Head Shots – Once More for the Cheap Seats

December 6, 2017

WARNING! Stop now and do not read further if you are offended or affected by graphic depictions of animal death or injury.

Head shots.

It’s a fairly hot topic in any hunting discussion, whether live or on social media (but especially on social media).  There are hunters who swear by the head shot, and others, like myself, who swear at them.  I’ve written about it before, and I’m sure it’ll come up again, if I keep on writing this stuff.

Advocates of the head shot rave about how it’s always either a drop-dead kill, or a clean miss.  They’ll talk about how it wastes no meat.  Frequently, they will make the case that any hunter worth his salt can successfully and consistently make a clean head shot… along with the implication that, if you can’t shoot well enough to make head shots, you probably shouldn’t be toting a gun in the first place.

As I’ve pointed out before, though, the head shot is definitely not fail-safe.  In fact, a slight misstep can be catastrophic, but not fatal, to the quarry.  It can result in a wicked wound that barely bleeds and results in a slow, miserable death.

So, let’s get to the impetus for this post.

I shot this buck tonight.  The knife point is at the entry wound.  The exit… well, that’s pretty obvious. (Click the image to see a larger version.)  This is a head shot gone terribly wrong.

In fact, everything about this shot was absolutely wrong.  The deer was moving away rapidly, and I had a brief moment to make the shot between some trees.  His head and the top of his neck was all I could really see through the gap.  I put the crosshairs on the back of his skull and let it fly.  The result was that the shot entered the side of the buck’s head, below the eye, and exited through the sinus cavity.

A head shot like that should have dropped him on the spot, right?  It didn’t.  In fact, he barely flinched at the hit.  As soon as he gained open ground, he bolted across and into the thick stuff.  I was pretty sure I had completely missed him.

This whole thing perfectly illustrates something I’ve called out for years.  That facial wound would likely have taken days to kill that deer, and would have provided a nearly impossible blood trail.  It’s a damned good example of what happens when a head shot is less than perfect, which happens more than some folks might like to admit.

But he’s dead, right?  It must have worked?

Well, the rest of the story is that this shot was actually a follow-up to a previous shot.  When I saw him still on his feet, moving through the trees, I felt like I needed to try to put him down… which is why I was willing to attempt such a low-percentage shot.  Fortunately, as it turns out, he really didn’t make another 30 yards, since my first bullet blew through both lungs, and that deer was already dead on his feet when I shot him in the face.

This is why I generally push back against people who recommend the head shot.  It’s not as infallible as some folks would have us believe, and there’s simply no need for relying on the head as a primary target.  Use a sufficient caliber and a good bullet to shoot them in the chest, or in the neck, where you have much higher odds of a clean kill, and less likelihood of causing a slow, painful death.

Sharing Your Joy – Say, “Cheese”, But Not, “Cheesy”

August 23, 2016

People have been sharing pictures of their successful hunts since the earliest bloggers sketched stick figures on cave walls.  Hunting and art were both a little tougher back then.  Nowadays, you don’t even need basic skills with a burnt stick, since your telephone will take a digital photograph and post it to your virtual cave wall for the whole world to see…. and as best I can tell, all you have to do is say, “Phone, take a picture,” et, voila!  You’re practically Arny Freytag!

Of course, as you probably know, I certainly have no issue with posting success photos (hero shots, grip-n-grins, whatever you want to call them).  I’ve certainly posted enough of that kind of thing here on the Hog Blog, as well as on Facebook.  I share my own (when I have them), and I sometimes post photos from friends and readers.  I think it’s a great way to share your excitement and the joy of success with fellow hunters.


At risk of falling into the Cult of Inoffensiveness, I do want to suggest that folks take a critical look at the photos you’re about to share.  Think about the story it tells.  Consider that when someone else looks at your photographs, you’re not there to tell the tale yourself, so everything rests on the thousand words the viewer takes away from that image.

