I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the discussion we’re just wrapping up over at Tovar’s Mindful Carnivore blog.  While I definitely recommend that, if you haven’t, you should go check out the discussion there, I’ll summarize some of it.

It all began with Tovar’s post regarding one of the biggest threats to hunting.  It wasn’t anti-hunters he pointed out, but folks from within our own ranks… the slobs. 

As you might expect, there was a lot of general agreement from the hunters who read and comment on his blog.  It’s the folks giving us the black eye on the public stage who contribute the most to negative opinions about hunters.  Those negative opinions turn into negative votes when issues affecting hunters come before the voters.  It’s made worse when these exceptions are made to look like the rule in animal rights/anti-hunting campaigns.  Etc. Etc…. I’ve written about this many times, as has almost every hunting blogger, columnist, and author who’s ever discussed ethics. 

The discussion might have dropped off pretty quickly, if not for the appearance of “Ingrid“, a non-hunter who works in animal rehabilitation.  Ingrid has joined in more than one conversation on Tovar’s blog, and has dropped in at Holly’s NorCal Cazadora blog as well (I don’t think she’s ever posted here).  While Ingrid is quick to point out that she’s not outright opposed to hunting, she has a lot of issues with what she sees as an overly cavalier attitude by most hunters toward the well-being of the animals we hunt… an attitude that even fosters outright cruelty.  She’s a loud proponent of the idea that hunters should take a deeper consideration for the animals’ welfare, and should change our behaviors accordingly.  This includes curtailing certain methods of hunting, although I can’t say I’ve heard her actually enumerate specific behaviors or methods (she certainly didn’t in this discussion thread). 

This spurred a lot of thoughtful responses on the blog, and the conversation took a lot of interesting twists.  I won’t try to recap it all here, but there’s one tangent she hit on that I wanted to address at the time.  Her point was that a lot of hunters, when challenged on a method or practice, tend to fall back on the “it’s tradition” argument.  To her, that’s a worthless argument.  I tried to craft a reply at the time, but I was too busy with work and the conversation quickly left that point behind before I could get back to it.  I got involved in other points, and left that one lay for the time being.

It might have stayed there in the dust if I hadn’t hit on this recent post over on Eric Nuse’s Fair Chase blog.  Actually, the post is a re-print of a piece from the Outdoor Wire in which Simon Roosevelt (Great, great grandson of Theodore) has challenged Boone and Crockett record-holders to be public and vocal about their love of hunting, why they do it, and who they are.  Roosevelt’s argument is that by doing so, these hunters will present a positive image to the public that will help to counteract the negative stereotypes, bad press, and myths that so many non-hunters now hold. 

Here’s part of what the piece said:

Simon Roosevelt, whose great, great grandfather was the 26th President of the United States, legendary sportsman, consummate conservationist and founder of the Boone and Crockett Club, delivered the remarks as part of his keynote address at the Club’s recent 27th Big Game Awards in Reno, Nev.

Roosevelt said all hunters share a legacy with early Club members who developed the hunter-funded, science-based system that helped to recover that era’s devastated wildlife and habitat. That system remains the lifeblood of conservation still today. But those who achieve special status within the hunting community have a chance to join TR and his contemporaries in accomplishing “something even more important-more crucial for the long-term success of conservation-that is, fundamentally changing the way Americans think,” he said.

Although 80 percent of U.S. citizens now live in cities, they understand the importance of natural resources and sustainable use, says Roosevelt, but, “What they don’t understand is how we as hunters fit, or maybe better said, that we fit, and why we’re important. If we fail to get this message across, we will continue to lose hunters and hunting access, and ‘hunting’ may well come to mean nothing more than high-fence farms and park culling.”

Boone and Crockett record holders openly communicating who they are, what they do and their love of doing it-even when they don’t take an animal-will lead to greater public support of hunting, says Roosevelt. And that, in turn, will spur more resources for today’s conservation challenges: climate change, habitat loss and fragmentation, and diseases.

As I read this, I thought back to Ingrid’s point.  At first, I had sort of agreed with what she was saying.  Simply claiming that we hunt a certain way because it’s traditional is not a very good justification for a practice or method.  But that point of view didn’t sit completely well, and I was having trouble putting my finger on why.  I mean, I do agree that if a certain hunting practice is damaging the habitat, the resource, or private property then there’s no justification… tradition or otherwise.  And I do realize that, for some people, poaching, tresspassing, and illegal behavior could certainly be considered tradition.  But many positive aspects of the hunt such as conservation, woodsmanship, and marksmanship, are completely defensible on the strength of their roots in tradition… and vice versa, hunting as a tradition is defensible because of what that tradition instills.

I’d even go so far as to suggest that some of the more controversial topics, such as running hounds, can be at least partially defended on the basis of tradition… if we can explain what that tradition means, where it comes from, and how important it is to the participants.  Think about it.  Tradition is about a lot more than a single outcome.

The fact is, when it comes to addressing public perceptions, I think it’s entirely valid to say that we do things a certain way because it is tradition.  Hell, I’m pretty sure there are a lot of hunters like myself whose enjoyment of the hunt comes in part from the memories and traditions handed down through generations.  It may not be the only reason we hunt of course, but it can be a pretty big part of the whole.  I think of hunting camps all over the country where generations of hunters have gathered over the years and passed along stories, knowledge, and… yeah, traditions.  I think of the personal traditions, passed from parent to child over and over again as each grows up and passes it along in turn.  Tradition is a real and powerful motivation.

And non-hunters understand that.  They know what tradition means, and for most people it carries a sort of wholesome, family-values flavor.  And I believe that this is a critical part of the kind of communication Roosevelt was talking about in his speech.  This “it’s tradition” angle shouldn’t be the Achilles heel of our public relations.  It should be one of our strongest selling points. 

Think about it.  The concept is used throughout our own community and industry, whether it’s the “Hunt with your kids, not for them,” bumper-sticker slogans or the polished, Madison Avenue ad campaigns. It’s a purely emotional appeal, but that’s sort of what PR is really all about.  And it works.  Why would we think that, if it’s effective on hunters, it wouldn’t also sell to non-hunters?

I realize, of course, that a full-fledged defense of hunting can’t rely solely on emotion.  It must include the practical, quantifiable benefits the sport provides.  But we have that ammunition already at hand.  If we can capture the minds of the public with fact, then there’s no reason not to go for their hearts too.

Now here’s the interactive part of this…

Sure, if you’d like to make a regular comment, go ahead.  But I’m also asking for folks to share some of the hunting traditions that underlie their practices, habits, and motivation for the hunt.  How was it passed down, and how will you pass it along?  If you don’t come from a hunting environment, or don’t have the background of a hunting tradition, what sorts of things might you pass along as a mentor to other hunters?

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