How Should We Talk About Hunting?

One of the hardest things for a hunter to do is explain to a non-hunter how you can love and respect animals for their beauty and grace … but also kill and eat them. Stalking a deer through crunchy leaves, calling in a big tom turkey at the end of the season, and facing down a charging Cape buffalo are all difficult tasks. Helping to keep hunting a protected right, in a society that understands it less and less, is a tough responsibility that we all need to think about diligently.

However, there has been a disturbing trend developing in the last decade or so of using war or “battlefield” terminology to name products and talk about hunting. I don’t feel any “rage” when I’m hunting a big buck, and I don't want to “eliminate” a flock of mallards over my decoys. But, those words turn up in the first few advertisements I looked through in my hunting magazines. Using words like “killzone,” “ambush” and “ruthless” to describe hunting or hunting products tells non-hunters that we see ourselves as violent people who are waging war on animals.

We all know that there are certain aspects of hunting that are necessary, but not something we exactly celebrate — blood and guts being the primary one. Killing is a natural part of our world, and it’s an everyday part of every wild animal’s world. But, to people who don’t join us in our pursuit — and who might, in fact, try to restrict hunting because they don’t agree with us — using words that portray violence or “war” on animals is going to work against us in the long run. We need to use words, images and thoughts that respect animals and show that we are normal, even non-violent people. Hunting is a family-oriented activity, and always has been, because the tradition of hunting comes from providing the daily food for families.

Some of the crossover of battlefield language comes from using common tools — speaking of rifles, of course. Guns can be used three ways: defensively for self-protection; aggressively during war (or by criminals); and for hunting or target shooting, which is neither aggressive nor defensive. At Hunter Ed, we never call a firearm a “weapon” because we are not attacking or defending when we are hunting. Our hunting AR-15s come from a military pedigree, and so do our bolt-action rifles. Perhaps we've incorporated the military language as a result of that. If so, we need to think a little harder about what we’re saying. The general public already has a tough time understanding that ARs are useful for hunting and target shooting, so the more we keep them from being seen as “violent,” the better for us as hunters.

Remembering our roots, as hunters, is really helpful in reminding us of how to talk and think about hunting. In Europe, when a hunter is successful, he or she will put a sprig of grass or a green branch in the animal’s mouth, sending it off with a “last meal” as a sign of respect. Native American hunters offered prayers of thanks and sprinkled cornmeal or tobacco around an animal’s mouth; these were very valuable resources and showed a “trade” for the animal’s life. Today, many American hunters have adapted those traditions and made some of them their own.

At the core of all this tradition is respect for animals and even acknowledging a little bit of regret when we take one of their lives. As long as we think of animals as special, we won’t talk about them — in advertisements or on Facebook or in hunting videos — as if they are our enemies or our victims. Hunting is a right, but it’s also a privilege, an honor, and a responsibility. We should never, ever forget that.