I’ve posted on this before (here), but with hunting seasons already underway, I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more pictures on our feeds over the coming weeks and months.  It also comes to mind in the light of the Josh Bowmar fiasco.

Haven’t heard of that one?  Bowmar was hunting bears up in Canada, and decided to kill his bear with a spear.  I don’t know the regs, but it appears to have been a completely legal option (although in light of the outcry, Alberta is considering a ban on spear hunting).  From an ethical perspective, while most people probably don’t have the skills to heave a spear accurately at game, Bowmar appears to have practiced a good bit, and his shot was good.  Beyond that, I can’t see where a razor sharp spear is any less lethal or humane than a broadhead.  From a technical perspective, it actually seems much more effective.

Not only did he want to kill the bear with the spear, but he wanted to get it all on video… and then share that video on the World Wide Web.  I think this is where he went wrong, at least in the eyes of the general public.  To begin with, he’s killing an animal with an extremely primitive-looking weapon.  Most non-hunters don’t understand how weapons kill, and to many, primitive means “ineffective”.  It seemed brutish and cruel.

But what I think really got to people was his reaction on hitting the bear with the spear.  It was, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty over-the-top.  Maybe he was genuinely, uncontrollably excited, or maybe he was hamming for the camera.  Either way, he came off looking like a total ass.  Let’s be clear here, I’m not saying he was a total ass, but that’s how he came across to many viewers.  And that’s my point.

Once the picture (or video) leaves your direct control, then you no longer have the ability to speak to it or to manage who sees it.  It’s a lot like firing a bullet.  Once you pull the trigger (or click Submit), it’s too late to call it back.

So, as we all go out this season with our cameras or phones or burnt sticks, keep a few things in mind.  Here are some general suggestions:

  • Keep it clean(ish).
    • Wipe up excess blood, and avoid sharing extremely gory images with the general public.
    • Put the animal’s tongue back in its mouth if it’s hanging out.
  • Show some respect.
    • You don’t have to be crying or praying over the animal, but there’s no need to share your victory dance with the world.
    • I would avoid the too-common “ride the pony” pose (sitting astride the recently deceased beast), and just kneel or sit beside the animal.
    • And for heaven’s sake, don’t pose the animal in sexual or demeaning ways.
  • Tag your animal.
    • Most states require immediately tagging a big game animal.  It’s easy to forget this step before jumping into photos, and while it probably doesn’t hurt anything in the moment, remember that viewers are only going to see an untagged animal.  It gives a bad impression, and can potentially lead to a visit from a game warden.

Most of us don’t have professional sponsorships to lose, and I realize that some folks will never be satisfied with any hunting photo, so you may be thinking, “what the hell difference does it make?”

Truthfully, it probably doesn’t make a huge difference for most of us.  But sometimes, it’s just the little things we do, and people we don’t even know take notice.  It’s not that hard to take good, quality, respectful photos and video.  Why not just do it?

And hey, if you want to be “funny” for your buds, go ahead.  Just don’t share those private moments with the world.






Technology Again…

June 22, 2016

Thanks to my friends at Orion, I followed a link to this article on the Izaak Walton League website.  It sort of tees up an easy shot for pretty much anyone who’s interested with the title, Technology vs. Ethical Hunting.  In the parlance of the Interwebz, that would be called, “clickbait.”

So, of course I seized the opportunity to pick some of that low-hanging fruit for myself and write an easy blog post.

The content of Technology vs. Ethical Hunting is about what you might expect.  The writer ponders technological development since the days of his recurve and birch arrow shafts… or the changes since our forefathers carried flintlocks and powder.

Hunting has changed a lot since our forefathers walked into the woods with black powder rifles and iron sights. Today, we have rifles that can shoot unheard of distances, scopes with built-in range finders that adjust for myriad external factors, and bullets that are manufactured to extreme tolerances that allow consistent shooting patterns. And anyone can download bullet calculators and punch in the zero range, caliber, bullet type, and weight. You can even factor in different temperatures and wind speeds. You can print out the exact bullet drop out to several hundred yards.

