Huntophobia: A reader rethinks anti-hunter prejudice

by Tovar on June 4, 2012 · 28 comments

You never know how a conversation will reverberate, or what shape its echoes will take if they return to you.

Late one night this spring, a reader sent me an email. A few hours earlier, she had been at one of my book discussions.

In her email, she explained that she had grown up with a negative view of hunting. But as she read the book—and as she listened that evening, both to me and to a lifelong hunter who spoke from the heart—her perspective began to shift.

Driving home after the discussion, she had a thought:

After seeing you speak in person and hearing you talk about your uncle and reading about him in the book, the analogy I thought of on the way home was of someone who has never spent much time with a gay person and thinks there is something wrong with that way of life.

Then they meet and talk with a compassionate, considerate, thoughtful gay person whom they can relate to on many levels and realize their preconceptions were unnecessarily narrow. . . .

I think it’s always good to have one’s mind broadened.

I doubt this parallel would have occurred to me. Sexual orientation and hunting are such radically different topics. I can think of all kinds of contrasts between the moral objections raised against homosexuality and the moral objections raised against hunting. Once the parallel was drawn for me, though, I recognized that the basic point was on the mark.

Prejudice is prejudice. It is made up of preconceptions which are, as she put it, “unnecessarily narrow.” And it tends to collapse when challenged by a meaningful encounter with a thoughtful, three-dimensional human being.

So my thanks go out to this reader, for showing me something I had not seen before, and simply for taking the time to write. For this author, heartfelt words like hers are the greatest reward.

© 2012 Tovar Cerulli

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{ 28 comments }

Brickman June 4, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Wow. Well, try being a gay hunter, talk about double minority. As a friend of mine once joked “Dude, you really have to pick one stereotype and go with it”. It’s a topic I barely touched on with my long neglected blog, I considered a few times making it the topic of a post but I never thought of a relevant way to do it without sounding like I was grandstanding and off topic. Or maybe it was just too daunting?

Anyhow, yep, I feel both sides of that analogy.

Tovar June 4, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Thanks, Brickman. That “double minority” experience was on my mind when I drafted this post, though it isn’t something I could speak to personally.

Brickman June 4, 2012 at 11:08 pm

I can think of some comparisons between the objections raised against both homosexuality and hunting. I’m not talking about the context of adherence to an ancient text , I mean more of a fear/distrust/vilification of the “other” that often develops from lack of exposure to unfamiliar views. As an example, although they take place in wildly different contexts, the super flamboyant aspects of various hunting programs can be compared to the super flamboyant participants of some gay pride parades in their ability to evoke profound emotions in the groups that perceive themselves outside of those communities. In my experience neither is representative of either group as a whole.

Tovar June 5, 2012 at 8:04 am

Very interesting and well said, Brickman. Another similarity that occurs to me is the way ideas of “naturalness” (what is “natural” or “normal” for humans and other animals) are often invoked, by both attackers and defenders of both hunting and gayness.

somsai June 4, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Great post, once I started reading I immediately recognized the similarities. The discrimination and civil rights abuses directed at gay people are of course incomparable, but there are very obvious similarities. I have to admit to thinking about both segments of society differently than I did as a teenager of the early 70s.

Tovar June 5, 2012 at 7:52 am

Thanks, Somsai. I, too, have moved through different perspectives on both. As a teenager, I had no problem with the idea of hunting, but — not having a strong connection to anyone who was gay and out-of-the-closet — I harbored a vague idea that homosexuality was “unnatural.” By my twenties (my vegan years), I had a dark view of hunting, but was very accepting of differences in sexual orientation.

Al Cambronne June 4, 2012 at 11:04 pm

As somsai noted, hunters aren’t generally subjected to the same sort of discrimination or civil rights abuses. And only hunting is actually a “lifestyle choice.” So the analogy isn’t perfect. But there certainly are some interesting parallels when it comes to prejudices and preconceptions.

I predict that tomorrow morning one or two hunters will be less than delighted with your analogy. But it is quite apt.

And now, given the image you chose to illustrate this post, you have me wondering about someting I’d never considered until this moment… So do you suppose Elmer Fudd was gay???

Tovar June 5, 2012 at 8:02 am

True, Al. The analogy is far from perfect. (Though I have read some essays where hunters argue that hunting isn’t really a “lifestyle choice” for them either. They feel it is hardwired: an undeniable part of their identity.)

