There are some topics in this world that divide people so strongly that it’s hard for people on opposite sides to have a real conversation about them. Those topics tend to be things people feel very passionately about — religion, politics, college football teams … and hunting.
Hunters know one thing about anti-hunters: They don’t want us to hunt any animals, ever. We love hunting, and we can’t stand the thought of someone taking away our opportunity to do it. On the other hand, anti-hunters know one thing about hunters: Hunters kill animals, and they don’t want that to happen — ever.
Now, why anti-hunters don’t want any animals to die, ever, is a much more complex story. It’s pretty safe to say that most of them don’t understand the natural world the way devoted hunters do. Anti-hunters probably haven’t seen the violent way predators like coyotes, bobcats, and wolves bring down their prey. In fact, it is safe to say that anti-hunters rely on some timeworn myths when they react so negatively to hunters.
1. Hunters have an unfair advantage, and animals are defenseless.
Modern rifles do allow hunters to kill animals quickly and humanely at hundreds of yards. However, in the whole world of hunting, most hunters must get much closer. And, while humans are out hunting game animals for three or four months of the year, other predators hunt their prey every day. So, prey animals have gotten very good at detecting and avoiding predators. These animals use very keen eyesight, hearing, and smell to avoid predators, and they can detect them at unbelievable distances.
African hunting dogs have the highest success rate in the entire world for catching their prey. They are successful 80% of the time. Compare that to one of their cousins, the wolf, which is another effective predator. Their success rate is somewhere around 10%. Almost all large ground predators — from bobcats to lions — will have a success rate of 5-30%.
Now, most people would assume — anti-hunters and hunters alike — that humans with modern technology would be much more successful hunters than animals. But, they would all be wrong. A recent study in Indiana showed a 20-22% “harvest per effort” rate in state parks for firearm hunters. That rate falls to 8-10% for bowhunters. Over the course of an entire white-tail hunting season, success rates will vary by state and region, with between 50-80% of hunters harvesting a deer, according to the Quality Deer Management Association.
But, those are statistics for an entire hunting season; wild predators would starve if they were only taking one prey animal over the course of months. Clearly, wild animals can successfully avoid human hunters most of the time.
2. Hunters don’t like animals.
It does seem strange, if you’re unfamiliar with us, to think that hunters could both love animals, yet shoot them and eat them. Hundreds of years ago, feeling affection for animals was probably a luxury that most people couldn’t afford. People were too busy hunting and gathering to think about or subscribe feelings and emotions to animals. They just saw their next source of a meal.
However, as we developed farming and ranching practices that could provide more than enough food for our families and society in general, free time allowed our minds to wander. People began to hunt animals for more than just food; it was an adventure, a return to our roots and nature, and for some, a competition for bragging rights. Somewhere in there, a few people began to think maybe hunting wasn’t right.
But most hunters today still have a deep love for the beauty and just plain awesomeness of animals. In Europe, a tradition began of giving harvested animals a “last bite” to show respect and thankfulness to the animal. Native Americans were particularly reverent about hunting, and their practice of thanking and asking forgiveness of the animal in prayer has carried on with many American hunters today.
At the very least, all hunters understand that we cannot hunt without animals, so that is why we devise so many laws, ethical guidelines and conservation rules to preserve them for the rest of our existence.
This is one myth that hunters might have helped create recently. We have not been careful about the way we portray ourselves. We have advertising and marketing that talks about “rage” and “weapons” and “attacking.” We have TV shows that show wild, loud celebrations when an animal is killed. That’s not the way any hunter I know approaches hunting, it’s just misguided marketing. The hunters I know seek to limit violence and pain, and their motivation is not the moment of killing, but all the challenges before and rewards after.
Every hunter I know has a brief moment of remorse when they are successful. Taking the life of an animal is serious. It is necessary, and it can bring happiness, but it is never flippant and is not adversarial. Sometimes we should look at ourselves while standing in a non-hunter’s shoes. Are we being respectful of life? Are we using words that should be applied to hunting … or to battle? Hunting is not a battle against animals. It’s not a game. It’s a means to feed ourselves. It’s a natural extension of our predatory instincts and motivations.
4. Hunters and poachers are the same people.
This is the most misguided myth. This is the one about which hunters can be really upset. As hunters, we spend our entire lives learning about hunting ethics and then passing them along to future generations. We intentionally make hunting success more difficult for ourselves. But poachers aren’t hunters … they’re criminals. Because of poachers, anti-hunters want to eliminate legitimate hunting, for example, where elephants are overcrowding. These anti-hunters seem to be blinded by the fact that poachers kill hundreds of thousands of elephants, often when legitimate hunters and safari operators are not allowed to act as police. These anti-hunters don’t seem to equate the amazing conservation successes of true hunters for the past 100+ years with the potential to eliminate poaching.
Just like in the misguided marketing mentioned above, there are always bad apples among our ranks who spoil the whole bunch of us in anti-hunters’ eyes — even if those hunters aren’t poachers: the guys who shoot more than they should, leave their trash in the field, and hunt illegally across fence lines. Anti-hunters don’t know we’re more ashamed of them than they are.
5. Hunting has something to do with misguided masculinity or conquering.
About 25% of U.S. hunters are women, and female participation in hunting is growing faster than men’s. Anti-hunters don’t know that, evidently (and when they find out, they tend to make sexist attacks on them). There is absolutely no difference in the ability of women to hunt when compared to men, and women have historically participated in traditional hunter/gatherer tribes around the world. Bigger, stronger men don’t have an advantage shooting a scoped rifle compared to women, children, or smaller guys. Maybe they can pull a stronger compound bow, but strength doesn’t help them aim straight.
Hunting can be challenging, and many of us like it that way. However, our joy in overcoming the challenges to be successful is not in “conquering” an animal, rather it’s enjoying our ability to be self-sufficient, to provide food, and to put our minds to work at accomplishing a simple, yet hard, task.
Think about why you hunt and why your friends and family do, too. You may never have the chance to convince an anti-hunter that what you do is really OK. But then again, maybe you will. If you get that chance, maybe this blog post will help you. As always, we would love for you to tell us in the comments other myths you’ve heard and how you would respond if you had the chance.