Is this good or is it bad?  Has “hunting” lost something in the transition?  These are, of course, the questions the essay begs us to ponder.

To begin, I think it’s worth pointing out that hunting technology has been evolving since our species first hunted for our food.  Obviously, the change was initially driven by necessity, and we’re some pretty clever monkeys when it comes to getting dinner.  Once it stopped being about feeding ourselves, however, I think it became more about pushing the envelope just to see how clever we can be.

And we’re pretty accomplished at pushing that envelope.  Hunting has become more comfortable, more efficient, and, to a lot of people, more fun.    It would be silly to argue that it hasn’t also, in many ways, become easier as well.  Still, it is only as easy as any individual chooses to make it.  I believe that’s a key point that gets overlooked any time this discussion comes up.

It mystifies me, why some hunters take such offense when some other hunters don’t hunt according to the same standards.  Why is it so important to criticize the other guy?  What does the way I hunt take away from you?  It’s not like the treestand hunter is trying to force the backcountry guy to climb a pine and sit tight.  The crossbow hunter isn’t making any effort to force the trad bow guy to switch gear.

If technology doesn’t suit you, then don’t use it.  I know, that’s a super-simplified response.  This is simple, though… or it ought to be.  If you’re not breaking the law, harming the resource, or threatening public safety, then hunt the way you want to hunt.

So, there’s this other thing that some folks like to trot out when these discussions come along.  “This technology looks bad to non-hunters.”

We’ve all heard it.  Some of us have probably said or written it.  And I’ve challenged it time and again.

Here’s the reality.  Most non-hunters don’t have a clue what happens when we hunt.  Most of them don’t even realize the levels of regulation we deal with, much less the subtleties of ethical behavior.  Many non-hunters think that we just go out and shoot stuff, with whatever we want, however we want.  They generally think we kill stuff every time we go out, and a ridiculous number of them are actually surprised to find that we eat what we kill.  Maybe there’s a vague recognition that there are seasons and limits, but I’ve found that even these basics come as news to a lot of people.

The other reality is that most non-hunters really don’t give a damn about hunting.  To be sure, this makes them a little more susceptible to well-managed propaganda campaigns, but day-to-day efforts by anti-hunters generally fall on deaf ears.  There’s always a risk at the tail end of an election cycle, of course, when hunting bills are on the ballot.  People tend to believe the worst, and when it comes to issues that don’t impact them directly, they vote on the most recent thing in their memories.  This, though, is really more about managing election campaigns than about who uses trail cameras or high-powered rifle optics.

I’ve said all of this before, and it looks like I’m going to keep repeating it.  When I look around social, and even traditional media, the most vocal outcry about bad hunting ethics and abuse of technology is coming from hunters, not from the antis.  If anyone is tainting the public mind about hunting ethics, I say it’s the hunters who scream about other hunters using everything from tree stands to drones… often without even really knowing much about what they’re screaming about.

I probably shouldn’t even have to add this, but I will.  There is “bad” technology.  Not that anyone is really doing this, but arming drones is probably bad.  So is computer-based hunting (using a computer and a networked camera/gun system).   Ethical questions aside, firing a gun at something that you can’t see with your own eyes is an inherently unsafe activity.

I also have no issue with discussions about the esoterica of hunting ethics.  I think it’s great to aspire to the ultimate ethical high ground.  I think it’s awesome to challenge yourself as a hunter, to test your woodsman-ship and stamina, and it’s good to encourage other hunters to do the same.  But seriously, if I choose to sit on my back porch and pot deer when they come to my food plot, how does that take away from the guy who backpacks 20 miles into the wilderness with a self-bow and hand-knapped broadheads?

It doesn’t.

Technology vs. Ethical Hunting presents a false dichotomy.  It’s good click-bait, and can make for a lively, online discussion.  But at the core, it’s a self-defeating topic, and rife with the potential to be both destructive and divisive.


