on wind direction and strength, caliber and bullet weight, and angle of the shot.  All the hunter has to do is get within range and pull the trigger.
So is that the litmus test of hunting now?  Is it just a matter of getting in range and pulling the trigger?  Because these are no small feat in some cases, maybe they are.  Are the lost arts of wingshooting, range estimation, and good old-fashioned woodsmanship becoming just that; lost?
I myself have reaped the benefits just this year of technology, on what was arguably the greatest hunt of my life to date.  Ultra-comfortable footwear saw me up and down kilometers of mountain trails.  Turkey calls using modern materials and realistic decoys drew the gobbler into range.  Modern high-powered shotshells delivered their payload through a machined ultra-full choke into a very small shooting window, with lethal results.  Hell, my companion and I even drove halfway into the mountains before starting our hunt; sixty years ago we would have had to packhorse in our camp in the hills and valleys, if we could even entertain a spring turkey hunt at all!
Did I have an ethical conundrum regarding ‘fair chase’ on my hands when that tom turkey fell over?  I can say confidently that I did not.  So is that my hypocrisy line, or is that just modern hunting?  And, in a more complex examination, is it both?  Is modern hunting an already hypocritical endeavor?
This is how I manage to remain unpopular, by the way.
Perhaps the bottom line is that this entire application of the hypocrisy line into hunting is a byproduct of our human evolution.  After all, did ancient societies debate whether a thrown spear was more ethical than an atlatl or an arrow propelled by the first archer’s bow?  Was there an argument about right and wrong when primitive hunters learned to mimic the calls of their prey?  Probably not, because I suspect survival and sustenance were higher up on the list of primitive hunting priorities than the moral complications posed by what they defined as technology.
With that said, the modern hunting reality, despite the position of many vested interests, is that we are not in a survival situation.  We are all (hopefully) lovers of wild game on the table, but our sustenance does not hinge on the hunt anymore, and these changes are what brings the ethical debate of fair chase into such focus.  With no compelling survival reasons related to much of what constitutes modern hunting in the developed world, justification and precision in rhetoric is required.  For many this justification or debate is extraneous and, dare I say, bullshit.
But that would be taking too narrow a view.  The linear thinking and closed-minded in the hunting fraternity will argue that no justification for the hunting tradition in the modern world is required.  The linear thinking and closed-minded in the anti-hunting community will seize upon that and exploit it to their benefit.  Because that’s how this song and dance has always gone.
Reconciling how you hunt with what your tolerance for hypocrisy is should not be a shameful process, nor should such self-examination be frowned upon or chided.  A constant reevaluation of the social construct can raise troubling demons, but it can also enlighten and enhance the experience of the hunt, and it can prompt new challenges to the hunter willing to take them on.  Having shot turkeys with a shotgun, perhaps I should try an archery hunt?  Being reasonably skilled with a goose call, maybe I should attempt to ambush or stalk the birds instead.
I’m still a terribly unlucky and poorly skilled deer hunter so I need all the help I can get on that front.
In some ways, I suppose I would be happier if I had never encountered the concept of the hypocrisy line all those years ago as an inebriated undergraduate.  And I’m sorry if this post becomes the first introduction of the concept for you; feel free to ignore it going forward.  But if you choose to embrace it as a means of questioning the world, and in this case, the hunting tradition, do not be surprised by the opposition you find, and do not fear what you may learn about yourself.

Being out in the woods and fields is possibly the most enriching activity in my life right now, and I feel I owe it to something that gives me that much to understand its meaning.

And They Call It…Progress?

