By Clay Newcomb
Why does it matter if modern hunting persists beyond our lives? It’s a legit question requiring some soul searching for an honest answer. The challenges surrounding the lifestyle of modern hunters in North America are numerous and even daunting. Just to name a few, we’re struggling with hunter recruitment, access to hunting land, and a population that is growing further away from its hunting roots. There is also a relatively small group of people who adamantly oppose hunting, the anti-hunting community, and they’re doing a good job of propagating their ideas to the undecided masses. Therein lies the lynch pin of protecting and securing our lifestyle the undecided masses. As ironic as it sounds, the people that don’t care, have little information about and no history with hunting, will be the ones that help decide our future.
A 2016 report issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that 11.5 million people hunted in the United States. With our growing population, that’s roughly 4% of the nation. That means that 96% of the U.S population doesn’t hunt. Sound gloomy? It does. One could speculate about as many people are also actively involved in the anti-hunting movement through social activism, donations to anti-hunting groups, and life-style opposition. What that means is that the vast majority of people aren’t adamantly against, and some research suggests they’re even for us.
A recent 2019 survey conducted by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and a survey group called Responsive Management, a vetted survey organization used by many state game agencies to acquire data, revealed some promising information about the attitude of American’s towards hunting. They found that 80% of American’s approved of legal hunting, with the Midwest holding the highest approval at 86%. “Americans’ level of approval of hunting has remained generally consistent over the past quarter century, with a gradual increase in approval since 1995 when approval was at 73%,” stated the report. “Approval of hunting varies considerably depending on the stated reasons for hunting. When the reasons are utilitarian in nature for meat, to protect human property, for wildlife management approval is very high…On the other hand, approval of hunting drops substantially when the reasons are for the sport, the challenge, or a trophy.”
What can we conclude from this data? If the masses understand what we’re doing, and if our motivation is primarily utilitarian in nature, they approve of our hunting. This is a particular challenge for bear hunters, because most non-hunters don’t know that we eat bear meat, tan the hides, and many even render the fat, too. If processed thoroughly, a larger percentage of bear resources are utilized for utilitarian purposes than most other types of big game and we’ve got to make that a stronger point in our hunting culture and narrative. We’ve got to change the perception of bear hunting from being just a trophy hunt, into bear hunting being more holistic and utilitarian experience. Similarly, the idea of hunting bear for to control the population of these large predators is often well received by the non-hunter. Sound reasonable? I’m not suggesting we hide the fact that we enjoy the challenge and are looking for a “big one.” I am suggesting that we also culturally value and use the commodities gained from a bear harvest in better ways. For modern bear hunting to continue forward, we’ve got to do this.
It’s the Small Things
Humans tend to look at the big picture of life’s activities and allot value to them based on their perceived immediate effect. A young man in his teens might dream of a successful career, looking forward to the day of big paychecks and bonuses. However, if neglects his low paying, seemingly insignificant job of flipping burgers, he probably won’t acquire his long-term goal. The most important job of his life is the one he’s got right now, although it may seem insignificant. The struggle for your future life is won or lost today. The most important battle is the one you’re fighting right now. How does this apply to modern hunting?
I believe that bear hunting is the “small thing” in the cultural battle for North American hunting that is actually one of the most important things. We’re a small group. Of the 11.5 million U.S. hunters few would identify themselves as “bear hunters.” Approximately 800,000 bear tags are allotted each year, and that includes states like Arkansas, which give a bear tag to every licensed hunter. It’s estimated that 40,000 to 50,000 bears are legally harvested in the United States each year (many more in Canada), so if an estimated thirty percent of hunters are successful, that puts the number of active bear hunters each year around 150,000 to 200,000. This means that even in the hunting community we are the minority!
People that don’t bear hunt might think that if we lost the modern methods of bear hunting it would be a small, insignificant loss in a bigger battle, however, that would be fatally wrong. Bear hunting is the gate for the anti-hunting community to come into the hunting space today. This is a threat to every elk, deer, turkey and pheasant hunter alike! It’s in the best interest of hunting for the broader community to guard the gate! It will require people to look beyond their own interests for a future time yet to come. This is a hard thing for people to do, but we’ve got to blow the trumpet!
It’s in the best interest of all hunters to support and defend all legal methods of bear hunting publically, monetarily and intellectually. Here’ why: the anti-hunting groups are dedicated to stopping all forms of hunting through incrementalism, meaning they want to chip off one piece at a time. A win in bear hunting, though it seems insignificant to a non-bear hunter, will result in a step up the ladder to the next rung. The most important battle for our future is the battle that we fight right now. Bear hunting is in the crosshairs, it’s an easy target, and it’s clearly a favored target. Bear hunting is easy to misunderstand and demonize with low-grade propaganda to those 90% of non-hunters in the United States. That is why bear hunting is the gate of through which the anti-hunting community will enter, so we me must– guard the gate. But how?
Humans often look for external solutions to problems that don’t require work or personal change on their part. But real, systemic change will only occur in our bear hunting community if each of us examines ourselves, our hunting culture and makes changes. In former times, bear hunters were known as men of renown in their communities for reasons that fit the times. What if we shifted the culture and bear hunters were known as “men of renown” for our lifestyle, conservation efforts, utilization of the game we killed, generosity, and our deep philosophical understanding of why we do what we do? What if we were known for our unity, lack of jealousy, and general positive demeanor towards our fellow hunter? What if we were known for taking new hunters into the outdoors and helping them connect to wild places and wild creatures? I think this is already happening in some regions of the country, where groups are working hard to rescript the bear hunting narrative – I’m specifically talking about some of the state bear hunting organizations in our country. My point is this – we’re going to have to do something different – and that difference starts with you – and together we can do it.
SEVEN ACTION STEPS FOR 2020:
1. Do an Internal Scan
Public perception of hunting and hunters (that’s you and me) is the thing that will make or break us. Do you personally represent hunting to your peer groups, family and circles of influence in a positive way? Are there actions you could shift that would make a difference? Scan your social media presence, you presence in your community, and even the way you’ve trained your kids to talk about hunting to look for places to improve.
2. Become a Utilitarian Bear Hunter
It’s important that we utilize as much of the commodities of the bears we harvest as possible. Utilize the meat, become a better cook, have the hides professionally tanned or learn to tan them, and harvest some fat to be rendered. We will continue to hunt for the challenge, excitement, camaraderie and, of course, for a big bear, but we’ve got to value (and share that value) the post-hunt, utilitarian resources. If we value it, we’ll use it and we’ll talk about it. If we talk about it, people will hear about it.
3. Join an organization that is dedicated to fighting anti-hunting legislation
It seems these days that everything wants our money, but we have to recognize that if it’s valuable to us then we’ve got to be financially dedicated to it. There are lots of good organizations out there. Do your research and be financially committed every year, at a minimum, to be a member of these groups. I’d suggest becoming a dedicated member to your state bear hunting association and becoming a member of the Sportsman’s Alliance for life.
4. Be Active in State Government
Our democratic government by its very nature is looking for input from it’s citizenry, but more often than not people don’t say much. Be active in any place your state wants public input regarding hunting regulations, because if we don’t fill that space others will. I’ve seen bear hunting organizations in Michigan and Wisconsin (and others) make attendance at public input meetings a norm for their members, and their voice is heard loud.
5. Mentor a New Hunter a 2020
This is a small thing, but dedicate yourself to taking one new person hunting in 2020. If you’re ambitious, take two. Plan a strategy that is realistic and includes follow up, a plan for the meat, and multiple hunts. It takes lots of exposure for people to see the value in our way of life. It’ll take some sacrifice, but do it. It’s no longer just a cute idea - our way of life actually depends on it.
6. Become a Herald
A herald is “an official messenger bringing news.” The way ideas are spread and social awareness takes hold is when people give a darn and are willing to put their reputations on the line for what they value. We’ve got to decide if we truly value our hunting lifestyle and if it’s worth spreading. I know you think it is. I think we can tune up our narrative and get better about telling people why we hunt, eat wild game, and live an outdoor lifestyle.
7. Help Shift the Hunting Culture
You can help shift the hunting culture by vocally supporting all legal methods of hunting. Talking negatively about the way other people hunt or highlighting the deficiencies of other sportsmen does nothing but degrade the hunting culture. Sportsmen are a brotherhood and unification is the only way in which we’ll persist through the ages. Only small men nitpick and degrade the methods of other hunters. In 2019, we’ve all got to actively support all legal methods of hunting, even if it’s different than you method!