“Sport” Hunting And Conservation – Yeah, That Old Saw

March 23, 2016

This piece from the UK Independent has been bouncing around for a week or two now.  It’s not really news, nor is it particularly revolutionary thinking.  But then, since it references statements from Prince William, it carries a certain panache that it would probably lack if it came from some bourgeois layman like… say… me.

That’s a hell of a long way around to the point.

Oh, and that point…  African trophy hunting, despite social media outrage, provides significant benefits to conservation.  Stepping around the sensational stories of “Cecil” and endangered white rhino hunts, the fact remains that properly regulated and managed sport hunting more than pays for the animals it removes from the habitat.

Did we really need to hear that from the second-in-line for the crown of Great Britain?

It’s hardly news.  Hell, every time trophy hunting comes up on the Interwebz or in the major media, a swarm of folks from SCI to wildlife management experts chime in with the numbers and statistics that show how important the revenue from hunters funds everything from habitat protection to anti-poaching patrols.  But when all is said and done, public opinion generally sides against the bloodshed… against logic.

It’s an interesting conundrum, but I’m not sure it needs to be so enigmatic.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s pretty simple.  People who don’t hunt really don’t understand those of us who kill animals for “fun”.

To be sure, there are things they grudgingly accept, such as when some of us claim to hunt for food.  There are also things they reject, such as the notion of hunting animals merely to collect the trophies (antlers, horns, mounts, etc.).  And, nowhere more than in the case of African hunting, do hunters appear to be out for nothing more than the experience of killing exotic (insert other adjectives here, such as majestic, regal, proud, etc.) animals in order to bring home the trophies.  That will never sit well with non-hunters.  Truthfully, it even makes many hunters uneasy.

Here’s where this dovetails into another perennial debate (discussion, argument, donnybrook).  Hunting ethics and “fair chase” have become hugely divisive topics in the hunting community.  While many of these differences have existed all along, social media has created a platform where individuals can criticize without the direct accountability of face-to-face communication.  In this virtual environment, it is becoming more common to see people embrace unrealistically idealistic stances on ethical behavior, and then to hold others to that same standard.

At the same time, the Internet, along with the rapidly growing outdoors television industry, have exposed hunters to practices and traditions they have never experienced and do not understand or appreciate.  For example, western hunters accustomed to hunting large expanses of public land see the east coast treestand hunters, sitting over feeders, bait, or food plots.  It’s a very different set of tactics, and on first glance, may not seem like a very rewarding way to hunt.   In fact, it may even seem to be “unfair”.  Rather than embrace the differences or educate themselves, many folks choose to judge and denigrate the others.  The most common justification for the criticism is that the behavior, “makes hunters look bad.”

These issues come together when we see something like the recent fiasco with “Cecil” the lion, or the auction of a hunt for an endangered species.  Emotional and uneducated responses flood both the traditional and non-traditional media.  While it’s no surprise that anti-hunters and non-hunters would jump on that bandwagon, I’m a little nonplussed to see the number of hunters who rush to judgement as well.  To be clear, the circumstances surrounding the killing of “Cecil” are suspect, and it appears that laws were broken.  No one, hunter or otherwise, should condone that.  But over and above that, the outright indictment of African hunting is not justifiable, and I was a little ashamed to see the number of hunters who were right there with the antis, calling for abolition without a clear understanding of what it is that they want to abolish… or of the real effects that shutting down the industry would have.

I realize as I’m writing this, that I may have bitten off more than I can necessarily chew in one meal.  Because here comes another tangent…

I can’t help thinking, as I watch things like this unfold… the ongoing posturing of, “my ethics are better than your ethics,” or, “my way of hunting is right and yours is wrong,” has a lot in common with this whole thing that seems to be taking place on college campuses (and in some communities), wherein the emotional security of the individual supposedly supersedes a free and open exchange of ideas and opinions.  At risk of over-simplifying a complex situation, what I see here is a whole new level of selfishness, regardless of the potential cost to the bigger picture.  “I am personally offended by something you are saying or doing, therefore, I am in my rights to tell you, and everyone like you, to stop.”