I’ve been absent, I know, but with good reason.
You see I’ve been jetting all over North America these last few weeks, with stops in Halifax, Calgary, Phoenix, Charlotte, and Chicago.  No, my ears have not returned to normal just yet, and yes, I am a whiz at airport security now.
So what have I had time to do in those intervening weeks, you might ask?
Mostly I’ve been staring at works projects and completing late night drives home from Pearson International Airport…seriously why does every flight seem to come into Pearson after 10pm?  I did some writing on a side project I’m working on while heading from Chicago to Scottsdale.  But I’ve also been thinking about you my devoted reader, specifically about some way to bring you into my wandering experiences that also lines up with the hunting-specific content of this blog. 
And I think I’ve come up with it…but please be patient, there’s some lead up.  I’ve also been dreaming of turkey hunting in May, but that’s another post.
On my most recent flight from Charlotte, NC into Toronto I looked around the plane.  I was reading a copy of Outdoor Life I had picked up at the Charlotte Airport and I also had a well-worn copy of Stephen King’s Night Shift in my carry-on.  I am not above exaggerating normally, but I speak the truth when I say that those two pieces of publishing were the only traditional forms of reading material brought by passengers that I could see on that entire flight.  Every other soul had a Kindle or a KOBO, or a Playbook or an iPad or some other piece of technological flotsam that they were using to read or otherwise entertain themselves.  I’m not above technology, even though my iPod is seven years old and is about the size of a brick, but this troubled me.  I love books and magazines both from a content perspective and from a tactile angle, and I fear that we’re careening down some bumpy Fahrenheit 451-esque path where paper books and print in general will suffer the same (metaphorical) fate as the dodo.  At least that’s the irrationally paranoid approach I take when I have not slept in fourteen hours, crossed four times zones, and find myself circling Lake Ontario at 20,000 feet at 11:47pm while waiting to land at Pearson Airport.
So is it positive progress?  Since I have never used an e-reader, I cannot pass definitive judgment, but I do see a parallel between the way that technology has changed something as humdrum as reading and the lamentations that I see in almost all of the hunting magazines that I subscribe to or purchase for in-flight reading (and believe me, I buy a lot of them…I may just be keeping that whole industry afloat.)
There are worried rumblings among the hunting community (or at least the segment of the hunting community that writes letters to the editors of these various magazines) that technology is changing the beloved hunting tradition in a way that may not be for the best.  The editors, likewise, seem to be on the warpath against (some) technology because there are now dozens of editorial columns devoted to how widespread technocracy in the hunting community is irreversibly altering the hunting ethic and experience.  It is a hot-button issue right now, but I’m not going to wade in with my opinion…because that would be the antithesis of my efforts to keep this forum from getting too preachy, at least I’ll try not to sermonize.  But I will highlight some trends I’ve seen, and at least add some fuel to the debate.
Advances in optics, rifle accuracy, and ballistics have now made guns capable of being consistently and accurately lethal (in practiced hands) to distances in excess of a kilometer.  Yes I said kilometer…as in 1000 meters.  That is well beyond the limits of the visual acuity and olfactory prowess that serve as the defense mechanisms of most of the big game here in North America.  Shotgunners and archers are also using cutting edge technology and cutting edge equipment to extend the range of their weapons of choice to well beyond the traditional 40 yard marker…a distance that at one time seemed almost religiously enforced as a stretch to the limit of lethality for waterfowlers, turkey hunters, and bowhunters.  But now there are dozens of websites, television shows, products, advertisements, and magazine columns devoted to extended-range shooting.  I don’t think it is a fad…I think it is going to stick around.  I remember a time when in the hunting media and in my circle of friends and hunting companions where the litmus test of hunting abilities was how close one could get to game…and not how far away your equipment allowed you to be lethal from.  Is it a positive change?  Is it universal?  I don’t know because I’m not involved in that subculture of the hunting experience.  I’m going to focus on shooting straight first of all before I look to extend my range.
In the same vein, there is a vocal segment of the hunting populace that is vigorously opposed to the A-R platforms of what is now being marketed as the “modern sporting rifle”.  That name is firmly in the world of what is referred to as ‘spin’ or as I prefer to call it the tradition of putting lipstick on a pig.  I will admit my bias openly here: I am of that group that is not comfortable with the new platforms.  But it is not because I am a reactionary old purist who thinks we should all go back to using flintlocks, or Damascus-barreled antiques, or longbows…because I’m not.  It is not because I think those guns are unsafe; they are no more or less safe than any other firearm.  It is not because I think they don’t work; they work fine and do have some benefits in terms of reduced recoil and accuracy (they do after all leverage military technology…and who knows more about killing than the military?)  And I do fully understand a latent hypocrisy in my stance in that many of the rifles and shotguns built in the 1950’s through to the 1980’s (arguably the heyday of rifle, shotgun, and bullet design) sprang from WWII military platforms or leveraged Vietnam War-era operating and ballistic techniques.  But those guns did not look intentionally like combat equipment—as this new generation does, and the marketability and image of anything that looks that “military” is going to draw attention from those who are looking for a reason to denigrate hunting, which is a headache that I don’t think we need (we have enough of that already, thank you very much).  For my American readers, I understand that my stance also draws in a constitutional aspect to the debate that thankfully I do not have to deal with here in Canada.  It certainly brings the matter of ‘rights’ into the development and ownership of this type of weapon, and rest assured I have no interest in removing or impinging on anyone’s constitutionally guaranteed lifestyle…because as a Canadian (and not an American or a constitutional historian) I simply do not understand it.  Ultimately for me, at its very root, I like the classic lines, curves, and aesthetic of glossy hardwood and blued steel.  If only I could afford more of it in my gun cabinet.  Again, is the proliferation of A-R platformed sporting arms a good thing?  Make up your own mind.
