If I was a modern day sociologist, I would love to focus my research on the degradation of manners and decorum, and what effect the internet has had. I mean – has the Internet (and more specifically, Social Media) caused society to be more flippant, rude and impatient – or was that a path that society had already embarked on, and the internet just highlights how bad it really is?

“A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot. – Robert A Heinlein in Time Enough For Love

The internet is truly a double-edged sword. It is a vast, virtually endless source of information. From real-time news, to amazing information about people, place and things, to funny cat videos. It is a way to connect with friends and family members, and a way to experience things we would otherwise never see, hear or know. Maybe best of all, it is a place to learn. Did you know that YouTube has surpassed Google in having the most sophisticated search functions? You can learn anything on YouTube – from how to yodel to how to repair your car to how to cook Ethiopian cuisine. There is a dark side to the internet though. I’m not even talking about the Darknet, where pedophiles traffic child pornography or you can buy military weapons, order a hit on somebody or buy stolen identities. You can buy people on the Darknet – yes, people. That’s where the human slave traders and sex traffickers hang out. No, I’m talking about the muck that is rudeness and bullying, gang mentalities and snake oil sales. I’m talking primarily about Social Media, but you can find vicious, hateful people anywhere on the internet – our internet, not the Darknet. The internet that is supposed to enrich our lives and make things easier.

Listen, I’m guilty. I’ve said things to someone online that I wouldn’t say to their face. I’ve been a “keyboard commando”. On occasion, I’ve let my frustration get the better of me. Politics, hunting, sports – you name it. Get into an online discussion with someone about a topic you’re passionate about – it can unravel pretty quickly if an opposing view gets injected. That being said – there are mean people on the internet. Now, now – I can hear some of you calling me a snowflake and chiding “show me on the dolly where the internet hurt your feelings”. That’s not what I am talking about. I am talking about mean, nasty, borderline evil people who thrive on demeaning people and saying hateful things. Go find a news article – scroll down to the comments. If you’ve never done that before, I can guarantee you will be surprised. Maybe shocked. In April of this year, there was a terrible bus crash involving a hockey team in Saskatchewan. 15 players were killed, the other 14 people on the bus were injured. Of course, being from Canada, this story held particular interest for me. Here is a sample of comments from one article I read: “Slow drivers and cheap tippers – thats Canada”. “All these players’ moms are fattys(sic). They need to lay off the Canadian bacon and maple syrup”. “Any French canadians involved? Please say yes”. This is a common theme with nearly every news article. Horrific comments from nasty little people.

My God – how can you take an article about a tragedy like that and turn it into a platform for hateful rhetoric? Is that who we have become?

So what does this all have to do with hunting? You’d think with the internet as a platform, hunter education and recruitment would increase! The hunting (and fishing) community also has their share of the dimwits and the smartasses and the internet warriors. We have snarky, we have knowitalls, we have rumor-mongers and folks who love nothing more than throwing their weight around and playing internet pokey chest at every opportunity. Such is my disappointment in the hunting community that I have left most hunting groups on Facebook. At a time when hunting numbers are falling, and we are under attack from anti-hunters – I am gravely disappointed in a segment of society that I expected more from. I suppose if one were to investigate thoroughly, you would find that there are a few primary offenders and then a bunch of groupies and fan bois. That is certainly enough though, to keep Moderators hopping and the good-hearted folks discouraged.

Many of us were taught by our friends and family. We grew up in the woods, or close enough. Our Dads and Granddads and family friends taught us why we hunt, where to hunt, and how. How to clean our guns (remember the smell of Hoppes?) How to identify tracks and ridges and swamps and transition zones and promising habitat. We were taught when to shoot and when to pass. We were heartily praised for our successes and “coached” through our mistakes. We were taught fieldcraft and how to use a compass and start a fire. Many of us were in Boy Scouts or grew up in rural areas so we already had a pretty good start on this type of information. These days, with urbanization and soccer teams and video games and broken families – hunting and fishing isn’t a given. It isn’t a family tradition in nearly as many families as it used to be. Recruitment is a crucial part of today’s hunting heritage as evidenced by the efforts of friend John Stallone and others. Even Arizona Game and Fish is putting a concerted effort into recruitment, retention and re-engagement, through HAHWG.