From the academic perspective, I think the logical progression of this argument is obvious.  At the very least, it throws a wet, burlap sack over much of history, art, and literature.  It’s tearing down Civil War monuments because they remind people of slavery.  It’s throwing away great works of literature because they include racist, sexist, or hateful themes and language.  It’s chipping the genitalia off of the statue of David because, well, genitalia.  Over time, if this were allowed to become the norm (I honestly doubt it), the scope and value of education would be so diluted as to be pretty much worthless.  Universities would become technical schools, and instead of scholars, graduates would be technicians.

For hunters, it’s sort of the same thing.  If we continue to ostracize other hunters and squelch their traditions based on nothing more substantial than that they offend our sensibilities, what can we say when non-hunters do the same to us?  And then, what happens when hunting goes away?  Maybe we can use what we know of Africa as a guide there.


Hog Blog Spotlight – The Camouflaging Our Differences Program

February 11, 2016

One of the things I have always tried to do with this site is to identify and highlight great programs related to hunting and the outdoors.  I, obviously, haven’t done much in a while… but I’ll be working on changing that.  Here’s something now.

I’d heard a little bit about Camp Compass over time, but never really knew much about it. Then, this morning I got a press release about the program and a new video they’ve released.  While I really love the idea of the program that gets inner city kids exposed to the outdoors, the thing that caught me up in this particular message was the focus on using the opportunity to break through racial (and gender) barriers.

So, anyway, take 10 minutes and check out the video.  There’s a Go Fund Me campaign as well, if you feel inclined to chip in a little cash to the program.  Or maybe it’ll stir you to start or get involved with something similar yourself.

Resurrecting The Adam Henry Awards – Trophy Hunter Edition

October 1, 2015

There seems to have been a rash of trophy hunters behaving poorly of late.  While I’ve been known, on multiple occasions, to take my pot-shots at the antler fixation, my targets have largely been relatively innocuous… at least inasmuch as breaking the law to attain their goals.

But then I read about the yo-yo from Sportsman Channel’s The Syndicate poaching multiple species in Alaska… apparently for no better reason than to acquire footage for the TV show.  Another TV host was busted in the lower 48 for similar reasons, including trespassing and unlicensed hunting (unfortunately, I can’t find a current link for this one).  It’s enough to make me want to smack my head.

Truly, any of these guys would rate the Adam Henry Award (Adam Henry is an informal radio code used by some law enforcement and emergency services personnel to designate someone as an asshole, in case you didn’t know).  But then, as I was perusing the news releases Wednesday night, this gem lit up my screen.

Apparently, this young fellow, one Nick Davis, was so eager to make his bones, so to speak, that he actually screwed a monster set of antlers from a PA deer to a dead NC deer… and proceeded to have it scored as a new North Carolina state record!


Yeah, sadly enough, it’s absolutely serious.

And sad.  So fricking sad…  I mean, what an idiot move, right?

Better yet, though, the Blind Tom who scored and approved it… Joey Thompson, from the NC Bowhunters’ Association… didn’t seem to pick up on the discrepancy and is so upset, according to the article, that he might not score any deer “for a while.”

Really?  I sort of think it might be time to hang up the tape, amigo.  You know… just give it some thought.

On top of everything else, apparently our boy, Mr. Davis, took it a step further by shooting the NC deer (a 3-point, eastern count) with a rifle during archery season.

Honestly, this was all it took for me to blow the dust off of the Adam Henry Award.  Mr. Nick Davis, of Elkin, NC… you earned this!


So Much Going On, So Much To Say

August 2, 2015

It’s irrepressibly tempting to spout off on that topic that everyone is going on about.  I can’t flip on the computer or TV without seeing, reading, or hearing something stupid, reductionist, or simply ignorant in regards to hunters and hunting.   Sometimes I can’t stop myself from responding, but mostly I shake my head and bite my tongue.

