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It is no secret that the number of young people who are getting into hunting these days is shrinking. At the same time, climate change and environmental policies are changing the way that young people view the natural world.
Unfortunately, many of the things people think they know about hunting and hunters are myths. Debunking many of the myths is easy, but convincing someone who has been taught that hunters are evil might be impossible. Let’s take a look at some of the popular myths and why they are bunk.
People who have never hunted in their lives often view anyone who thinks differently than them as inherently bad and this is definitely the case when it comes to hunting. It is also understandable that non-hunters would view hunters as a group who take pleasure in killing animals, but as any hunter already knows, the kill is just part of the process and not the best part.
Hunting is all about using your skills to outwit and track prey. Most hunters feel a touch of sadness or even remorse when they take a life, but doing so is simply a means to an end. Whether a successful hunt is for trophies or an attempt to stock the freezer, killing is necessary. Honestly, some of my favorite days hunting I never even chambered a round.
I blame television and movies for this one. It seems there are a ton of non-hunters out there who believe today’s modern rifles make it easy to simply go out in the woods and shoot a deer or a bear. All the same skills that a hunter needs with an older rifle design such as a Winchester 94 30-30 are just as relevant and important when using a modern gun. It isn’t the gun that makes a successful hunt, it is the hunter.
One of my favorite rebukes of this myth is the reality that hunters are allowed a very brief window to hunt, usually a matter of days or weeks out of the year. Non-hunters don’t seem to understand that the rest of the year, these animals are still being hunted by other animals. It’s the cycle of life, and it is brutal. Prey animals have highly refined senses and are adept at escaping predators because they do it all day long. Sure, no other animal is out in the woods with a rifle, but non-hunters fail to understand how easily deer and other prey animals will spook. Slight noises, unusual smells, and I swear sometimes a sixth sense more than even the field between prey and hunter. On average somewhere between 50 and 80 percent of hunters are successful each year. Some species of dogs have a kill percentage of around 80%.
It always amazes me that non-hunters fail to understand the reality of regulated hunting. When we go on a hunt, we are not just looking for a specific type of animal, we are looking for very specific details. Knowing the difference between male and female animals, spotting changes in development to determine age, and numerous other factors make the determination whether a hunter pulls the trigger or lets loose an arrow, not the fact that an animal is simply there.
People who kill animals indiscriminately are not hunters, they are poachers. Poachers kill without regard to the law. Hunting ethics is something that every hunter is required to know and understand and in my experience, it is a code of conduct that is only rarely ignored. Fellow hunters are probably the biggest critics of people who hunt outside the law and account for a high number of calls to Fish and Wildlife agents to report violators.
This myth is wrapped up in old-school belief systems in which animals such as the American Bison were hunted to the brink of extinction. In the last 100 years, hunters and the government have worked together to ensure healthy, robust populations of animals. All over the nation, people are seeing deer, bears, foxes, wolves, and migratory birds that once were overhunted now returning in ever-increasing numbers.
Once upon a time, hunters did cause significant problems in animal populations, but the expansion of protections -often spearheaded by hunting organizations- has created an environment in which excessive hunting is forbidden. In many cases, the number of animals taken by hunters makes very little impact on the overall number of animals and frequently helps the population by reducing competition for food and mates. Hunting is also the primary way to control predator populations such as foxes, wolves, and mountain lions by reducing the animals they eat.
This is another myth I think got started with television. Cartoons like Bugs Bunny show hunters as fumbling, low-education fools. Even newer shows like Duck Dynasty don’t portray the average hunter in the best light. The reality here is that hunters come from all walks of life. You will find the most highly paid executives and powerful politicians in the fields and forests, and yes, you’ll find hunters from the backwoods, too.
The only stereotype that actually encompasses hunters as a group is that we all love nature. Being out in the natural world is a release for hunters and it has nothing to do with our socio-economic status or level of education. A lot of us do wear camo or plaid, though.
This myth really gripes my goat because I hear it most often from people who do a lot of hiking, bird-watching, and backpacking. The main reason these folks have places to hike and enjoy the outdoors is because of hunters. The fees hunters pay provide funds for agencies to protect wild spaces and prevent urban sprawl. Without those fees, national and state parks would not be able to afford to stay open. Countless miles of rivers would be destroyed by development if it weren’t for hunters providing money to protect the environment.
