For hunters, it’s time to play offense

The anti-hunting movement has overwhelmed the consciousness of the hunting industry. Hunters, hunting land, firearms, and the sporting way of life are under attack politically and socially. Millions of hunt-able acres are shut down in Oregon to protect the spotted owl. Lead ammunition is banned in California. Increasingly legislators, not biologists, are making wildlife management decisions. Professional huntress Melissa Bachman receives threatening messages to this day, over a year removed from the day she posted her now-famous lion photo. A deceptive foe, the Humane Society of the United States, seems to gain momentum even in the face of science, ethics and reason. The negativity and pressure has taken its toll, leaving industry leaders frustrated and searching for answers. A way of life once mandatory to sustain life is now fighting for its own life.

According to John Frampton, industry veteran and leader of the Council to Advance Hunting and Shooting Sports, “we’ve got to do something drastic or hunting as we know it won’t exist for future generations.”

For me this is personal.

Meet my son, Raleigh. He’s almost two. He can say “buck,” he’s got a camo hat and a toy gun. He’ll watch a hunting show with me for about 30 seconds before his tractors or blocks distract him. Hunting means nothing to him now, but Raleigh is going to grow up the way I grew up, with a father who will teach him to love the outdoors. Will Raleigh’s friends? Or, will the race of an urbanized lifestyle, the traveling soccer teams, the two income households, the need to make time, the hassle of finding a place to go, the anti-hunting noise — will the pressure finally erode our base and crack our hunting foundation?

I say no. We’ve back-peddled long enough. I get emotional thinking about Raleigh not getting the same opportunities to enjoy the outdoors that I got. I’ve had enough. It’s time to play offense.

Let’s agree on a few things first:

The path to becoming a hunter is long — too long for most people. While hunting numbers have slowly declined for over 30 years, the number of shooters, people who shoot a bow or firearm for a purpose other than hunting, has grown rapidly in recent years. Shooting takes a smaller time investment to both learn and participate. Plus, it’s often more accessible to our urbanizing society. New shooters lack exposure to hunting and the role hunters and anglers play in the North American Model of Conservation. Let’s make conservationists out of shooters whether they hunt or not.

Hunter Adoption Model, Adapted by Dunfee and Byrne 2013 from research conducted by Decker et al; Seng et al; and others.

Almost every day I see a fight related to hunting somewhere online. The common cadence is 1) hunter posts photo 2) “anti” cries foul 3) spar ensues with supporters of each chiming in. You’ve seen it, too. I say let’s stop. The reason you care about hunting is someone took the time to teach you. You may not care for whittling or scuba diving, not because they’re not worthwhile endeavors, but because no one took the time to show you. You aren’t going to convince anyone to care about hunting, our model of conservation, or our way of life by telling them about it. The only way to change the way they feel is to include them, to take them and to teach them. An old saying goes, “never argue with a fool, for those watching may confuse which person is which.” Stop fighting and start inviting.

Image: The Blaze

To an “anti,” a successful hunt looks like a person grinning, antlers in hand. A common perception pervades; a beautiful and valuable creature dies so that a person with the means to buy meat at a grocery store can enjoy a hobby. For a hunter, success feels very different, but it’s time we embrace the irreversible cultural shift toward surrogate killing. Most people don’t want to see dead animals, and even more don’t want to be the one to pull the trigger or set the hook. Confounding carnivores, these folks. But, they’re the overwhelming majority and perception is reality. When hunting equals killing we lose. As hunters we must demonstrate to those around us that hunting is about time with family, a sense of place, stewardship of the resource, anticipation, preparation and memories. When you post your next “grip and grin” try and add a sentence or two telling the real story. Perhaps Nick Pinizzotto, CEO of the US Sportsmen’s Alliance, says it best. “As a hunting community, we need to do more to advance the notion of the important role that hunters play in conservation. We seldom try to get people to understand that we’re doing a good thing.”

Image: Western Daily Press

What if a person never had to kill an animal in order to learn about hunting and understand the role hunters play in our ecosystem? We must begin to use the fun of a conservation banquet, the thrill of a shooting competition, the planning of a habitat project, and all the non-lethal things we do as a platform for telling our story.

The problem is overwhelmingly huge. We need to reverse a massive trend with steep financial and social momentum working against us. In all the talk about the future of hunting, I believe one message is lost. No fish and wildlife agency, brilliant ad campaign, television show or conservation organization can fix the problem. This is your problem and mine. If the future of hunting is important to you then you, individually, must engage in the fight. You must reverse the trend in your life.

Here’s how to do it — our offensive playbook:

You have four assets at your disposal; you have the spots you know how to find, the trips you take, the events you attend, and the groups to which you belong.

Spots

Lack of access is choking us. Help your friends find a spot of their own. Teach them how you found your spots, or tell them how you approached the landowners. As hunters we have to be willing to do what it takes to help people find a spot to which they can come back without us.

Trips

Every time you leave an empty seat in your truck you cost yourself a chance to take someone new. Those extra seats in your duck blind, the lease you have that 3 guys could hunt instead of two — think about a friend that might have wanted to be there with you. Despite the inherent risks of losing your honey hole or ruining a good day, bring someone new at least once every tenth time you go. Just one out of ten can reverse the trend.

Events

Conservation banquets, shooting competitions, youth hunts, family day at the range — there are thousands of outdoor events. Bring your friends and invite some people from the office. Tell them to bring their kids. Who cares if they don’t hunt? We need them to understand, not necessarily kill. Further, why do you have to wait for someone else to plan an event? You know how to shoot blue rock; why not take some friends shooting instead of golfing one Saturday? Put on a wild game feed, start a memorial fishing tournament — use events as a platform for engagement and education.

Groups

Many of us belong to conservation organizations. Others are part of volunteer groups doing habitat projects or planning fundraisers. We frequent discussion boards and share photos in private groups on facebook. Groups are a powerful, non-lethal means for including new or different people. Open your group, your hunting club, or your planning committee to some new people.

Saving hunting for the next generation is impossible for you to do, no matter who you are. You can’t add public access, you don’t have the means to change policy and you can’t educate the masses. But, you can change the trend in your life. As an industry let’s get busy empowering people to use the four tools: spots, trips, groups and events. Our way of life is just; we just need to share it and only you can do it.

About the Author:

Eric Dinger is the co-founder and CEO of Powderhook.com, a website built to help people hunt and fish more often. With Powderhook you can find spots, plan trips, communicate with groups and organize events in an environment built specifically for sportsmen and women.

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