Tribalism

Posted on January 7, 2014

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The State of Whitetail Nation

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For most, when the term tribe appears the natural tendency is to think of Native Americans, the indigenous peoples of South America or even the little people of the Kalahari known as the Bushmen. However, as you are about to learn, each of us belong to and are affiliated with a tribe.

 

A tribe is best defined by Seth Godin as, a group of people connected to one another, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.

For deer hunters our shared interest and commonality is the white-tailed deer, and we have more mediums than ever to communicate our message. Regardless of whether you hunt other species of animals or if you’re only a deer hunter, welcome to the tribe. Historically, deer hunting was part of American culture, a major part of mainstream society. However, as deer hunting historian Rob Wegner writes, it has now become a “minority activity played out in cow culture and hyped in highly specialized magazines,” along with video, outdoor television, and the internet.

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As deer hunters we are no longer one large group. We have splintered into smaller tribes that accommodate personal preference and agendas. And because we inherently have the proclivity to fight against one another rather than mobilize for a common unity, we’ve unknowingly contributed to our own potential demise. A prime example of this comes from a recent post (12/7/13) on the Facebook page of Lee & Tiffany Lakosky as a result of viral mortar fire being hurled at Lee over a buck he had killed:

For all of the whiners out there that are so concerned about the picture we posted of Lee and his buck, here he is 2 min b4 he shot him, obviously no “trick” photography. #Quitwhining as fellow hunters lets just all try and support each other as we r all on the same team!  -Tiffany

Why is it, when someone posts a hero shot of a huge buck they’ve taken (famous or not), that the suspicion, skepticism, jealousy and downright nasty comments follow in the comment line, like: “photo shopped”; “high fence”; or, “position of hunter in relation to animal to make buck look larger”? Have we ever considered how the individual fortunate enough to have taken that animal might feel? Could we not just say congratulations, good for you, way to go and leave it at that? While many of us may never shoot a specimen of that caliber why enviously begrudge someone who has?

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 It must be remembered that we deer hunters are a small minority within a culture that continues to look increasingly unfavorably on our pastime. We’ve lost sight of what’s really important, and why we hunt has become lost in the fog as each tribe attempts to shout the loudest and make their own point.

With the pin now pulled on a grenade that is sure to solicit reaction, both positive and negative, let’s take a hard inward look at where our tribe, Whitetail Nation, currently stands in context with the society in which we dwell.

Deer “Hunting”

 

Words have meaning, no more so than in the politically correct environment of today’s America. You may think, “I’ll say whatever I want, exactly how I want and if they don’t like it, tough.” And that is exactly the point. You may – at least in your own mind – win the battle, but ultimately we will all suffer defeat in the larger war.

The first point to understand is that hunting is not killing; they are two very distinctly different activities often associated to be synonymous with each other. We hunt for our keys, wallet and cell phones, not to kill them, but to locate them. We hunt for a job, which doesn’t have anything to do with terminating the company that hires you. While killing may well be the end result of a game-hunt, it doesn’t constitute the whole or rightly define the very act of hunting.

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Historically, deer hunting has always been from the ground, however, over the past thirty or so years much has changed to convince more and more deer hunters to find alternative methods. With the advent of tree stands, shrinking parcels of land and the popularity of archery gear, legions of deer hunters now find themselves perched aloft, above the forest floor. For the sake of analogy only, as it is not my intent to disparage any of my fellow huntsmen that choose to ambush deer from stationary positions, be it aloft or from a blind, while it is true that being elevated in a tree stand will provide sight and scent advantage, and locating yourself within a box blind will certainly hide you, the elephant in the room is and continues to be, are we actually hunting in either of these situations or are we waiting for a deer to walk within sight? And then there is still hunting, which in the hunter’s vernacular has a much different definition than the actual meaning. How can we be in pursuit of game if we are being “still”? Is it really just semantics?

How each of us chooses to procure our venison and find satisfaction while engaged in the activity is a personal choice as long as it is done ethically, but the point we all must be mindful of is how it is defined to those outside our tribe that have little understanding of our terminology. Words have meaning!