Yes, I imagine some hunters won’t like the comparison. Some gays and gay-friendly folks probably won’t either. All too often, it seems that these things come down along the lines of big political/cultural divides: As a gross generalization, in liberal (and often culturally urban) environments, it’s cool to be gay or accepting of gays and to be intolerant of hunters. In conservative (and often culturally rural) environments, it’s cool to be a hunter or accepting of hunters and to be intolerant of gays. Those divides, of course, are ones I’m interested in bridging and questioning.

Not sure about Elmer, now that you mention it…

Steven Bissell June 5, 2012 at 11:13 am

One of the first focus groups I ever did on hunting (almost 25 years ago now) was about spring bear hunting. Most of the group were hunters and a few non-hunters and they all objected to the hunt until one small well spoken woman talked for about 10 minutes about why she chose to hunt black bear in the spring rather than the fall. Almost everyone was ‘converted’ by hearing an articulate person say why they had thought out their actions and why they were consistent with ethical hunting.

BTW, the State still ended the spring bear hunts; but that’s another story. The moral here is that sometimes just hearing, really listening, to another person’s point of view is powerful stuff.

Tovar June 5, 2012 at 11:33 am

Steven wrote: “Sometimes just hearing, really listening, to another person’s point of view is powerful stuff.”

Amen to that!

somsai June 8, 2012 at 8:53 am

venatiphobia – I just made it up, remember, you heard it here first.

FoodForHunters June 9, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Great post, Tovar. Prejudice is all relative. Many people like to think that they’re “open-minded,” until it’s something they don’t agree with. Great point about liberals and conservatives. I find it to be largely true. People eat meat, and they have been doing so for thousands of years– so what’s the big deal with hunting? Gay people are still people, and they need to pursue their own happiness. A person’s happiness should never determined by others.

Tovar June 16, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Thanks, FFH.

You wrote: “Many people like to think that they’re ‘open-minded,’ until it’s something they don’t agree with.” So true. The difficult part is that we all draw moral lines in places. No matter how open-minded we are, when it comes to something we feel is deeply wrong, we don’t budge.

Maybe the questions are: How and where do we foster open-mindedness, how and where do we foster principled stands, and how and where do we distinguish which is appropriate in which places?

Joshua June 12, 2012 at 8:42 pm

That is so gay. Awesome. I love it and will bring it up from time to time. I find it especially great that it is a way for a person to come to accept a group of people who, let’s be honest, are overwhelmingly conservative.

Tovar June 16, 2012 at 9:11 pm

Joshua wrote: “That is so gay.” Perfect.

Erik Jensen June 14, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Two points. Good post, the point about knowing a hunter is a rebuke to the sentiment that the main threat to hunting is “antis”. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a group I often don’t agree with, combined with wildlife agencies, funded a study that said ONE of the main reasons for the decline of hunting and the abandonment of hunting was social isolation.

The gay comparison is interesting and true on some level, but Al’s point is good. Hunters, in general, except in very isolated pockets of America, don’t face the same discrimination that gays do.

However, I will say, I don’t feel as much conflict over the two groups as maybe others do. I live in a very “pro-hunting” state and very “pro-gay” in its politics. We might beat very liberal and much more “anti-hunting” California on gay rights this year by voting down an anti-gay marriage state constitutional amendment this fall, it will be quite close.

Still, I have had some eyebrows raised at my archery league, which is much older and male than the general population, when it comes up in conversation that my main hunting partner is a lesbian.

Hunters aren’t by nature conservative politically and areas that are liberal politically aren’t necessarily anti-hunting. The fundamental fact is that hunting participation is much higher in places where there are more rural residents, and/or more urban-rural connections and those populations are more pro-hunting because they know more hunters. The bit about hunters as an overall group being more hostile to gays than non-hunters has to do with the fact that rural residents are more conservative on that issue, at least in most areas of the U.S. And that is still just a general rule.

Tovar June 16, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Thanks, Erik. Good points.

Your state’s attitudes are an unusual combination. Vermont is somewhat similar, though perhaps not as strong an example.

Brickman June 15, 2012 at 5:39 pm

A certain archery company just posted on their Facebook page a question to their readers about their dream antler rack and it occurred to me another stereotype about both hunters and gay men: They are both obsessed with size.

LOL, sorry, couldn’t resist. Once again though, I know plenty of people from both sides that easily disprove this.

Tovar June 16, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Too funny, Brickman.

Arthur June 19, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Tovar,

I can so relate to this story. And prejudice is prejudice.

I work in a not-so-friendly-to-hunting environment, and I can’t tell you how many great conversations I’ve had with people simply because they were surprised that I hunted; that someone like me could hunt.

