Getting Beyond Bambi: Promoting the Hunting Culture

Did you watch Bambi as a kid?  Of course you did.  Did you cheer when Bambi's mom got shot?  Most likely not. Chances are you cried your eyes out.  Or at least felt empathy.  Maybe you watched Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, and saw how clueless the hunter was.  Or maybe you watched a million other movies that made hunters the Bad Guys and the fluffy, cute animals the good guys.

I grew up on the East Coast in suburbia, I know what kind of brainwashing went on.  We were told that hunting "innocent animals" was wrong.

Innocent, my foot. Anyone who has hunted elk knows they're far from innocent.  They're wily, cagey, and, I'm convinced, have Star Trek transporter technology because when hunters show up within a mile of their position, they vanish into thin air.

But let's talk about the reality of the situation.

Why People Don't Understand Hunting 

(Tl;dr: Several factors alienated people from hunting including species near extinction, increase of beef in the market, European model of wildlife management, and the elimination of commercial meat hunting.)

The United States is a country that was born on a frontier. Unlike England and other European countries, hunting animals wasn't something a few privileged people did. People who settled in what was to become the United States hunted for food. Everyone hunted because there were no nobility to claim ownership of the animals.  In 1842, the US Supreme Court ruled that wildlife belonged to everyone--not just a particular landowner--thus ending the belief that wild animals could belong to just one group of people.

However, like many resources, unscrupulous people did capitalize on it.  They brought some species to near extinction, such as the buffalo, and other species to complete extinction.  Hunters realized that there would be no animals if there wasn't some kind of conservation.  So, congress enacted a number of laws designed to protect our natural resources, such as outlawing market hunting.

The problem is that as conservation took hold, fewer people, especially in cities, ate game on a
regular basis. Other events transpired to make game meat less preferable to domestically raised animals.  For example, after the Civil War, Texas had feral longhorn cattle that needed to be rounded up.  These cattle brought about the cattle barons, and beef into the city dweller's diet.

Lastly, there was sense of entitlement which came from the Europeans.  Only nobles and landowners could hunt game, thus taking hunting away from most of the masses. Hunting became a sport for only the rich, while the masses had to raise their own livestock or go without.

As a result, fewer and fewer people grew up hunting. Sad, but true.  What's more, few people really have a hand in obtaining their own food.  When someone goes to the store and buys a packaged chicken or steak, they really don't have to think about what animal it came from. The piece of meat is nicely packaged and doesn't look like an animal. For example, my sisters won't eat game meat, and one of them doesn't even want to hear when I butcher my own farm animals for food. Yet neither of them are vegetarians.  Putting meat in the magical package somehow transforms it.  Never mind the factory farm practices, or the antibiotics and steroids they consume with their food. Even if they eat organic (which they try to do), they're still denying the fact that killing animals is part of what we do as a species.

Not Everyone Has Their Minds Made Up

Getting rid of commercial hunting was good, since it threatened the species we hunt today, but even good laws have unintended consequences. Without game meat available commercially, people switched to domesticated meat in their diets.  Hunting became something one did "for sport" rather than to live.  And while I agree with conservation, I think that many city dwellers don't understand nature, nor understand their place in the ecology.

We know our ancestors developed bigger brains because they ate meat.  Now, the world is trying to make everyone vegetarian -- with detrimental effects. The die-hard folks who are vegan and vegetarian are most likely not going to change. They must reach their own epiphany in their own time.  The animal rights folks -- same thing.   But there are plenty of people out there who don't have their minds made up.  And then, there are the kids.  While children can and do get indoctrinated by people who don't hunt and by movies and shows that clearly show hunters as bad, there are steps we can take to stop or even reverse this damage.

Win Them to Your Side

I was anti-hunting until I tasted venison when I was a freshman in high school.  Then, my whole
outlook changed. I admit, sadly, that as a teenager I simply went with the crowd, not understanding the relevant issues.  For one thing, I did not grow up in a hunting family, and my mom despised game meat, so I never tasted it until I was a teenager.

Maybe it's something as simple as what happened to me to change people's opinions. Maybe it's showing how considerate you are for the forest, the respect you have for the game you take, and not living down to the slob-hunter stereotype.  Ask yourself if some non-hunter were to see you, would you be a good ambassador for hunters?  In other words, don't get drunk and hunt, don't shoot road signs, pick up your trash, care for the meat, cover your game when transporting it, and--for goodness sake--don't tie the dead animal to the hood of your vehicle.

Be a Role Model for the Next Generation

If we're going to change the minds of people, we might as well start with teaching kids hunting is cool.  Get involved in educating kids on hunting if you live in a city or area where hunting is uncommon. Maybe you know some teachers who would let you talk about the work hunters do toward preserving species. While you can't do the Show and Tell thing with weapons, you can bring interesting things like deer antlers, hides, feathers, claws, and videos from hunts that are tastefully done (no kill shots, please).  Remember, you're dealing with people who may have had a negative picture about hunting. Being a good role model is something worthwhile.  One positive experience can peel back layers of propaganda.  If it's your kids, get them involved in hunting as soon as you can.

Hunting isn't just about killing.  Teach kids about tracking. How to read a compass or use a GPS.  How to spot animals.  How to use binoculars.  How to recognize different animals.  All the stuff we take for granted but is lost on non-hunters.

I hope I've given you enough to think about.  Let me know if you have any other ideas.

-- MH Bonham