The use of optics, specifically rifle scopes, have long been at the center of a swirling maelstrom of ethical debate, but increasingly shotgun mounted ‘quickbeads’ have been the target of persecution too.  In a lot of ways it is a ‘new school’ versus ‘old school’ kind of thing, and having been on both sides of the equipment debate I can vouch for the benefits of both on a situational basis.  No one would sensibly argue that they would rather have iron sights for a 200 yard shot at a coyote or mule deer, just as very few people would likely choose even a moderately-powered scope when hunting dense bush for rabbits where shot selection is going to be inside of 30 yards. But what of the new breed of scope that not only magnifies the target, but also takes the wind, your ballistics, and caliber into account, as well as acts as a range finder and puts the reticle just where it needs to be based on all those factors?  I have never thought of mounting a $1000 computer/videogame shooting aide to my .243WIN, but apparently that’s the age we live in now.  If used properly I have no doubt that such a scope increases humanely lethal kills, just as I have no doubt that if used improperly it also gives people without the shooting skill a confidence to shoot at and wound game that they have no business even thinking of taking a poke at.  As Hamlet would say “Ay! There’s the rub.” The only qualification necessary to have such a scope is having the prerequisite funds available to buy one.  Sadly, nothing is as priceless as good judgment during shot selection…or seemingly as rare.
There’s a special spot in my heart for game calls.  If some law passed making it illegal to ever hunt with a gun again, I’d still be out there in camo with a camera and my calls.  But even my beloved calls, those bells, whistles, trinkets, and toys that make me what I am in the woods are not exempt from being included in the technological shit-storm of debate over what defines fair chase and how advances in technology and manufacturing processes are blurring that line.  If it were a contest, those select few hunters who can mouth call game with nothing but their own voice would win.  I can do it for turkeys but not much else.  Everything else we’ve manufactured to fool game: from aboriginal turkey wingbone calls, to the first hunter who blew through a cane reed duck call or scratched two pieces of wood together to yelp up a gobbler, to the machinist hand turning space-age materials on a lathe to make a short-reed goose call, right up to the tech expert who is creating digital downloads of cottontail distress calls to market to coyote and predator hunters through their smartphones, is all (depending on who you ask in both the hunting and non-hunting communities) deception and an act that cheats nature a little bit.  I’m not in for making judgments or gradations in that ladder, because it is pointless: calling and hutning are inextricably linked.  Camouflage is the same way.  Should we all go back to smearing mud and dead leaves on ourselves in an effort to remain concealed or are we okay with using state of the art digitally designed camouflage that makes a hunter nearly invisible provided they can sit still?  Regardless, a hunter still has to make the shot.  And I don’t think it is an arms race…simply because the animals aren’t evolving as fast as we can come up with new ways to fool them.  Yet still most of us fail more than we succeed.  So what do you do?  I guess you make a choice.
The further into writing this I’ve gotten….and it is now well past midnight and I’m sleepy so I suppose I’ll have to proofread this again before I post it (probably on Monday sometime)…the more I have realized two things.  The first is that it all seems so hopeless, this meaningless hypothetical conjecture.  There are so many of us doing so many different things in the field that coming to a standard conclusion about how best to reconcile modernity with such a timeless tradition as hunting is futile, and more importantly, it is likely to earn me many enemies in the hunting community…including some of my own friends and family, but whatever.  And the second is that it is very hard for me to keep my opinions to myself, as I’m sure my tone and style betrays my feelings to a degree.  Sorry if anyone took offense…it is the internet after all, so please don’t feel you have to read this again.  But before I close, and despite what I said above about futility, I guess I’ll put out this little nugget for what it is worth at this late hour.
The one thing I will stake my name on in this post is that no matter what you think about the way that technology has impacted hunting, we must also be aware that technology now makes us as hunters that much more scrutinized as well.  The non-hunting public (which as I’ve alluded to before has as much to do with our continued existence as hunters as do our actions on their own merits) now has access through social media and widespread video to a lot of information and visual evidence of what happens in the field.  If all we show is hunters whooping it up as geese and ducks careen out of the sky, or bow kills that decapitate a turkey and send it flopping about as the shooter giggles, or mile long rifle kills that strike down a mountain goat like a lightning bolt thrown by almighty Zeus himself, then what are the people that we rely on for legislative support going to think and do?  That is to say nothing about the idiots who post photos and video of wantonly cruel or illegal acts on the internet…non-hunters lump us in with those nitwits too in case you were wondering.  Don’t believe me?  Ask around.  Killing is a part of the game, but it is not the only part and depending on who you speak with, it is not even the most important part.