Since I’m reasonably educated, and could complete a sentence, I destroyed their preconceived notions about who a hunter is. They assumed all of us are uneducated idiots, I guess, and it has made for some great conversations.

And I like to think that I’ve at least made a few of them rethink their stance about hunting and about hunters in general.

It’s provided an opportunity to show them who hunters really are, and I’ve loved the conversations my hunting lifestyle has started.

Tovar June 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Thanks for the fine thoughts, Arthur, and for the fine conversations you have with folks!

Erik Jensen June 21, 2012 at 7:53 pm

It just occurred to me today after checking back to see the discussion…in defiance of what one would normally expect, “Brokeback Mountain”, a “gay movie”, was probably one of the most “pro-hunting” movies Hollywood ever made ! In fact, I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me yet.

Another gays-hunters alliance, although I’m stretching things here in terms of a true “alliance” between the two groups, but all the facts here are true. Latest news from Minnesota on the anti-gay marriage amendment referendum: the “no” forces are pulling ahead. Both the press and the “yes” supporters are attributing it to in large part to the strong opposition of Minnesota’s popular (gun-toting) liberal governor. He who won the election in significant part due to the support from hunters.

Tovar June 21, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Thanks for both points, Erik! Every time a stereotype bites the dust (or even gets a little weaker), I cheer. :-)

Lieing Wolf June 29, 2012 at 2:42 pm

HOW DOES THE SAYING GO,” MINDS ARE LIKE PARACHUTES THEY WORK THE BEST OPEN. ” Many of my taxidermy patrons are of both persuasions. All loving the same things.

somsai July 1, 2012 at 12:04 am

I had another thought. Aren’t prejudices often based in fear? Especially fears of other humans? To overcome that fear we learn to dislike intensely (polite way to say hate). The woman who emailed had learned that you weren’t a scary person after all. You might actually have many things in common. Integration went quite a ways towards dampening racial prejudice in America, it’s hard to hate and fear your friends you grew up with.

We assume that outdoors people are still segregated from each other so we can safely know who to hate and fear across our divide. Cross country skiers versus snowmobiles, RVs and tent camping, but of late hunters aren’t always so easy to pigeonhole. A recent survey of “sportspeople” in the west gives some clues of the places those lines begin to blur. http://www2.coloradocollege.edu/stateoftherockies/Conservation_West_Survey/CWSSportsmenData.pdf For every two Republicans there is one Democrat and fully 13% are self identified liberals. They didn’t ask about beer swilling.

Another good link discusses many different surveys of the attitudes non hunters over a long timeframe. Though hunter numbers are declining the public’s support or acceptance of hunting remains the same. http://www.responsivemanagement.com/download/reports/NAMWC_Public_Opinion_Hunting.pdf A majority of people support hunting, but support drops off when the question asks for specific species or reasons for hunting. Many of the extreme reactionary anti hunters realize this and try to frame hunting in such a way so as create a visceral reaction in people who might otherwise be accepting or even supportive. Repetition helps demonize “the other”. Every time I hear the words, trophy hunter, in my head I hear, states rights, the code words for segregationists. Likewise calling hunters red necks, NRA bots, etc.

An informed non hunting public is also more supportive of different types of hunting. Hunting for food is always the most acceptable, hunting large predators with bait or dogs is not. There are very good wildlife management reasons to hunt bears or cats with dogs, or bait, or even traps, those are after all the methods used by the wildlife biologist for study. I’d much rather have people chasing cats with dogs than have an overpopulation as we now have in the hills above town here. Every time an uninformed public votes to curtail some type of hunting they are crippling the ability of the wildlife biologist to manage the animal populations in that state.

I seem to read more articles every day by new to hunting adults, and more often than not written by women. Who knows, stereotypes change.

Tovar July 25, 2012 at 11:24 am

Thanks for the additional thoughts, Somsai, and the links. True, prejudice is often rooted in fear, as well as in not-knowing-the-other.

R. Gabe Davis July 22, 2012 at 9:35 pm

I understand the comparison but fear it may be insulting the gay experience in America. Hunting is a tradition and is only recently came under attack and mainly through legislation. Whereas homosexuals have been murdered in the past and brutalized. As a Christian my heart goes out to Gays that have been persecuted and hope the day never comes when this comparison is less of a stretch. I think what the woman was experiencing at your book signing was the truth. She had just been hidden from it in the past.

Tovar July 25, 2012 at 11:25 am

Thanks, Gabe. Good points there.