This myth is also wrapped up in the idea that people can just go to the grocery store and pick up a package of humanely created meat. It is quite easy to see that package of ribeyes and not think about the fact that just a few days ago, that was a fat and happy cow. Killing is still required to eat, and even vegan diets result in the death of animals. Hunters simply prefer to do it themselves.
Hunting accidents do happen, but they are not nearly as common as many people seem to think. In my experience, most hunters are hyper-attentive to safety issues. It is very rare that I encounter a hunter who is doing stupid things like carrying his rifle incorrectly, randomly shooting at stuff, or doing other dangerous activities. Hunters are generally required to take a safety course before being issued a hunting permit and even though many hunters are “buck the system” types, they also tend to follow safety rules closely.
I remember one time taking a friend to target shoot. He didn’t have a lot of experience with firearms and I didn’t take his lack of experience seriously enough. As we were hiking up a ridge to where the cars were parked, my friend slipped. Instead of letting go of the shotgun that was in his hand, he tried to grab it, inadvertently pulling the trigger. Of course, being an inexperienced person, the gun had a round chambered and when it went off, it was pointed at the back of my heel. Fortunately, I had good, sturdy boots on and the shotgun was loaded with very light bird shot, so no one was hurt, but the experience reminded me that there is always time to make sure guns are being handled safely, especially when shooting with someone who lacks experience.
I like to call this one the “Tim Allen” myth. The comedian’s long-running TV show regularly featured outrageously overpowered tools that never made things better. Many hunters, however, save money for months or even years to upgrade their hunting rifle to a bigger, more powerful model. I have yet to meet someone who experienced an improvement in the success of their hunt by going bigger.
Some types of hunting really do require a specialized rifle or shotgun. Big game, like elk and moose, simply won’t be taken down with small caliber rifles safely and there is no reason to spend half the day chasing after a wounded animal when a properly placed shot from an adequately powerful rifle would do the job just fine.
I have never met a trophy hunter who would go out and spend the money it takes to get the proper licenses, get a decent rifle or shotgun, and spend the time hunting who would then turn around and shoot a trophy buck just to take the head and leave the rest. In fact, if I did meet someone like that, I would personally call Wildlife agents on them. The reality is that even trophy hunters are looking to fill the fridge. If the buck they happen to take is a particularly amazing animal, they might add the expense of having the head taxidermied, but they are still packing the meat out with them.
When non-hunters think of trophy hunters killing just for the horns or head of an animal, they are actually thinking about poachers, not hunters. It can be very difficult to convince someone who views trophy hunting as immoral that it is not any different than hunting for food.
This is another of those stereotype myths that gets played out in movies and TV shows. I know a few people who will bring along a six-pack of beer or a flask with them, but it really isn’t very common. I prefer not to drink when hunting mainly because I know that I am a better shot when I am sober and the last thing I want to do is injure an animal because I am inebriated.
With that said, I have spent quite a few days out in the woods with my friends drinking, hiking, and scouting areas that might be good hunting locations once the season gets started. On hunting days, I tend to be alone and I am always sober, and even my closest friends share that sentiment.
Hunting is one of those pastimes that tends to really separate people. You are either into hunting or you are against hunting, and I think that a lot of the most pervasive myths come from people who hate hunting. Like anything in life, there are good things that go along with the bad, and hunting certainly isn’t for everyone. Some of the older myths, such as that hunters are all old white men are starting to really change. Even as the number of hunters has declined over the years, more people of color and women are picking up rifles and heading into the woods.
Hunting is an exciting pastime, one that requires discipline, training, practice, and patience. Many people don’t understand the amount of effort required to hunt, nor do they realize how expensive it can be. But, hunting is also something that inspires passion and opens up the natural world in a different way by requiring the hunter to understand the animal he is stalking and the role the animal plays in the cycle of life that surrounds it. I’ve said it a hundred times, but a bad day hunting is better than a good day doing just about anything else.