Honestly, what constructive input could I offer at this point?  Poaching is bad.  We know that.  I could speculate about culpability and accountability and such, but I simply don’t have the full set of facts.  At this moment, no one really does, except the parties involved.  From here on, the discussion should be in the hands of the court and investigators.  The truth will out… even if most people will have moved on to the next hot, social media outrage by the time it does.  It would serve the rest of us, and constructive dialogue, well to hold our respective water until then.

Some will argue that this uproar is good, because we should be having the discussion about sport hunting, ethics, endangered species, and the protection of sensitive populations.  I’ll respond that many of us have been having these conversations all along.  That has not changed.  The only thing that has changed now is that a mass of emotional and uninformed voices have (briefly) joined the fray, and the chaos is completely non-constructive.  There is very little impetus to educate or be educated, but an overwhelming roar of single-minded, blanket condemnation.  Reason and logic, struggle, flounder, and are washed away in the static.

Along with this, of course, the hunting apologists are coming back to the fore.  I just read a heartfelt screed (sadly, I’ve lost the link… it was a good read, albeit hardly original) about why the writer chooses to avoid the use of the word “killing” in conversations about hunting.  The argument is based on the idea that the word, killing, single-handedly reduces the hunt to a single act (rhetorically) and obscures the subtle shades of meaning and experience that set hunting apart from simple slaughter.  But the reality is that what’s being obscured here is the truth of hunting… the part that most non-hunters have trouble with.  It’s a well-intended obfuscation, but it’s still obfuscation.

I’ve also seen a handful of pieces in which the writer draws tighter the noose of “fair chase” ideology, apparently unaware of the reality that the more narrowly you start to define “fairness” in this context, the more you should come to realize that hunting is inherently unfair.  If fairness is a strict rubric by which to justify the hunt, then when you break it down, the hunt really can’t be justified at all.

Fairness is a construct for setting the rules of a competition, which is why Pope and Young and Boone and Crockett defined “Rules of Fair Chase” as criteria for inclusion in their record books.   Somehow, somewhere along the line, some folks have decided that these guidelines are supposed to be the gospel of hunting ethics, the first and last word in how we all should hunt… the Alpha and the Omega.  I can see why this happened as a defense against the ongoing assault by anti-hunters, but I feel it’s misguided, divisive, and potentially dangerous in the long run.

Fair Chase is not a terrible ideal for hunters to keep in mind because there’s an implicit respect for the quarry, as well as for the hunter’s skill, but; as a strict set of parameters, it’s unrealistic… practically unattainable.   What’s more, strict adherence to the fair chase dogma is often in conflict with the goals of wildlife management.

I’ve written these things before (and thanks to those of you who are regular enough readers to recognize the redundancy).  My opinion has changed very little, although I’d be remiss not to point out that it is opinion.

So where’s that leave us?

Right where we started.

I don’t have the answers.  Banal as this feels to write, I’m not even sure I know the questions.

Use Enough Gun… Please

June 10, 2015

No irony intended, although what I’ve got to show you may seem that way.  So let’s just jump right to it, before I toss in my two cents.

Now it’s a pretty long clip, and it starts with some good information and ends with the hunter making good use of his kill.  The shot was good too, and the whole thing was well set up.  One thing stands out… .22 long-rifle.

According to our host, it’s “all you need if you know right where to put the bullet.”

Queue redundancy alert…

It is NOT all about shot placement.

Here is a list of the elements that went into that clean kill:

  • Shooting from an elevated blind
  • Shooting at close range (I don’t think he says, but it looks about 20 yards)
  • Shooting with a solid rest
  • Shooting a very accurate rifle
  • Shooting at a relaxed and (relatively) stationary animal
  • And, finally, perfect shot placement

The choice to use the .22lr is rationalized (by many people, including the host of this video) because the hogs are “just pests”.  It implies that it’s OK to eradicate them by any means.  It also implies that the risk of a poorly placed shot and crippled animal is perfectly acceptable, in the name of “pest control”.  In all honesty, I’ve come out with similar arguments in defense of eradication methods, such as shooting from helicopters.  If it’s really about killing as many as possible as efficiently as possible, you have to have the mindset of the exterminator.

