The Deer Hunter’s Image – It’s Relevance In Present Day Culture

Posted on July 3, 2012



Forty two years ago in his book, Whitetail, Fundamentals And Fine Points For The Hunter, George Mattis voiced his concern regarding the appearance of the present day enthusiast of the sport writing the following postscript,

“The American public, on the whole, has not attained the stable maturity necessary for evaluating our generous heritage and its proper place in an economy-minded nation. We are still a frontier people seeking new lakes and better hunting grounds, but we find there are none. We will have to do with what we have, but will have to do it more wisely.

We strongly need to cultivate an aesthetic appreciation of our remaining wilderness – the deep, shaded forests, sedge-filled marshlands, sphagnum moss-carpeted cold bogs, wooded hills, the mountains and the deserts.

Man, pressed on all sides in this world of regimentation, never so needed the tonic of an undisciplined outdoors where the tinkle of a waterfall, the bloom of a desert plant, or the hooting of an owl ease the mind of nagging cares. If we are to rely on fish and game alone to lure us to the wilderness, in time we might become mere highway tourists stopping to make showcase observations of such points of interest efficiently laid out for us. The smell of dew-drenched vegetation, the cheery warmth of the rising sun over an October lake, or the lonely desolateness of a late fall or winter woods will no longer be part of our experiences.

We have now arrived at the point where deer hunting as a sport has come of age, and the filling of the bag becomes not nearly as important as the enjoyable and safe hunt in our great outdoors.”

There was a time in this country when the deer hunter was viewed as a cultural hero. His deer kill statistics and conquests brought back from the field were of noteworthy press. He was both revered and embraced by society. Sadly, that appreciation has diminished significantly outside the mainstream deer hunting community. In fact, like it or not, we as a whole would now be classified as an oppressed minority. Our uninformed culture chooses to cast judgmental aspersions upon us and their lasting perceptions seldom extend beyond that initial assessment.

Sean Paige, editor of The Colorado Springs Gazette writes, “I know plenty of Americans who see hunters as camouflage – wearing yahoos bent on blowing away Bambi.” Now I must inquire, have we not helped them come to this conclusion, wrong as it may be? When the proud, victorious hunter, dressed in his hunting uniform parades down Main Street in his muddy 4 x 4 pick-up with a dead deer carcass sticking out the back as a show-and-tell for all the world to see, and that being the only visual the non-hunting public gets of what a hunter looks and behaves like, can you blame them? Your first reaction after reading that last sentence may well be, ‘I could care less what they think. Hunting is my God-given right and I will do as I please.’ – and understandably so. Before we dismiss those non-participants who have  found our activities offensive, should we not consider the image we are casting? It must be remembered that there is a lot more of those that don’t participate in our hunting endeavors than there are hunters or anti-hunters. Those that oppose our sport are making every attempt to promulgate the image of us as a bunch of ego driven, bloodthirsty redneck killers. Now, we must ask ourselves, have we not played right into their hands with our behavior?

Am I suggesting that we hide what we do or operate covertly under the cover of darkness? Do I believe that we should offer apologies or excuses for having the desire to hunt for our meat from God? Absolutely not! What I am attempting to convey is that the image we portray to those around us will be exactly what they will believe about us. The real conservationists are not the left-winged tree-huggers who utilize the mainstream press to broadcast their ill-conceived message; it is the hunter. The greatest benefactor to wildlife has not been The Friends of Animals, The Humane Society or PETA regardless of their propaganda; that title once again belongs to the hunter. We as hunters already know this to be true based on our effort and hard earn dollars spent. It is not us that need to be convinced of these facts; it is those that sit on the fence waiting to be won over to the side that provides the best message. Don’t think for a second that the groups which seek to put an end to our hunting heritage are not clever enough to package their agenda in such a manor to appeal to the undecided. If we are to prevail and not become another statistical casualty then it becomes imperative that we project a revitalized image.

Our society has, and continues to change along with its attitudes. If the perception of sportsmen and sportswomen is going to be viewed positively by the non-hunting public than we must create an image that is appealing rather than distasteful, not to us, but for them.

Aldo Leopold, one of the foremost environmental philosophers and enthusiastic deer hunter expressed the cultural values of the sport and defended it as a great tradition with roots deep in our deer hunting past. Even as far back as the early 1900s, Leopold recognized the need to project an ethical, ecological and aesthetic image as a deer hunter. His predictions have come to fruition despite being fifty years before their time, and should therefore be heavily considered. He envisaged a time when deer hunting would be a profitable private enterprise and an endeavor that would provide compensation to landowners in the form of hunting fees and leases. He prophesied that where suburbs encroached into deer hunting grounds that bow and arrows, and short-range weapons (muzzle loaders, shotguns) would become the only weapon allowed. Leopold also argued that public policy would one day attempt to regulate deer hunting.

“A man can learn from experience and can recognize when his ways or ideas are in error. He can thus change and adjust them as he grows in wisdom and knowledge.”

If we are to preserve our beloved sport of deer hunting it would serve us well to follow suit.

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer