In the firing line

Responding to the recent wave of negative press stories about hunting, Byron Pace says we need to be vigilant in ensuring good practice among our own

It has become very clear in recent weeks that there is a need to enforce the consequences of our social responsibility as hunters. It is something I have talked about, given speeches on, and written at length over the last few years. I had begun to think it was widely accepted and acknowledged, that everyone who was fortunate enough to be part of the hunting community, also grasped the gravity of the consequences to our actions. That the way we portray hunting will have an impact on us as well as future generations. To act without considering this is simply selfish.

The last two months have been a media mess in the UK when it comes to winning over the general public. From the misrepresented ‘trophy hunting’ in Woburn Abbey, to the incident affectionately now referred to as goat-gate, it seems that every week since we have had a negative story in the press.

It would be easy for me to pick through the details of the incidents and make comments, but I don’t believe it is necessary to regurgitate what has already been thrashed out. Instead I want to take this opportunity to reflect on how we move forward.

We need to make it clear that a big head is not the sole purpose of a hunt

There is no doubt that anyone can make mistakes when it comes to our public facing portrayal of what hunting is, why it is important, and critically still relevant in a modern age. However, we all should be prepared to acknowledge the consequences of our own actions, intended or not, and work to the greater outcome. An outcome which communicates rather than sticks two fingers up to anyone who doesn’t agree with what you do. The ‘screw you’ attitude coming from the hunting community across social media in recent weeks has been disheartening. Do we really believe that this is a constructive way to go forward? It is not about giving in, it’s about being smart.

The following in an extract from my speech at the DNA Film Festival more than six months ago now, and has never been more relevant:

“The fact is, in the modern society we are all part of, the moral reasons we do what we do matter. This is the reality. It is a reality we will not change, but we need to understand.

There must, and there has to be a morally acceptable justification for our actions. Without this, any expectation we will convince a disinterested, discounted urban majority is destined to failure.”

We can chest thump all we like about our right to hunt. Our right to publically post ‘trophy’ photos. Our right to enjoy the activity of hunting, which of course we all do. However the responsibility of these rights, which can be argued to be privileges, is that we provide an understandable context to what we do. If for no other reason, because without this there will be no future for hunting.

The provision of food is a strong positive story in hunting’s favour

I am not so naive to think that everyone will want to tow this line. It is blatantly obvious from the last few weeks that even amongst some who actively seek a public profile, little regard is given to the global narrative we need to portray as hunters. Maybe this provides a divergence in the hunting community between those who are genuinely concerned about the future, conscious of the intertwined nature of hunting, conservation and environmentalism, and those people are only concerned with the individual gratification from killing an animal with impressive head gear.

For many people, this can’t allowed to happen. It is unthinkable we should have any kind of division within the hunting community. I say bring it on. We need to be very clear about the kind of people we want to carry the torch, and I have no problem with differentiating those who are continually detrimental to the future of hunting and those who are not. To paraphrase Steve Renella from Meat Eater:

“If someone on your boat is shooting holes in the bottom and refuses to stop, do you let them stay or chuck them overboard?”

I recently suggested this with a post on social media, only to be met by a largely negative comments thread, which gradually got more aggressive and abusive the longer it ran. The attitude in itself was disappointing, however what was more concerning to me was the number of private messages I received in support. I say this because many of these people didn’t feel they could publicly support this out of some sort of fear of backlash from other hunters. That is a sad state of affairs. The idea that we should never criticise bad practice, poor portrayal or morally questionable people within the hunting community is madness. The notion that we should support everyone no matter what, is a mind-set which will kill hunting. Just because we are all humans does not been we need support or agree with all other humans. The same goes for hunters.

We have to be more honest about what we do. Starting with ourselves. We must stop patching every issue with the conservation tagline, because it’s becoming the most over implemented word in our industry; more often than not used without thought or substance.

There is still work to be done after the hunting has finished

Unity is unquestionably important. We must get behind the people and organisations that are forging a new future for hunting as an essential part of a culturally and environmentally responsibly landscape. That doesn’t, however, mean we should blindly allow rogue individuals to sink the ship. Drawing this distinction on morals and ethics is not easy and it’s not supposed to be. It is one of the greatest questions of our time.

The unfortunate thing about every boil-up in media nonsense is that it distracts us from the important tasks. This article is normally dedicated to conservation, but instead has been used to re-highlight many of the issues we have covered in the past. Let us all push for more important discussions going forward. We must foster a community which makes a tangible difference, and that won’t come from people whose social feed consists primarily
of selfies and pictures with male species with big horns and antlers.

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Posted in Conservation, Features

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