But here’s the thing.  Take another look at that video.  How many hogs came to the bait?  Out of that sounder, how many did our host kill?

Is baiting and shooting one hog out of a small sounder really equivalent to control (never mind eradication)?  Or is it really just sport hunting?  And if it’s sport hunting, do the same ethics apply?

I’m going to stop short of outright, negative criticism, because it’s pretty clear that the fellow making this video knows what he’s doing, and he’s good at it.  It’s brutally obvious that the .22lr was sufficient to make the kill, albeit under ideal conditions (not just shot placement).  Similar videos demonstrate the capabilities of everything from .177 caliber air rifles to spears.

The problem is the consistently repeated claim that these marginal tools are “all you need” to kill hogs.   Unfortunately, the next thing you hear is the peanut gallery clamoring to get out there with their marginal weapons and wreak havoc of their own.  In a lot of ways, it’s like the long-range shooting craze that’s convinced scores of nimrods that 500 yards is supposed to be a “chip shot”, and the “right” gear will enable them to shoot deer-sized game at 1000 yards or more… or, in this case, they want to show up in the blind with grandpa’s old Hi-Standard, ready to pile up the pork.

I often feel a bit like Don Quixote when it comes to stuff like this, but I’d love to see a little less focus on “trick” hunting tactics and more on good, solid practices.  It shouldn’t be as much about what’s possible to do as it should be about what’s good to do.  (Of course, I also realize I’m treading awfully close on the hems of my favorite pet peeve… defining “right” and “wrong” based on arbitrary, emotion-based criteria.)

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with telling people that it’s good and fine to shoot hogs with a BB gun, if they want to try it.  Maybe there’s nothing wrong with promoting jumping out of the blind and biting their heads off either.  It’s a free country, right?




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.

On How We Portray Ourselves In Images

March 10, 2015

This came up today on a Facebook thread, and it occurred to me that:

  1. I haven’t updated the blog this week
  2. It’s a good topic that hasn’t been addressed in a while.

Not necessarily in that order…

First, have a little context.  The discussion came from Hank Shaw’s Facebook page, Hunt, Gather, Cook.  It’s a private page, created by Hank for hunters, foragers, and cooks to share information, knowledge, experience, and so forth.  Members range from basic hunters like myself, to professional chefs who use wild game and native, foraged foods.  The membership also includes vegetarians and non-hunters.

A few days ago, a younger hunter posted up a photograph of a hog he’d killed.  In the picture, the hog was shown bleeding on the ground with two arrows protruding from his head, just below the eye.  Earlier, the young guy had posted up another photo, this time a close-up of a squirrel impaled on an arrow shaft.  Both pictures were fairly gruesome, but common of the type we often (too often?) see shared on social media.  In both cases, his caption was essentially, “look at this animal that I killed.”

When he posted the squirrel photo, a few people, myself included, “gently” questioned his choice to show that particular photo to this particular audience, asking him how he chose to prepare the animal for the table.  No one was particularly vocal about it, though, which sort of surprised me… although this is a pretty respectful group of folks for a social media page.  But then he posted the photo of the hog.  One of the more immediate (and unsurprising) responses was to question his choice of shot placement.  That, of course, put him immediately on the defensive and left him explaining how he came to make those shots (coup de grace after the initial shot in the boiler room).  A few other folks jumped in to defend, while others criticized.  At this point, it was becoming what I’ve come to recognize as a classic social media donnybrook.

The youngster finally jumped back into the conversation, shocked at the responses and apparently upset that no one seems to have paid attention to his explanation of the questionable shot placement.  And that’s where I realized what he was missing… what a lot of hunters are missing when they post pictures of their successes.

I don’t remember who coined the aphorism that a picture paints a thousand words.  I think it’s accurate enough, but the devil is in the details (like how I worked in two clichés in consecutive sentences?) when it comes to this one.  The picture certainly invokes a story, but the words are provided by the person who is viewing it.  The skilled artist or photographer can provide context and clues to guide the tale, but when it comes down to it, interpretation is entirely up to the viewer.

With this in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people took one look at the photo of that hog (I sort of wish I could share it here, but it’s not mine to share) and came up with their own story.  I know I did.

I imagined that I saw a post from a young man, proud of what he took to be some excellent shooting, looking for approval/validation from a group of Internet “friends”.  Even further, in light of recent threads discussing head shots (which contained several strong opinions in favor of head shots), I imagined that I saw a young hunter taking what he’d learned from the older, more “experienced” hunters in the group and applying it to his own practice… which of course, is my whole problem with promoting the head shot on big game in the first place.  Within seconds of seeing the photograph, I had concocted this entire storyline in my head.  I think it’s obvious from the rapid degeneration of the thread that I’m not the only one who came up with an unfavorable storyline, except where I kept my response to myself, other people are not so restrained.

That’s how this works… Which brings to mind another cliché regarding first impressions, and the difference between sitting  around a campfire and sitting around the computer.

If a few of us were sitting face to face with this kid, and he pulled out the picture and said, “hey, check out this hog I shot,” we’d look at it and someone would probably question the choice of shot placement.  He’d explain what happened, and that would be that.  He’d put his phone back in his pocket (the portable photo album), we’d talk about hog hunting, and maybe share some coup de grace experiences of our own.

On the Internet, people (especially strangers) are often more critical and reactionary.  You often don’t get the chance to reconcile a bad first impression, and if you do, your argument is likely to be drowned in the background noise.  There’s a tendency in Internet “arguments” for antagonists to stay blind to mitigating information, or to simply miss it when the signal-to-noise ratio goes off the dial.  A lot of people don’t read back through the comments, but just jump in midstream and flail away with abandon.

Like any other mass communication medium, if you put something out on social media, you really want to have it right the first time.  That requires forethought, consideration, and restraint.

It was with this in mind that one of my final comments to the kid, after he’d taken the beating (and still didn’t seem to understand why), was that he step back and think about what story someone might tell about his pictures.  If someone looked at it, without knowing anything else, what would they imagine?

And there’s the bigger lesson, I think, for any of us who might post pictures on the Internet.  If someone doesn’t know you, doesn’t know your background, your motivations, or the context of your photo, what story might they come up with to explain what they see?  What if you don’t hunt… don’t know anything at all about hunting, or wildlife management, or any of that stuff… and you look at a picture of someone sitting on the back of a dead “zoo animal”?  What story might you imagine?

I’m not trying to justify reprehensible behavior, here.  I’m just pointing out where some of it is probably coming from, because it still seems to catch folks flat-footed.  I think the kid in this story was honestly blindsided and befuddled by some of the responses he got.

Something else I suggested in my effort to be helpful, was that he consider the images that are used in magazines and on TV.  Those images are reasonably sanitized, and are composed to tell a fairly specific story.  I think they provide a pretty good guideline for what we, as amateurs and hobbyists should follow.  And I’ll repeat that suggestion here, for anyone else.

We can’t all be professional-level photographers, but consider whether the photo you want to share would appear in a magazine?  Is it too gory?  Does it show really questionable shot placement?  Does it represent the story you want it to tell?  Or do you need to tell the story before you share the photo?

We have to think these things through.  None of us should ever be surprised by the reaction to a photo we share.

I can’t leave off without including this.  I know there is a faction of folks out there who will be offended by any photo depicting a dead animal.  There is a faction that is offended by the fact that we’re out there making animals dead in the first place.  I can’t fix that, and I’m not really concerned this minute with trying.  That’s another issue for another day.


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