Honesty is the best policy

Are we guilty of emphasising the worst aspects of hunting in our quest to tell a good story? Byron Pace investigates

I am often asked the question of how we move forward within the hunting community to a more positive future. A future where there is a greater acceptance of hunting. My ambition with this series over the last 18 months has been to break our understanding of a bigger picture where hunting plays a role. Within that, working out how we can tell a positive story about all forms of hunting, and where we can’t, addressing the issues head on.

One interesting point, which came from a speech at the DNA Film Festival held at the Northern Shooting Show this May, was the role we within the hunting industry play in advancing our own narrative, and how – whether in print or online – we still revert to some old hunting stereotypes, despite what we say otherwise. What I mean is, even in a time when there is a general acceptance that we need to move the focus away from so called ‘trophy hunting’, glance through Facebook or at some adverts and you’ll find that the focus appears to be on nothing else.

There’s so much more to hunting than getting a ’trophy’

Firstly, I’m talking about marketing messages for products along the lines of ‘This will help the hunter get that bigger buck’. There may be far better reasons to buy the product in question, but they’re not mentioned. But then hunters as individuals will fall in line and echo this focus in the social media posts they make after they’ve put that new gear to use in the field. Posts that hold up age class instead of size as the most desirable trait, or promoting hunting as a tool integral to management, ecology or conservation, are thinner on the ground. Perhaps it is because these are harder to craft. Or perhaps it is because trophy-based marketing still works.

Ok, this is a trend more prominent across the Atlantic than our own shores, but before you declare that we’re completely immune, remember that we live in a globally connected world. We see content from the USA online all the time, and we’d be lying if we said it didn’t affect us in some way.

You may be thinking, ‘But I’m not like that. I never post trophy photos online, and I talk about responsible management more than anything else.” Of course you do. I sense I am preaching to the crowd here. You aren’t the only kind of hunter. There are those out there who believe they will improve their chances of killing something ‘bigger’ than before. And those people buy hunting products, and their money is worth just as much as yours.

The full experience of a hunt from start to finish – that’s what we should be portraying

We know that this should never be the reason for hunting. Yet we know, undeniably, for some people it is. This raises the question: Is it these so called hunters, only interested in inches, who are the target of the aforementioned adverts. It’s sad, but we can spin the issue on its head and make it a positive one. Remember that as a Sporting Rifle reader, you are at the forefront of change in how hunters present themselves and how the sport is viewed by the outside world. Magazines like Sporting Rifle are read by more people like you and me than by hunters obsessed with trophy sizes. Let’s make our voices heard, and ensure companies are targeting us with their next wave of product launches and marketing campaigns.

As I’ve said before, we need to do this if we want to secure a future for hunting. It is a sad truth that, for more hunters than we would wish to admit, the opportunity to kill another species trumps an ethic they may like to publicly portray. The increasing popularity of heli-hunting in New Zealand is testament to this. I touched on this two issues ago, but I raise it once again, as in the intervening weeks since I wrote my piece on NZ, I’ve researched the related hunting content online and found several showing hunting in a manner that really does make me question the honesty and morals of our community.

One video that sticks in the mind recounts a trip to hunt New Zealand’s alpine species. It was nothing more than a record of the poorest and most questionable aspects of the hunting industry in NZ. Flying a helicopter to spot game before dropping off people with guns to claim their trophy.

How important is the size of an animal’s head to you?

These people are not hunters, let’s be clear. Nor is it possible they made any decision based on age class, only that the tahr in question were male and ‘big enough’. It’s also clear to anyone with an understanding of game that many of the animals in this film had been harassed by the helicopter first, pushing them into places convenient for an easy shot. They were hiding in small water channels or huddled up in the protection of overhangs in the terrain.

Is this the image we want to use as a showcase to the world? If not then why don’t we speak up? There are any number of celeb-types who have also ‘hunted’ in this way. If you want to play a game of spot the difference, see how many grip-and-grins you can find when the whole family are present. The location is usually a wide landscape view on top of a ridge. It is extremely unlikely any of those animals will have been hunted by fair chase.

Another film was set in a place I recognised: a private ranch I had driven by when in NZ (at the same time as this film was actually being made). Based around a high fence deer farm, with a large, luxurious, well catered lodge, you would even find tahr being bred on the lower ground. Except that in the video, the hunt was portrayed as one of the toughest imaginable. What are we trying to prove when we put such a video out there? It seems to me that much of our public portrayal of this sort of hunt is often about trying to show we are tougher than the next hunter. I like to push myself to the physical extremes – I am not criticising that – but don’t dress up something to be something it’s not.

We all need to decide on the direction we want to move, and we all need to be honest.

There are positive messages we can put out to the world about hunting

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Posted in Conservation, Features

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