The world of hunting: Diversity in plain sight

by Tovar on August 12, 2012 · 66 comments

Photo by Ken Thomas

Every once in a while, a non-hunter asks me, “What’s the hunter’s perspective on such-and-such?”

The question puzzles me. Hunters, after all, have a wide range of interests, motivations, and backgrounds.

Some hunt deer, some hunt rabbits, some hunt waterfowl, some hunt upland birds, and some hunt all of these and more. Some hunt a few days a year, some several months a year. Some hunt to procure wild meat, some to immerse themselves in the natural world, some to enjoy time with family and friends, some to carry on a tradition, some to experience challenge and excitement, some to bag trophies, some for all these reasons and others. Some grew up hunting, some grew up opposed to hunting, some grew up indifferent.

Though U.S. hunters are predominantly white males, some are female, American Indian, African American, Latino, or Hmong. And even among white men, viewpoints vary dramatically.

Just over a week ago, while down in Mississippi to present at a Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA) conference, I spoke with one white male hunter who emphasized the need for conservationists and environmentalists of all kinds, including hunters, to work together to protect habitats, ensure healthy wildlife populations, and so on. A day or so later, I overheard another white male hunter talking about how “tree-huggers,” “environmentalists,” and other “whackos” are the cause of many a problem.

When someone asks me about the hunter’s perspective on such-and-such, I can only tell them my perspective.

I can understand, of course, how people on the outside—non-hunters—might assume that everyone on the inside shares certain sensibilities. It even gives me some vague inkling of what it’s often like to be a member of other minorities: being perceived as part of, and being expected to speak for, an imagined monolithic group.

I find it more intriguing when I hear hunters make similar assumptions about each other.

Sometimes it’s just an assumption about what fellow hunters think or feel, or what their interests are. I recall a magazine article, for instance, in which the author said he figured all hunters shared his aspiration to hunt large, dangerous animals like grizzly bears. I have no such aspiration. I know plenty of other hunters who don’t either.

Other times, it’s an assumption about how fellow hunters should think or feel, if they don’t already. In these kinds of statements—often about how all hunters should defend every imaginable form of hunting, should share the same views on gun politics, or should treat a certain group as a sworn enemy—I hear a plea (and sometimes a demand) for unity.

I can understand that kind of call, especially in a world where hunters are so vastly outnumbered by non-hunters. And I can understand the strategic sense it makes: People don’t want to be divided and conquered. Better to circle the wagons.

I’m leery of it, though. Making people toe a line tends to shut down conversations and silence important questions. Closing ranks can provide a sense of solidarity within some portion of the so-called “hunting community,” but at what cost? What better way to alienate people, including other hunters, than by telling them what to feel and think?

I prefer ongoing conversations and open questions. I think they lead to better relationships, more creative solutions, and stronger coalitions. As I quipped on Twitter some weeks ago, “To understand, listen. To be understood, invite others to listen. To keep things as they are, preach to the choir and yell at everyone else.”

I think it’s worth considering that the universe of hunting—from hunters themselves to hunting organizations to the hunting industry—may be far more ideologically diverse than most of us suspect. The POMA conference, for instance, might seem like a bastion of hardcore hunting and carnivory. But there I was, talking about my journey into and out of veganism, discussing common values and common ground, fielding questions from a wonderfully receptive audience.

After the session, a young hunter came up to me and said he could relate to a lot of what I was saying. He said he had known a lot of vegetarians, had tried the diet briefly himself, and was a lot more “arty” than most of the hunters he knew.

Then another hunter approached. He said he worked for a hunting conservation organization and mentioned that their graphic designer is a non-hunting vegetarian.

Then a young woman came along and told me that she works for a company that sells products to hunters. She, however, is a non-hunter and hardly ever eats chicken or fish, let alone red meat.

Contemplating these encounters, I wondered: Is this kind of diversity all that unusual? Or is it often right there in front of us, blending in, as many animals do, simply by not drawing attention to itself?

© 2012 Tovar Cerulli

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