So, if you’re active in hunting groups on social media – take a minute and watch the interactions. A proud new hunter posts a picture of his first kill and he is attacked – by other hunters. “Tongue is hanging out.” “Clean the blood off”. “Wipe the milk off its lips”. Not coached, attacked. A new hunter posts a question about hunting laws and is pretty quickly pummeled with 10 different versions of “Read the regs!” Some guys think it is funny to give deliberately erroneous answers. Real funny that is. Ha ha. The worst though? When some poor guy or girl jumps on a forum and asks where to go. The sharks smell that blood real quick and it doesn’t take them long. “Wear out your boots, like I had to!” “Internet scouting – don’t be so lazy!” “Get off the couch and put in your time!” The rookies learn real quick not to ask any questions – a lot of them probably just find something else to do. The rest just go out and do it wrong, and probably end up being the stories that give the rest of us a bad name. The whole thing is crass, distasteful, and in the long run – stupid. Keep this up long enough and our numbers will have diminished enough to make it easy for those who would take hunting away. Then it will be fishing. Then rodeos. Circuses already on the way out. Recently there was a move afoot in Arizona to ban lion and bobcat hunting. Of course, the chest thumpers mocked those of who were concerned and emboldened when the movement failed. The thing is, the anti-hunters learned lessons and will be back. We as a group didn’t learn anything. can you imagine taking up a new sport – golfing, curling, bowling – finding a Facebook group to ask questions; and getting mocked, chastised, ridiculed, ganged up on? Told to figure it out yourself and quit being so lazy? Told to put in the time and effort like they had to? Told to Google it? Unimaginable. Unless you want to learn how to hunt or fish.

Speaking of antis – the other amazing power of the internet is its ability to unite and mobilize people for a common cause. The problem with that is there is no “magic truth button” on the internet. You don’t need to be an expert to have an opinion. Heck, you don’t even need to be informed to have an opinion. It’s pretty easy to get spun up into a rage on falsehoods. Whether it is vaccinations or politics, the internet is the common man’s voice and call to action. One doesn’t have to look far to see a massively endorsed, quickly growing movement on the internet. Check out this story of Christopher Filardi, a biologist with decades of field experience in the Solomon Islands. The internet branded him a murderer, specifically of a Moustached Kingfisher. The Internet mob literally drove him away from his job, and underground, out of public view. This collective outrage was ridiculous in that most of the enraged had no scientific background, and the hallowed status imposed upon the Kingfisher was arbitrary – probably because it was “pretty”. This was an accepted scientific principle which provided not only visual information but skeletal, DNA, etc. Collecting a sample (humanely killing and preserving a single bird) is standard scientific practice. Oddly, the internet masses ignored other, less attractive wildlife which had been “sampled” by other scientists. Unfounded, misdirected but highly effective – rage and vitriol. That’s what is coming to hunting – and probably fishing after that.

Back to hunters – when we’re not attacking new folks, we are arguing amongst ourselves. Go on a forum or Facebook group and ask a question – any question. Sit back and wait. It might take a bit but I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts the conversation gets heated. Traditional blackpowder versus inlines. Fixed versus mechanical. ATVs. Hounds – oooh that’s a good one. So is bait. Heck, a month or two ago I watched some bitter rhetoric fly back and forth about trail cameras! Funny thing is – in 50 years I’ve never seen a discussion on any of these topics get that heated, in a face to face conversation. Nope – gotta mind your P’s and Q’s when you’re not anonymous. You’ll never get punched in the nose hiding behind your keyboard and in today’s world of bullies – they count on that. The folks that want hunting gone? They are united. They don’t care whether you have a traditional bow or a compound bow – they want it gone. They want bait gone, they want hounds gone, they want rangefinders gone and long range shooting and short range shooting and tree stands too. So we’ll argue and bicker while they figure things out, and while our numbers dwindle we’ll come better and better at chasing the new people away. Sounds like a recipe for success to me. Let’s see how it works.

So what to do?

I’m biased because I love belonging to critter groups. Hunter’s Ed instructors are good guys and ladies. So are the folks that fix water catchments, and people who lobby for our hunting heritage. In these groups new people can learn, free from judgement, in safe and welcoming environments. They can learn about good places to go, and the best methods. They can ask questions. They can also give back a little. The problem is, membership of our critter groups is a fraction of the total number of hunters in Arizona. We’re just not reaching them, or convincing them why they should belong. I believe it’s more important than ever.

Listen, gone are the days when Timmy, dressed in plaid is out in the woods with Grandpa over his shoulder (smoking a pipe) coaching him through his first shot on a deer. Those days are gone. We need to not only embrace technology, but we need to embrace decorum. And respect. And kindness. And education. If we don’t, the generation that is learning to hunt now may just be the last one. And that’s sad. Hunters through Pittman Robertson funds, license sales, and their own sweat and treasure – do a lot of good work. They do good work for game and non-game animals, for hunters and non-hunters. Bird watchers benefit from our efforts. So do hikers and campers. We need to get the word out.

So where’s our “safe place”??

Arizona Mule Deer Organization

Arizona Elk Society

Arizona Antelope Foundation

Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society

Arizona Deer Association

Valley of the Sun Quail Forever

Mule Deer Foundation

National Wild Turkey Federation – Arizona