But aside from that whole debate, the bottom line is if we don’t police ourselves and make well-meaning, informed, and justified decisions about how we use technology in the field and how we use it to market ourselves in the public, someone else is going to take it upon themselves to make that decision for us.  If that happens we might as well all get a Kindle and read some classic hunting stories from the likes of Hill, MacQuarrie, and O’Connor, because by then it may be increasingly difficult for us to make our own new tales of hunting adventure.

Taboo of the Day: Stay In and Go Hunting?

I received some very pleasant emails the last week or so congratulating me on my return to blogging after a self-imposed hiatus, and for the couple of people who said they like my “lighter writing” (that’s a direct quote by the way) I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this is going to be lacking in frivolity.

I was sitting at home nursing a sore ankle that I earned in a soccer collision this week, when a commercial came on for Cabela’s Big Game Hunter video game platform.  Now I’ve played these games (or similar ones before) and before anyone calls me a hypocrite or a Scrooge, or whatever else gamers call people who pointedly disagree with something videogame-related, let me state that I appreciate that this is a game, and I have no fundamental opposition to this game’s existence.  I don’t think first-person-shooter games make people psychotic or desensitized to violence.  Please don’t call me a nerf-herder or something like that (how behind-the-times does that make me sound?)
Now, onto my point, or more accurately, points.  Call me an irrepressible optimist if you will, but I tend to think that marketing has the ability to reinforce positive messages.  Sadly in the commercial I saw, no positive messages were to be had.  In this commercial, a taxidermy deer has been rigged to appear to be playing the game, and with each pull of the trigger it snickers gleefully at “killing” another deer.  The deer shoots four or five I think.  The acts are calculated and methodical, with nothing but a smug, ruthless efficiency being portrayed as the dominant (nay, only) emotions associated with it.  Which I guess is fundamentally okay because it is just a game, or so the argument would be from gamers, advertisers, Activision, and likely Cabela’s.  Again this is okay because I have the ability to delineate between reality and fantasy, as do most other hunters I believe.  Based on the online reviews of the game though, it looks like a gaming public thinks that this is at least a modest portrayal of what hunting is actually all about, which is kind of frightening. 
My first gripe (because let’s not mince words) is that for those not initiated in the tradition of hunting there may not be any realization that hunting is just not like that, period.  But beyond that I made a few other observations that I thought I would lay out more as bullet points to prompt discussion than as arguments in general.  The following items should probably be thought about as we think about digital re-creations of the hunting experience.
·         Hunting involves really killing something, a fact that I bet the vast majority of participants in this game have no stomach, appreciation, or potentially the will for.
·         The video game doesn’t show the work side of hunting (i.e. field-dressing, skinning, transporting game, etc), it just shows the killing and presumably, leaving the animals in the field.
·         There actually are (and I would argue, always should be) a complex network of emotions that a hunter is forced to deal with when they succeed in taking an animal’s life.  The callousness and nonchalance in the product marketing with regards to the simulated ‘deaths’ in the game is somewhat disconcerting to say the least.
·         The pretend killing in this commercial is admittedly “messed up”, but no alternative interpretation of hunting is offered, leaving the public to potentially think that hunters take a “messed up” approach (i.e. remorseless) approach to the act of killing game animals.  But then again I have an almost paranoid concern about hunter representation in the media, so maybe I’m over-reacting….I didn’t really like that sketch on the Muppet Show where the trigger-happy, red-neck hunter stereotypes chased an adorable rabbit around as the rabbit and his woodland friends sang Buffalo Springfield’s “Stop, Hey What’s That Sound” either.  Maybe I don’t have any sense of humour?  I thought I did.
·         Cabela’s likely only endorsed this for market-share purposes.  At least I hope they did; if not they have a heavily skewed view of the type of hunting their generally good corporate name is being attached to, an equally frightening proposition.
So there you have it.  Go ahead, shout “Bah!  Humbug!” at me if you will.  Tell me I missed the point; call me a pedantic reactionary with no sense of humour.  Do whatever you want, I guess.  But maybe, just maybe, instead of buying a game console and this game, spend some money instead on taking a hunter safety class and buying a hunting license.  And rather than sitting in a basement in front of a flat screen with a miniature assault rifle in your hands shooting at pixelated deer, invest your time by seeking out a mentor that will teach how to really hunt and how to actually conduct yourself when faced with even the imaginary prospect of pointing a firearm with deadly intent at a big-game animal.  Because in the end, fresh air is better than recycled mid-winter household air, walking through a forest or field is much more enjoyable when done for real, and shooting a deer, grouse, bear, turkey, or whatever else you are out hunting is more rewarding when the actual legwork is put in.
That said, I’m still not hopeful that many will choose real hunting over videogames this Christmas.  But for those of you that do, you’ve got a willing supporter in this crotchety old curmudgeon, and I hope your days afield are all as good as mine are.