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Hunting's Imageby Don H. Meredith © 1999
(published in the June/July 1999 Alberta Outdoorsmen)

hunter

Back in the 1980s the Alberta government debated whether to remove the regulation requiring the wearing of blaze-orange clothing while hunting big game in rifle seasons. Many organizations and individuals, who wanted hunters to take responsibility for their own safety, lobbied the government to allow the wearing of camouflage clothing like bow hunters were allowed to do in the archery-only seasons. The government agreed, and the regulation was suspended. Sure enough, there were no significant increases in hunting accidents, and today, the wearing of bright clothing is an option in this province.

One of the reasons that was brought forward by some in the hunting community in favor of deleting the regulation was that being forced to wear a bright color too easily identified hunters to the general public. I had to read that argument two or three times before it finally sank in how far down the hill we hunters had slid in terms of our self respect as a group. Why wouldn't we want people to know who we were and what we were doing? Did we really wish to practice our sport in secret, skulking like criminals?

This point was further driven home one summer when I was teaching fish and wildlife management at a 4-H Conservation Camp for high school students from rural Alberta. I had been doing this for a couple of years and was pretty used to the routine and how these students would respond to what was presented. Most already understood the importance of hunting to rural culture, and eagerly consumed the information I presented. However this particular year, that attitude had changed. A clear majority of the students questioned the value of hunting and carried on a vigorous debate with those who supported it.

Why did they oppose hunting? It boiled down to two major reasons: 1) their parents no longer or never hunted, and 2) many of the hunters they had encountered did not respect the land or property. In other words, these students and their parents did not have a good image of hunters and hunting. In fact, many of their parents had quit hunting because of its image.

If this was how a few rural students felt about hunting, you can imagine what many urban people must feel. No wonder we don't want to be so easily identified in the field. No wonder we're seeing a decline in the number of hunters. Who would take up a sport that detracts from a person's self image, unless of course, that self image was already low?

Most of the hunters I know do not have a low self image. But many do feel pressure from their families, friends or associates not to talk about hunting in certain social circles. It's also why you no longer see big game trophies prominently displayed in houses. Instead, you must be invited to a basement den or garage.

If hunting is to continue to survive and indeed flourish in our complex society, this skulking attitude must change. To change it, we must change hunting's image in the public eye.

In 1992, I attended the first Governor's Symposium on North America's Hunting Heritage, which was held in Bozeman, Montana. These are conferences that have since been held periodically across North America to discuss how to preserve and improve hunting and the status of hunting in the eye of the estimated 80% of the North American population who neither hunt nor are anti-hunting. (The next conference will be held in Ontario in August of 2000.) At this first conference there were several interesting speakers, but the one address I most remember was that presented by Ann Causey, at the time an instructor of Environmental Ethics at Prescott College in Arizona (and spouse of a hunter). She discussed how the debate between hunters and anti-hunters had never really gotten off the ground because of the reluctance of hunters to address fundamental moral issues. What were those issues? She listed the following questions she felt needed to be addressed before hunters hoped to make headway against the anti-hunters:

  • Does killing an animal primarily to obtain a trophy demonstrate respect for that animal and its environment?
  • Does ignoring, downplaying or even denying the wounding and loss rate associated with hunting demonstrate a reverence for life?
  • Is shooting an animal over bait, or one that has been run up a tree by dogs, a morally enriching activity?
  • Does shooting an animal soon after it has been released from captivity develop respect for that animal and its environment?
  • Does going to a foreign country to shoot an exotic animal, located for you by a guide, enhance your own cultural and environmental awareness?

How did you first react when you read these questions? Did they make you angry, uneasy, concerned? Read them to your friends, your hunting buddies. How do they react?

If anger was your first reaction because you feel no one has a right to question what you do as a hunter, then you haven't grasped the problem hunters and hunting are facing as we enter the new millennium. People do have a right to question how you treat their wildlife, and they are questioning. If the motivated anti-hunters continue to hold the moral high ground, the non-hunting public will be forced to decide whether you and your children hunt. How do you want them to decide?

If unease and concern were your reactions to the questions, then you have probably considered at least some them in the past. Indeed, your answers to them probably determined the kind of hunting you do.

I believe Causey's questions can be answered to the satisfaction of most people. Over the next few months, I would like to look at each of the questions and see what answers are possible. I may look at other ethical issues from time to time, but I will return to these questions because I feel their answers are fundamental to the future of hunting in the modern world.

In the meantime, please think about the questions and answer them for yourself.

Next month, Trophy Hunting.


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