Approximately 6 percent of the U.S. population hunts. To a lifelong hunter who’s worked hard to pass the tradition on to my children, that statistic is frightening. It should be frightening to you as well. We like to think of hunting as a God-given right but, in reality, it isn’t. Like it or not, our hunting heritage ultimately lies in the hands of the remaining 94 percent of the population that does not hunt.
Fortunately for us, the vast majority of those non-hunters approve of hunting, as long as you don’t start throwing the word “trophy” around. But as hunter numbers continue to dwindle, can we keep that level of support? Social media has given us a great platform to unite and spread the positive message of hunters as conservationists and providers of healthy, organic table fare. Unfortunately, hunters can’t seem to stop fighting with each other long enough to spread that positive message. The anti-hunters, on the other hand, have taken full advantage of social media and never miss an opportunity to use it to their advantage. Which begs the question, will we continue to let social media divide us until we ultimately cannot stand up to the anti-hunting fringe? Or can we come together as hunters and bring a united voice to the non-hunting public?
Divisiveness Among Hunters
Honestly, it’s not the anti-hunting attacks and rhetoric that keep me up at night. The antis have been harassing hunters for years. Most non-hunters see these attacks for what they are — the acts of extremists. The real threat to our hunting heritage is the divisiveness that social media has brought to the hunting ranks.
Differences in opinions are nothing new for hunters. I’d be willing to bet that even the pre-settlement Native Americans couldn’t agree on the best wood for making a bow or the most effective arrowhead design. But when communication was limited to face-to-face, or even telephone discussions, those differences were typically handled in a civil manner. Each side would share their opinion and, in most cases, no one would change their mind. But at the end of the day, everyone remained friends.
Unfortunately, social media has changed the way we handle those differences. Maybe it’s because we only see a name and a profile image on the other side of the conversation, rather than a human being and fellow hunter. Whatever the reason, we often say things to one another on social media we wouldn't dare say in person. If you’ve spent more than 10 minutes on any of Facebook’s thousands of hunting pages or groups, you’ve undoubtedly witnessed it first-hand. See if this rings a bell — someone shoots a record-class buck and baseless poaching accusations immediately start flying. Someone shoots a small buck and he/she is shamed by more experienced hunters. Or, maybe it’s a hunter using one type of equipment being criticized by someone who uses something else. The list goes on.
Another area of concern with social media is the lack of a filter when it comes to what many hunters share on social media. Because of my job, I spend a lot of time online, which includes viewing and sharing my fair share of hunting photos and videos. I understand that hunting involves the taking of a life. We get blood on our hands. It’s a natural process that I believe is engrained into our DNA. We shouldn’t be ashamed of that. But, at the same time, we have to consider who else may see what we post and how it could impact their view of hunting.
Because of that, I cringe at a lot of the hunting photos and videos I see shared on social media these days. Without getting into the gory details, I’ve seen photos of deer and coyotes with arrows stuck in their heads, over-the-top, look-what-my-broadhead-did photos, videos that show excessive suffering before the animal goes down, and the list goes on. If it weren’t for us supplying the antis with the ammunition, they wouldn’t have a story to tell. The science and the facts are on our side, but we have to do a better job sharing the right message in a way that shines a positive light on hunting.
Sometimes it’s not hunters making hunting look bad, but those posing as hunters — the poachers. Unfortunately for us, the mainstream media does a poor job of differentiating between hunters and poachers when it comes to reporting wildlife violations. The result is often a black eye for all of us.
Will social media be the death of hunting? Not in and of itself. But it’s up to us whether social media strengthens hunting support or weakens our ranks. Social media is just a tool — a way to reach the masses. It can just as easily serve to spread the positive message of hunting and conservation as it can to spread the negative. We have to come together as hunters to make that happen.
We can start by policing our own ranks. Individually, we can be supportive of one another and stop the bickering over trivial matters such as equipment choice or hunting method. We also need to put more thought into what we post online. While we should never be ashamed of our hunting heritage or attempt to hide it, we do have to be conscious of the 94 percent of Americans who don’t hunt and try to keep our posts as tasteful as possible.
As managers of hunting pages and hunting groups, we can take away the voice of the trolls — those who seek to divide us. The best policy for negative comments, baseless accusations and inappropriate photos and videos is to simply delete them and move on. If someone is a repeat offender, block them. Let’s stop giving these dividers a voice.
Finally, let’s do a better job of sharing the positive aspects of hunting. Let’s post about the camaraderie, let’s share our table fare, let’s talk about the positive difference we make as hunters to the environment, and let’s talk about how fun and exciting hunting can be. Sure, we can share our harvests, too. That’s what it’s all about. But we should make sure we are doing so tastefully. In the end, it’s not just about us. It’s about the legacy and the traditions we leave for our kids and future generations to come.