Oct 21, 2009

A Hunter's Image

A Hunter's Image

by Ward M. Clark

In this age of media, of news by sound byte, a sad fact of life is this: What we seem to be, may be, in many ways, more important than what we actually are.

Politicians have learned this lesson well. The modern political campaign is a battle of ten-second clips, of demagoguery, of appearances; the age of the statesman has given way to the age of the salesman. Yes, politicians have learned the value of appearances very, very well.

It's a lesson we as hunters could do well to take to heart.

It's a lesson I'd like to drive home to every member of the hunting camp I drove past this past weekend in Colorado's White River National Forest. The large group of bow hunters, afield in pursuit of deer and elk, had several cases of beer piled up in front of the trailer, in plain view of the road. Four ATV's parked outside the trailer beg the silent question of any non-hunters traveling this popular scenic road, "are they just drinking and riding those things around all day? Are these hunters just a bunch of drunks driving around shooting at things?"

These bow hunters could be, and most likely are, perfectly ethical, sober, and responsible hunters. But that doesn't matter a damn. The non-hunter who drives by their camp, sees no further than the stacked cases of beer. And it's not just non-hunters who are affected.

Last November, I was hunting elk on Hardscrabble Mountain, in this same stretch of the White River. Two partners and I made a careful, pre-sunrise approach into a remote drainage, shuffling in the freezing dark through twelve inches of snow. The peace surrounded us, the only sound an occasional whispered comment and the snow crunching under our boots.

As the sun was rising, however, that changed. A distant sputter slowly grew into the roar of a four-wheeled ATV, chugging slowly and noisily to the top of a nearby ridge, off the marked road and in violation of Forest Service rules regarding off-road vehicles. The driver proceeded to sit on the ATV, sky lined on the ridge, rifle across his knees. It's incredible that anyone could be oblivious to the fact that the noise of his four-wheeled conveyance had already resulted in every elk in Eagle County decamping for greener pastures.
In the interests of delicacy I will refrain from repeating my comments at that moment; suffice it to say we were less than pleased at the ruin of a morning's effort by a thoughtless cretin.

Why? Is this thoughtlessness, laziness, stupidity, or some combination of the three?

Again, it's image – and the non-hunter who hears the story angrily recounted later, is going to come away with a negative impression of all hunters. Given some of the people I see afield each deer/elk combined season here in Colorado, sometimes I wonder if they're justified.

Another example – an almost weekly event here in the Denver area are the massive gun and hunting equipment shows put on by several promoters. In almost every show, T-shirt vendors are present to peddle a variety of slogans in this modern walking billboard format – some of them are funny, some thought provoking, some just stupid.

A year or so back, I was at one of the larger Denver shows, looking to pick up a box of .338 Barnes X-bullets, and some other odds and ends, but mostly just enjoying the show. One of the T-shirt vendors was operating, as usual, on a three-table spread.

In front of me, a boy of perhaps 18 was shepherding his equally young girlfriend through the show. When the two, holding hands, stopped at the T-shirt vendor's table, her eyes went immediately to a shirt with a picture of a kitten, in the center of a riflescope recticle – and the legend, "I Love Cats – Dead Ones!" The look of horror and shock on this young girls' face spoke volumes.

Given the short-lived nature of teenaged relationships, it's more than likely this girl won't end up long-term with a responsible hunter of shooter; and when a ballot initiative regarding guns or hunting comes up, she'll remember that T-shirt. "Hunters? What a bunch of jerks" she'll most likely say to her friends, and she'll vote against us.

This sort of thing is stupid, stupid beyond description. This isn't the 1800's anymore. It's the Age of Perception, the Age of the Sound Byte, the Age of Media. What we seem to be, is in many ways more important than what we actually are. It's time we started to think about that. More importantly, it's time we started acting on that.

We can't afford to be seen as careless, thoughtless, or unlawful. We can't afford to make a negative impression in the minds of even one non-hunter. What, then, should we do to further the public's perception of us as respectable, responsible sportsmen and women?

Put your beer inside the tent or trailer. Park your ATV and walk into the backcountry. Exercise just a little discretion in your choice of T-shirts. Don't be stupid.

Picture yourself and your actions as a non-hunter would. They, not we, are in the majority – they, not we, will decide the future of hunting in this country. We can't afford to even appear irresponsible.Remember this in your next trip afield.

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