Tribal Communication

 

As a direct result of technology, the internet, smart phones, and social media just to name a few, our tribal messages, videos and images can be found instantly, constantly, globally and permanently. This method has and continues to rapidly replace the more traditional communications of printed publications and television. Although the motives for creating deer-related material – beyond financial gain – may be to entertain and educate those within the tribe, due to the far reaching capabilities of this technology, anyone now has the ability to readily view it. Blogs and chat rooms are routinely filled with opinionated deer hunters who have found a platform to make their point, regardless of the aftershocks that reverberate following their discourse. Typically the rancor on these sites is less than hospitable as the infighting, bickering and vitriolic name calling has moved the fight from the playground to the web. And make no mistake about it, the folks that hate what we do are reading, scrutinizing and interpreting all of this, thanks to the easy accessibility of today’s media. The problem this creates for our tribe, even though we have accepted it, is that when we push the limit of courtesy and plausibility in our posts or descriptions, even if we have accepted it, is that those outside our fraternity who look on find much of our behavior to be distasteful, gruesome and often barbaric. If you think otherwise, ask Melissa Bachman the celebrity huntress who killed the lion.

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Outdoor TV has turned some within whitetail nation into “personalities”, which often has become the model those within the tribe try to emulate. These programs have now defined our lingo, habits, dress, equipment use and the way we go about trying to kill a deer. Culture begins upstream, and in this case the headwaters start with Outdoor Television. The footage, good, bad or ugly flows down to the consumer who watches the programming, acquires traits and accouterments based upon what they see, and hence our deer hunting culture begins to be transformed. Petersen’s Hunting editor, Mike Schoby wrote an editorial in the November 2013 issue that may well be one of the best I’ve ever read in pointing out Outdoor TV’s seven deadly sins. You know things have turned bad when one of our own feels the need to address behavior that is unbecoming within the ranks, let alone what those outside the tribal circle think.

The following are a few of my own observations regarding this epidemic:

1. Whispering. STOP the incessant whispering! Nobody likes it, especially our wives. We have eyes by which we can clearly see what is happening and despite what others may have insinuated, your audience is not that dumb. Suggestion: during the editing process when music is dubbed in, here would be a great time to inject voice over in normal voice inflection…just a thought.

2. Seriously, are we portraying deer hunters or making an attempt to mimic music stars with this hipster lingo that has become the new trend? “BBD” – Big Buck Down. Would you say LBD – Little Buck Down – if the buck wasn’t so big? “Smoked him!” Would that be a cigar, cigarette or pipe? “Gave him a dirt bath!” As opposed to one taken with soap and water? “He is on my hit list.” Do you work for the Maffia? “Laid the smack down on him.” Is this the World Whitetail Wrestling Federation? “Ole Sad Daddy.” Is the buck sad due to bullets and arrows being hurled at him in order to end his obvious miserable life? The list could go on and on, but space is limited. This may seem funny as you read it or cool as you say them in this ‘Redneck-ese’, but what is being clearly heard is disrespect for the animal.

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3. If that was not enough, the newest fad being portrayed is deer hunting cosmetics. Man make-up. Is a simple face mask no longer a viable option if you feel the need to hide your mug that sits atop a lump of camouflage 14-feet in the air? Or an even better question, why camouflage and make-up inside a blind? Isn’t the purpose of the camouflage blind to hide you? So here’s my question, are we painting our faces in preparation to go to war with the deer, to get in touch with our inner feminine side or reenact a Halloween masquerade?

One of the classiest and most professional video clips I have ever seen by a hunter approaching a buck that they’d just killed was in the Wensel’s production, Primal Dreams. Gene is shown approaching the buck he named Woody with such a profound look of reference, humbleness and satisfaction. There was no verbal commentary, none was needed as his facial expressions and body language said it all. It is a clip that I wouldn’t think twice about sharing with my non-hunting friends. Why did this have such a lasting and profound effect? Because it runs contrary to the circus act commonly demonstrated by TV personalities at the kill site; it’s as if they had just won a double show case on The Price is Right. And then there is the commentary, much like a news anchor telling us about what we just watched with our own eyes. Here’s a hint, it’s okay to be happy with your success, and to even show emotions, but hey, even the NFL throws the penalty flag for excessive celebration.

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4. With Matt Zuckerberg’s social creation of Facebook, the whole world has now become connected. Regardless of perceived safety nets as to what others can or cannot see regarding our posts, virtually anyone that wants to see will inevitably be able to see. This network has provided those within the tribe the ability to instantly reveal their latest conquest. It seems, at least with some, that even before the deer has fully expired a post appears with words such as, “Pics and details to follow.” Once the animal is fully dead, images, sometimes multiple in order to spare no details, appear much like a kindergarten show-and-tell. And to make matters worse, a lot of these hero-shots are taken with no thought other than get the picture. The animal is positioned with all of its expelled blood in the scene with the tongue hanging out, depicting more of a good horror flick than a moment to remember. And yes, I’m fully aware that not everyone is a photographer, but while these images maybe acceptable within our tribe, the message we are sending to all of the other viewers is: redneck, pick-up driving, blood-thirsty killer who is gloating in the demise of a poor defenseless creature. That is the stereotype that we have and are projecting, whether real or perceived.

5. How many times do we need to be reminded that “YOU” shot a great buck with the same image appearing over – and – over – and – over again as if it’s the movie, Groundhog Day? Are we that insecure and in need of additional recognition and likes, or are we afraid that not quite everyone on Facebook has had the privilege of seeing your success and commenting? Joy and excitement aside, we should try and act like we’ve been there before, even if we have to fake it.

Tribal Commitments

 

Tribal commitments become the underlying beliefs that define and establish tribal boundaries. As stated earlier, our hunting tribe has splintered into many smaller fraternal tribes and often warring factions. We have been quick to judge another hunter’s choice of methodology, weapon, and location to hunt, but get very defensive when that same judgment comes back at us. Skirmishes between tribes arise between wilderness vs. suburban hunting, public vs. private land, ground pounding vs. stand hunting, rifle vs. archery (compound vs. recurve vs. long bow), using an outfitter vs. do it yourself. Then there are the big ones that have caused the greatest contentions: baiting, antler restrictions, QDM and high-fence hunts.

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Whichever tribe or collection of tribes you fit into, remember this Biblical precept, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” While we may never agree on another deer hunter’s choice of where, when, how or what is involved in their deer hunting, they are not, I repeat, they are not who we should be concerned with; they are not going to be the ones that ultimately end what we have taken for granted for far too long. They are not the enemy.

Which tribe are you in? For those who think, “I’m not in any tribe. I am a rugged individualist that marches to the beat of my own drum”, guess what? That is also a tribe, so enjoy the company and make friends with the others painted into your box. None of us is unique, superior or special, despite what we may have been told, led to believe or actually think ourselves. Each of us, like members of any society, have a role to play on a larger scale than ourselves.

The famed Adirondack huntress, Paulina Brandreath once wrote, “Hunting is a recreation and invigorating pastime that never should, through a super-civilized, over-artificialized state of living, be allowed to die out.” Our collective goal should, must and has to be to ensure this never happens.

Epilogue

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 Thunderheads clap in the distance like the roar of a hungry lion, but the all too familiar sound only propels us to further advance our agenda despite its notice. No longer is that tempest brewing somewhere on a distant horizon amidst dark ominous clouds for which we can prepare. Sorry, that is no longer an option. Instead, the storm is already upon us, having subtly crept in as we ignored the clear warnings of its imminent arrival. In our eagerness to conquer and reach new heights using technology and mechanization, the value of the hunt itself has been robbed of its primitive significance. We have reached the saturation point where it becomes increasingly more difficult to produce something within the deer hunting industry that can surpass the last metaphorical high.

It must be remembered, whether we choose to believe it or not, that as a collective whole, we have become an oppressed minority. No longer is it culturally acceptable in mainstream America to be involved in a recreation of blood sport. Although to an ever-decreasing extent the sport of deer hunting continues to be tolerated by the majority of non-participants, I fear this unstable attitude stems more from indifference and ignorance rather than moral support for the sport of deer hunting.

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The sun has already set, yet on the horizon there remains the glowing embers or what once was and could be again. If that is to be the case, we must adapt and not continue forward with what we do today. We have traveled far enough down that trail, but we must turn back and returning to the cultural values the deer hunter once held dear, and set a new track. We must, if we are to prevent ourselves from becoming another cultural  casualty, gain a renewed appreciation for all that is wildest, all that is authentic, all that is most free; reverting back to all that the land beyond the pavement does engender. We must go beyond the bright lights and beyond our differences, and lose the trend of hype that oozes of pretentious hope.

 

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© 2014 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer