Predators & Small Game
On Melissa Bachman, Nat Geo, Tim Martell and Anti-Hunters
Tim Martell, the man who started the petition that got Melissa Bachman kicked off the Nat Geo Channel, shares his side of the story with the outdoor media
I remember my first run-in with an anti-hunter. I was in journalism school, and was the outdoor columnist for the campus paper. I’d written a story on snow goose hunting in Louisiana. The next week, I sat down in a mass-communication law class, and the professor singled me out before beginning his lecture. He asked why I didn’t “just use an Uzi machine gun if I was going to shoot so many geese” and whether those geese “ended up tossed in a ditch somewhere.”
The redneck in me begged to break his nose. But instead I told him that an Uzi is both illegal and ineffective for goose hunting. I also promised to cook some of those geese and bring them to the next class meeting.
The look on they guy’s face when I carried that heaping platter of fresh-grilled snow goose poppers into the room two days later was priceless. He refused to even taste them, and instead sat seething at his desk while I walked the platter around to my classmates. Being college kids on boxed-dinner diets, they devoured every scrap. The professor never bullied me again.
THE MELISSA BACHMAN ORDEAL
My little tiff in college wasn’t my last, and I have more to come. But day in and out, I find my attitude to be one of complacence; happily ignoring the fact that there are people in the world who not only disapprove of me and my hunting culture, but would happily destroy it given the chance. At times, I’m reminded of how real the threat is.
Melissa Bachman is a colleague; a regular contributor to hunting magazines; a videographer, editor and television host. She graduated with honors with a double-major in TV broadcasting and Spanish. She’s young, good looking, and well-spoken, with a thick accent that reveals her Minnesota roots. She backs those professional qualifications up with impressive hunting skills, being a bowhunter above all. We posted an article profiling her last winter here on Realtree.com, which she links to prominently on her own site.
Late this summer, Bachman was involved in the filming of a new reality television show on the National Geographic Channel called "Ultimate Survivor Alaska." Increasingly, it seems, hunting is gaining more prominence on major networks, with such shows as "Swamp People" on the History Channel and "Duck Dynasty" on A&E leaping to the tops of the ratings charts. Bachman’s participation in the show could’ve been another feather in the cap for the hunting community.
But she didn’t get the chance to complete the project. A Florida man named Tim Martell viewed some of Bachman’s trophy photos and watched some of her hunts online. A life-long fan of Nat Geo, Martell took exception to Bachman’s participation in the show and created a petition on the website Change.org to have her removed from the project. The petition took on a viral life, gaining 13,000 signatures. Within 24 hours, Nat Geo kicked Bachman off the show and gave this statement:
"The National Geographic Channel has carefully considered the public discussion of our series on surviving the wilds of Alaska currently in production and premiering sometime next year. Upon further reflection we plan to eliminate one of the survivalists from the ensemble cast, Melissa Bachman. Hunting is not the focus of the show, and we regret the misinformation that has clouded what we hope will be an exciting adventure series set in the incredible Alaskan landscape."
But the fallout didn’t stop there. In addition to those petition signatures, numerous web pages associated with Bachman exploded with nasty—and disturbing—comments from anti-hunters. Bachman’s website, her Facebook page, her YouTube page, and even the Nat Geo Facebook page were flooded with death threats, not only aimed at Bachman personally, but at her family, and wholesale threats to hunters in general. They defaced photos of Bachman, including some of her with children, in which they photo-shopped bullet holes in kids’ heads.
Quite a few comments appeared right here on the Realtree site. I deleted some of them because they were too profane to leave in place, but left others as an example for this story. Tony Hansen and I both waded into the fray, and we were quickly attacked as well.
Some of these examples are the full comments. Others are just snippets:
From “Kapush”: Nice! She loves killing because there's nothing she'd rather be doing! How commendable :) I'll know there'a a God when I hear news of you being torn to bits doing what you love doing most. Cheers!
From “Peacelover”: She is the most egregious sub-human on the planet. She trophy hunts and there is not one reason on earth for a human to do that. It is both vile and inexcusable. She is should be hunted and left to die in agony.
Also from “Peacelover” (responding to another poster): You are a very very deranged psychopath as well. You too lack compassion and soul. Go shoot yourself. Your poor poor daughters... being related to you. Yes, we hate sub-humans who take pleasure in killing animals. So we hate you too. Maybe we will luck out and you will have some horrible terminal illness, or someone will shoot you, or maybe a heart attack.
From "ToniAlbanese": Our digestion system was not made for eating meat. You contribute nothing to wildlife. Your a serial killer...plain and simple. I changed my diet at the advice of my Oncologist. I consume NOTHING from an animal. You don't ensure wildlife exists. You kill wildlife. Just admit it. I owe you NOTHING but pity for you unethical and immoral lifestyle.
From “OLII”: She’s a psychopath. Psychopaths must be removed from civilized society.
As I watched these comments, I was stunned by the venom and ignorance. Some of these people believe humans were never meant to eat meat at all; that throughout history, the human race has somehow survived on the wrong diet, that we should’ve been vegetarians all along, and that the modern anti-hunting vegan is the only type of human being enlightened enough to understand that.
I had to wonder about the motives of the guy behind the movement, Martell. I learned that he's a conservationist and wildlife-viewing guide. Were these his views as well?
In an interview with Yahoo News, Martell said, "I'm not against all forms of hunting. I'm primarily against trophy hunters. I believe that it's wasteful. It's damaging to the ecosystem. To kill for a thrill or just a photograph is just unnecessary."
I decided to give him a call and ask him a few questions.
MARTELL'S SIDE OF THE STORY
The first call didn’t go well. When I told Martell who I was and where I worked, he steadfastly claimed that he’d made his position on hunting clear to Yahoo News, and wouldn’t give me the opportunity to ask anything. With the interview headed south, I managed to get in one question: Were these death threats toward Bachman something you intended to happen when you created the petition?
Martell told me that was a loaded, ridiculous question and hung up. And so I emailed him; told him I knew that question was tough, but that it was necessary. I had other questions, but the two I most wanted to know were: What is his definition of “trophy hunting”? And what forms of hunting does he find acceptable?
Martell accused me of being biased. I told him of course I was biased. As a result of his petition, my colleague, culture and way of life had come under attack. I made clear I had no intention of praising what he’d done, as the Yahoo story did, but that I would treat him fairly, and not skew what he had to say.
After several emails, he finally decided to answer a few of my questions.
His first statement was in bold letters:
"I do not support or condone threats against Melissa Bachman in any way, shape or form. It is against my principles and I call on anyone threatening Ms. Bachman to put an immediate halt to these comments that are counter-productive to reaching an understanding between hunters and those who oppose or simply do not understand the nature of hunting."
On trophy hunting, Martell said:
“(Trophy hunting is) The selective harvesting of a larger and older animal without full and complete understanding of that specific animal’s ongoing contributions, whether negative or positive, to the overall health of the population and the ecosystem.
“I believe that the only people who can tell anyone (including hunters) which animal is prime for selective harvesting is an actual biologist or ecology specialist. I don't think that trophy selection should be in the hands of the average hunter. After all, when the largest trophy of a region has been shot ... what becomes the trophy then? Obviously the next smallest animal which is then subsequently shot as the ‘next available trophy.’ All the while, the genetic code of the population becomes weakened and more vulnerable to disease and other sicknesses. While many hunters will argue that selective harvesting of the largest and oldest animals is actually good for the status of a population, I argue that it could only be that way if a local species population was extensively studied by biologists and specific animals were positively and scientifically identified as no longer contributing to the genetic pool. Since probably none of us are actual scientists or ecologists, I believe that we should hunt only specimens from the ‘main body’ of the population to ensure that genetic damage is not the result of removing an animal in its prime. I believe it is in the best interests of hunters to harvest selectively in the reverse ... leave the trophies to live and die ... harvest from the main body of the population.”
On acceptable forms of hunting, Martell said:
“I believe hunting is a great American tradition that should be handed down from generation to generation. I believe an apex predator should NEVER be taken due to the negative ecological impacts. We have plenty of tasty mid-sized game out there. This is what we should be harvesting. Apex predator populations have crashed worldwide and I find it extremely hard to justify killing one regardless if there are plenty around in a given region or not.” He added, “Some hunters claim that bear meat and trophy meat can be quite tasty, but in talking to others, I have consistently been told that the meat from bears and old animals is ‘stringy, extremely tough, extremely gamey tasting and extremely undesirable.’”
I called Martell after he answered my questions and thanked him for his time. He asked me to use his quotes not as a chance to “shoot him down,” but to actually educate him if he’s wrong. Though what happened to Bachman incenses me, the primary role of an outdoor communicator is just that. To educate.
A trophy hunter, as I define it, is one who passes on younger animals for the chance at a mature animal—nothing more. A mature animal is one that’s more difficult to outsmart; an animal that keeps us in the woods longer. At the end of the hunt, you damn-well better enjoy that meat yourself, or share it with someone who does. Robert Ruark said, “You might as well learn that a man who catches fish or shoots game has got to make it fit to eat before he sleeps. Otherwise it’s all a waste and a sin to take it if you can’t use it.”
I agree with that. Quite a few states have wanton waste laws. I believe they should be across the board.
