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Carrying On PETA’s Work or My Ethics Are Better Than Your Ethics

April 9, 2015

This is long.  Be warned.  If you suffer from short attention span… well, you probably blew this blog off long ago.  So there it is.  

When I hear someone blaring on with the negative stereotypes and generalizations about high fence hunting, I want to remind the speaker that these caricatures were first planted in our consciousness by the likes of Cleveland Amory and Ingrid Newkirk. In a classic demonstration of propaganda, they took the very worst examples of the industry and used the ignorance of the general public to portray them as the norm.

The ironic thing is that while the propaganda was fairly impotent at the time, at least as far as shutting down the high fence industry, the same stereotypes are being leveraged today by hunters to carry on the work that PETA was unable to achieve.

It has been my experience that many of the most vocal critics of high fence hunting are hunters who’ve never actually seen a high fence operation… at least not outside of the television screen. It has also been my experience that most of the commonly expressed opinions about high fence operations are based on ignorant assumptions about what it “must be” like, rather than what it’s really like… because, again, the speaker has never actually experienced it.

Seriously, if you’re opposed to the idea of high fence, that’s fine, but you need to be hyper-aware that you’re opposed to an idea that may or may not have any basis in reality.  If you’ve never experienced a hunt (or even a tour) on a high fence ranch, then the basis of your negative opinion comes from your imagination.  That should be reasonable cause to take a deeper look at your own attitudes, but at the very least, you ought to consider that before you go spouting off your hatred for something you really know nothing about and perpetuating false stereotypes.

The overwhelming majority of the non-hunting public know even less about it than hunters do. A pretty large contingent (maybe a majority) don’t even know there is such a thing as high fence hunting.  And why would they?

However, their total ignorance makes them sponges for information from “reliable sources.” Guess who they think is reliable. Here’s a hint.  The majority of non-hunters I’ve spoken to feel the same about PETA as we do… it’s a bunch of fringe, nut jobs. For the most part, the non-hunters turn a deaf ear to the noise from that front. But when a hunter talks about hunting, then there’s a reasonable expectation that the information is reliable.

Consider that, the next time you or someone you know is involved in a conversation with non-hunters about “canned hunting” or “shooting tame deer.”  Neither of those cliches is remotely close to the reality of most high fence hunting, but not only is your non-hunting audience unaware of that, they’re not likely to bother to go find out for themselves. They’re going to take you at your word. You’re doing the work of PETA and Friends of Animals for them, and you’re doing it well.

This isn’t about ethics. Outside of some vague notions about fair chase, your non-hunting audience really doesn’t begin to grasp the esoteric concepts that wrap around hunters’ ethics. Sure, you can differentiate yourself from the guy who hunts high fence. You can make yourself look “evolved,” and you can be the “exception” to the non-hunter’s general idea of hunters. You can puff yourself up like the perfect peacock by running down everyone who doesn’t hunt like you do. I see hunters do it all the time. That non-hunter is going to have a pretty high opinion of you, because what does he have to compare it to? It’s sort of like convincing a toddler that his dad is the strongest man in the world. They just don’t know any better.

But what did that do to all the hunters who aren’t exactly like you? What does your non-hunting audience think about them? Odds are, he still feels the same about them as he did before. You’re an exception. They are not. Or worse… you’ve made them look so bad in that non-hunter’s eyes that his opinion is lower now than it was before. Have you ever spoken to a non-hunter, and had them say something like, “I’d feel better about hunting if all hunters were like you?”

Here’s the thing. If you got that response by running down other hunters who don’t hunt the way you do, or by perpetuating negative (and wrong) stereotypes about practices you don’t actually know anything about… high fence, bait, tree stands, crossbows, long range… well, I would hope like hell that all hunters are not like you, because you, my friend, are a far larger threat to the future of hunting than any number of high fence hunters will ever be.

I know that image is important.  I know that, regardless of where their attitudes are shaped, non-hunters carry those attitudes to the polling places and vote accordingly.  If they think poorly of hunters, then the poll results will reflect that.  But why do they think poorly of hunters?

What shapes non-hunters’ attitudes about hunting?

Besides personal or family experience, non-hunters derive their ideas about hunting from media sources (including social media).  Of course to us, hunters, we’re pretty sharply attuned so it seems like there’s always something out there, and it’s not usually positive.  But fortunately, from the perspective of the non-hunter, hunting doesn’t make much news and it doesn’t really get all that much coverage in movies or television either.

What’s even more important in the context of my topic, is that non-hunters don’t really spend much time looking for hunting issues in the media.  Unless something really significant happens, like an accidental shooting, the non-hunter is unlikely to even give it a second glance.  It’s sort of like me and the US Cricket Association (and yeah, I had to look it up to see if there even was such a thing).  There could be any amount of uproar and hullabaloo, but I don’t care about cricket.  Why would I follow it in the news?

It strikes me that, when I talk to non-hunters (particularly in urban or suburban settings), they really have no concept of what hunting actually entails.  They’re often shocked to learn that we don’t kill animals every time we go afield.  Seriously, they think we just go out and shoot stuff.  What I find even more surprising is how many of them never even considered that we actually eat the animals we kill, and gawk at me in disbelief when I tell them that we do.  They often have no idea about seasons, limits, or even licenses… much less wildlife conservation or the weapons and methods we use.  (And yes, I know there are many non-hunters out there who are more informed.  My anecdotes are hardly a statistical model.)

And yet, despite the fact that they think we just go out and kill piles of animals with no intent to eat or utilize them, polls show that about three quarters of Americans view hunting favorably (and other polls show even higher acceptance when they know we plan to eat our kill).

Think about that.

That’s an important thing, I think, particularly when we (hunters) start talking about how our ethics are important to shape and manage public opinion… to protect our sport.

I don’t think it’s about our ethics at all.  I think the real threat to our sport today is the people, often in influential positions within the hunting “community” (if it can really be called that), pouring down condemnation on their fellow hunters over arbitrary ideals.  I think it’s about individuals who don’t really know what they’re talking about, spreading PETA’s lies and fabrications as if they were truth.

I’m not completely sure how this ripple became a groundswell, but if we don’t take a step back and pay attention to what we’re doing, it’s soon going to become a tidal wave.

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One Response to “Carrying On PETA’s Work or My Ethics Are Better Than Your Ethics”

  1. Carrying On PETA’s Work or My Ethics Are Better Than Your Ethics | AllHunt.com on April 9th, 2015 21:32

    […] Carrying On PETA’s Work or My Ethics Are Better Than Your Ethics […]

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