The hunting fraternity needs a better public image, but it’s no good waiting for a saviour. The time for hunters and shooters to be a force for positive change is now
By: Byron Pace
People come to hunting in many ways, and today this has never been more true or varied. Ultimately though, the reasons behind the gravitation matter not – the only concern is what you contribute.
The Joe Rogans, Jim Shockeys and Cameron Hanes of the world are relentless in their efforts to tell the story of hunting in a way that makes it relevant and understandable. We can learn from our history, but we cannot change it, and so this shift has been deliberate. We have presented the influencers and people re-shaping the way we think of ourselves and how others perceive us as hunters.
Who are these ‘hunting heroes’? People who are embracing a new view on the responsibility we have as hunters, and the people who are re-writing the hunting narrative. Who may be part of this collective group? It’s you – every single person reading this, and every other hunter out there. You all have the potential and the responsibility to act as ambassadors and influence change. That change and shift may be small, but the best chance we have for the survival of our ideals is to act collectively to the same goal, with the same ethics, moral code and dedication: a dedication that focuses on the wildlife first, but a dedication which is relentless.
It is easy to be pessimistic about the state of hunting. I look back nostalgically at stories from Daniel Boone, Selous, Roosevelt and Corbett and what they were able to experience in a wilder world, and a time where the hunter was still revered. I know I’m not alone in this.
As a kid not yet in my teens, I longed to be transported back to those times so I, too, could chase elephants across a continent and forge new frontiers in North America. I could see even at those naïve years that what lay before me were not the opportunities my ancestors had enjoyed. Life is certainly easier now, and those men and woman were built hard, but it was most definitely simpler and more free. Old family hunting pictures hung above my bed and adorned the walls of my bedroom in a shrine to the past. I would have to be content with searching out the very best of what was left, and that is indeed what I did.
As the years ticked by and my experience of hunting in different countries grew, my attitude changed. I realised I had been selfish in the way I had approached my desire to hunt. Of course, in truth I hadn’t fully understood the consequences of all my actions, but that is part of growing up.
An epiphany came one day in my mid-20s during a car journey somewhere with my dad. As we talked about these great old hunters and what had been, I realised that in that moment, and every moment since, was in fact the most exciting time to be a hunter. I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it before. Not since Roosevelt established the Boone and Crocket club, initiating the great recovery of wildlife in North America, has the hunting community been in a position where our actions will shape future wildlife management and survival in such a drastic way.
The easy option was to dream about times long gone. It is lazy to view our history and accept a present situation that is not at the very least on par, but I believe that we are at the tipping point. It is our actions now that will not only define hunting in our lifetime, but will put in motion the shape of the next
There is no single method of turning the tide, but it is imperative we find a way – not for us, not for any commercial gain, but for humanity. We will be poorer the day the last hunter walks, because with that we will be faced with a landscape and wildlife decline that may only be realised at the point where it’s too late.
We have great science supporting the ethical, sustainable harvest of wild animals, but we need more, and this is a process of understanding interactions and impacts that will never stop. It is the reason my company actively supports and contributes to the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. However, this is not enough anymore. We need more than science, because we are losing the fight of acceptance.
Vitally, we need to acknowledge that educating a disconnected public is key. We need what we do to be relatable. It is no mean feat, and far too few resources have been focused on this from our organisations. We have seen recently that to some extent the science doesn’t matter when it comes to decision making. British Columbia closed grizzly hunting, Botswana shut down their big game hunting, and Tanzania is going the same way – all places where the science backed regulated hunting.
We seem to be continually insistent on taking the short-term view. Yes, the policy wrangling is important, but for the love of our way of life someone has to realise that this is not enough. Without the will of the people, none of it will matter. Politicians come and go, and in the end they care predominantly about one thing: how they keep their job at the next election. What is the will of the people? That is the question they ask.
The naivety of the direction we are taking is disturbing, with very little widespread acknowledgment of the social shift around us. Repeatedly we tackle issues with the short-term fix, and concentrate on telling our own members and community just how great we are.
Right now you can see this with the over-supply of game this past season. The immediate issue has been tackled predominantly on the basis that we simply need to sell more game. This is a sticking plaster solution; the real issue is that we are shooting too many, and too few people doing the shooting are really thinking about their own actions, or indeed care where the game ends up. We should be encouraging a greater connection between people on shoot days and their responsibility to consume or share what they are killing. We need a higher moral code and standard. With that, the surplus disappears overnight. We are not farming game… or are we?
Hunters have a particular advantage when it comes to looking at management. We care about the animals, game and non-game, and we treat the individuals ethically when harvesting, but we take a view on a species and landscape level. We understand the connection. This will forever be lost at the extremes of public opinion – the animal rights activists who can’t see the bigger picture for their emotions attached to a single animal. However, that is not the majority. Most people can understand if they are given the chance.
This is our watch. We need strong voices and hunters not afraid to speak out for what we know is right, whether that ruffles feathers or not. You can all be a hunting hero. You only need to pick up the mantle.