But Martell didn’t focus so much on the eating of a trophy. His claim is that the focus on older animals is damaging to a herd, but he’s overlooking the paramount difficulty of killing such an animal. The very thing that makes trophy animals attractive to hunters—the challenge of killing one—also ensures most of those animals survive, season after season. As for having biologists evaluating herds of game by region, as he suggests? Well, they do just that in every state that I’m aware of. That’s why most states have various zones with different season lengths, dates and bag limits.
It’s simply unrealistic to believe that biologists could provide hunters with a list of animals that are OK to shoot at the outset of every season. Fish and Wildlife employees are funded by hunting and fishing licenses—no state tax dollars, in most cases. They’re overworked.
Besides, for the better part of a century, hunters in the U.S. have been entrusted with game management decisions on an individual level each new season. We’ve volunteered to pay for the conservation of those animals through taxes on our equipment. We volunteer even more through countless groups such as Ducks Unlimited, The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, Mule Deer Foundation and a myriad others.
Game animals in this country are not only surviving; as a whole, they’re thriving. I’d say we hunters have done a pretty good job.
That’s not to say we can’t get better. Today, more than ever before, hunters are well-educated on the natural history of the animals they pursue. Organizations such as the Quality Deer Management Association have done an outstanding job educating hunters on the body characteristics of young animals and old animals, in addition to the dynamics of a healthy herd. It’s no secret that the states with the healthiest deer herds tend to be those that restrict the killing of young bucks, while encouraging the harvest of older bucks and, in many cases, numerous does. Want proof? Study the herd statistics of the various states in Realtree’s own Antler Nation project that was posted this summer. The states that produce big numbers of trophy animals tend to keep right on producing them, year after year.
Genetic material doesn’t change in an animal’s lifetime. A young buck from good stock passes his genes along, whether he’s 2.5 years old or 6.5 years old. And let’s not forget—half of any animal’s genes come from the mother.
Moving on to apex predators—black bears, alligators, mountain lions and the like—Martell makes some good points. In parts of the world, those animals are on the decline for various reasons, and in those places, right now, they shouldn’t be hunted. But sport hunting is seldom among the reasons for their declines. Poaching often is, but we’re not talking about poaching here. We’re talking legal hunting.
Here, in this country, those apex predators are often managed as game animals, and like our other game animals, they’re far from in trouble. Whether they taste good or not is a matter of opinion. I’ve eaten bear, alligator and mountain lion. Alligator is fantastic, and when it’s available, I order it in restaurants. Lion is white, mild and tastes a lot like pork. We have some in our freezer now. It’s good when pan-fried, or ground up for enchiladas. Bear is admittedly my least favorite of the three, but I’ve gotten full on countless plates of biscuit and gravy with bear sausage.
Some people like lentils and tofu. I think they taste like hell. But who am I to dictate another man’s palate?
Martell has every right to admire these animals. I do. Bachman does. They are powerful, amazing creatures. But as long as hunter dollars are footing the bill for their habitats and well-being, and until biologists on the ground tell us that hunting them is having a detrimental effect to their populations, the hunting opportunity should continue.
Martell said some things that stuck with me.
“Trophy hunters seem to have an ego issue,” he said. “They want bigger and bigger specimens all the time as a testament to their skill. Bragging rights ... To be accepted as legitimate, hunters should respect their prey … Mocking a dead animal on national television DOES bring the ethical and good intentions of trophy hunters into question.”
And on that, I agree with him. Plenty of shows on outdoor TV provide useful information. They provide entertainment. They give us a chance to admire big animals. But there are times when I cringe at things I see. Sure, a hunter who has taken a trophy animal has a right to get excited. I do. But that animal had but one desire: to live. Killing it should not be taken lightly. Appreciate it for the experience it provided. But above all, respect it.
IN THE END
I don’t forgive Martell for what he’s done. Maybe he called for an end to the death threats, but he has a finger on the pulse of the anti-hunting crowd. Much better than my own. He knew the ground was soaked with gasoline, but he lit that match and tossed it. I doubt Bachman will forget about it anytime soon.
But neither do I believe he's a bad guy, or an anti-hunting nut job. We’ll never convince people like Peacelover, who left the craziest of comments on this site, that hunting is a good thing. Arguing with them is a waste of time.
But I think in many ways, Martell was on the fence. Maybe he still is. Maybe we can convince people like him that when it comes to wildlife and conservation, we hunters are far from the bad guys.
We in the hunting community must remember that there are people watching us. People who might not share our appreciation for hunting, but aren’t completely against it, either. Some of them have the power to sway the masses. We can get mad and call them names, or we can attempt to educate them—and give ourselves a gut-check in the process.
A petition to get Bachman reinstated on the Nat Geo show has now been created. If you’d like to sign it and show her your support, follow this link.
Submitted on September 12, 2012