The autumn before last, a friend and I loaded a hefty whitetail into his Prius. I would say we loaded the deer into the back of his Prius, but the truth is that the animal filled most of the car and then some.
That experience got me thinking: What if, at least once in their respective lifetimes, every Prius hauled a deer and every hunter drove a hybrid?
The hunter need not wear camo or blaze orange while driving, though that would help. The deer need not extend beyond the hatchback, though that would be a nice touch, too. (The whitetail shown here would have fit better if quartered.)
There would, naturally, be a carbon-footprint reduction for physical transport of both hunter and hunted.
The biggest impact, however, would be to our collective imaginations.
Seen from the blue end of the conventional American political spectrum, hunters would start to look less like nature-hating Neanderthals. It might occur to more folks that seeking and taking wild food from the land is an ancient, natural, sustainable human practice.
Seen from the red end of the spectrum, environmentalists would start to look less like self-righteous ninnies. It might occur to more folks that devotion to the ecological health and integrity of our earthly home is vital to a sane future. To any future at all for that matter.
Across the entire spectrum, it might occur to more folks that deer-hunting and Prius-driving can be motivated and informed by the same kinds of deeply felt values and commitments.
I can picture all kinds of scenes: stealthy archers slipping out of small, quiet cars, deer being packed in beside cloth “save the planet” grocery bags, Toyota launching the Prius Predator (gun rack optional), and so on.
As appealing as these images are, there is no need to be literal about this. Freshly killed cervids, shiny Prii, and the placement of one into the other are not the point.
What matters is the symbolic juxtaposition of the two.
As millions of hunter, angler, environmentalist hybrids know, we share common values, common histories, and common concerns for the future. United, we wield formidable political power. Divided, we serve those who profit from exploitation.
To meet the ecological, social, and fiscal challenges we face, we need to bridge those divides. We need to blur the simplistic lines between us. We need to challenge our own prejudices. We need to stop playing the antagonistic roles so often scripted for us.
Building on successes there, we might recognize other possibilities, other necessary bridges. We might see, for instance, that we cannot stop at finding common ground among our country’s (overwhelmingly white, male, and aging) hunters and our (also overwhelmingly white) environmental groups.
We might recognize the need to join forces with the environmental justice movement, standing with communities disproportionately affected by toxins, ecological degradation, climate change, and threats to sacred places. We might see the need to join forces with educators who are reconnecting kids of all colors and classes with the outdoors, cultivating future conservation leaders.
We might recognize the need to think beyond the conventional spectra of politics and creed. We might see the need for a movement that calls—as Natural Leaders Network director Juan Martinez put it at TEDx Jackson Hole in 2011—“for breaking down the silos of environmentalism and conservationism and the civil rights movement and feminism…a movement that brings us all together.”
Like Martinez, I don’t care whether you hunt, fish, forage, hike, garden, birdwatch, paddle, climb, or all or none of the above. I don’t care what you eat. I don’t care whether you’re black, white, or brown. I don’t care whether your collar is blue or white or nonexistent. I don’t care whether you’re gay or straight. I don’t care what your gender is (or used to be). I don’t care what your religious or spiritual beliefs and practices are, if any. I don’t care whether you identify as Libertarian, Republican, Democrat, Independent, or Socialist.
If you want a world of wholeness and connection and respect—a world where healthy, sane humans inhabit (and recognize ourselves as participatory members of) healthy natural communities—then we’re on the same team.
We might disagree on this or that. We might need to have hard conversations and do hard work to integrate ideas that seem opposed. But we’re on the same team.
Call our team the Big Tent Greens. Call it the New Nature Movement, as Martinez and Louv do. Call it the Alliance to Blow Stereotypes Sky High. Call it whatever you want.
So is my Prius-owning friend who, contrary to country-song typecasting, is quite capable of skinning a buck. Did I mention that he’s a lifelong hunter?
© 2015 Tovar Cerulli
As I mentioned on Twitter, I have taken my manual ’06 Jetta on lots of adventures with me. Granted, not off-road, because that would be silly, but the idea that trucks are the only way to go bugs me. The carbon footprint is obvious. But it also points to classism- trucks hang onto their value. New ones are in the 30-40 thousand range. Used? I know someone who bought a 10 year old Silverado for $10k. I can’t afford a truck. I also can’t afford to put gas in one, or to buy tires for it, and the larger engines tend to make even oil changes more expensive. Maybe if I could get a diesel for cheap, and run it on fryer grease? That’s the dream 🙂 But I could do that with a VW, anyway.
I hear you, Amber. We did have a used 6-cylinder Toyota T100 for about nine years. We got rid of it when I started driving more and my work shifted away from carpentry and forestry. Though I miss the convenience of a pickup for all kinds of uses, there are certainly ways to make do without one. And a pickup certainly isn’t a prerequisite for being active in outdoor pursuits, hunting included.
Good piece, Tovar. As a white, pickup-driving, gun-toting hunter in his 50s, I’ll echo the obvious. If we don’t get our act together and learn to work cooperatively, and to treat our landscapes and waterways with respect, none of us will be hunting, or fishing, or living well in 30 years. It’s time to focus on what’s important and put our differences aside.
By the way, when we’re driving into town, we drive the 2005 Prius way more than we drive the 2000 Toyota Tundra. Now I’m waiting for the affordable Tesla SUV that I can power with solar and wind.
Agreed. And thank you for all your good work on these issues.
We do what we can, Tovar. I just wish that we had the financial resources to get the word out to more folks …
I saw a link to this blog on Twitter and thought it was an interesting read. With the continued reduction of available whitetail habitat (serious reduction in CRP over the past 7 years in the Midwest) I believe your points are more critical going forward than ever. If our whitetail habitat is shrinking, so are the woods that environmentalists love so much. I’d say that is common ground.
True, Andy. Reductions in the Conservation Reserve Program are definitely a good example of common ground, for a host of reasons.
I and lots of friends have hauled deer, elk, birds and what not in VWs, Toyotas, Subarus, etc, for years. There was a photo floating around the net some years ago of a large 6 point bull on top of some small car going down the interstate in eastern MT. Great piece!
I think you’re referring to this photo: http://ow.ly/PbsBl
Your comment makes me think of this old one, too, of someone transporting a deer by bicycle: http://ow.ly/Pbsvg
Though I drive an aging F150 now on Montana’s crappy roads, I once had three dead whitetails in an ancient hatchback Saab in the east. There were an abundance of legs in the air. The facial expressions of drivers going by were like a scene from a movie. Great piece, Tovar.
I can only imagine, Jock. Great visual.
I would have liked to have seen that Saab full of deer, Jock.
I like idea of joining forces: so how about getting hunters whose brains haven’t been colonized by the NRA to join the rest of the population in demanding that our lawmakers–state and federal–enact reasonable gun control regulation? I was at the statehouse hearing on expanding background checks for firearm purchases this past winter, proposed legislation that looked like a no-brainer to most people. However, the orange-clad opponents turned out in force, claiming that their rights were being trampled on (the right of a felon to buy a rifle online?).
Surveys have shown that the majority of the U.S. population supports reasonable restrictions and the need for them is tragically obvious. The NRA is funded by weapons manufacturers, so their rhetoric is self-serving at best. Can’t we all work together to break the their stranglehold on legislators?
Sarah: You’ve put your finger on one of the big challenges when it comes to getting people under the same tent.
As we know, gun control issues are incredibly incendiary and divisive, evoking a complex web of issues (e.g., public safety, self-defense, tyranny) and intense reactions (e.g., absolutism, fear, anger). They’re hard for folks to discuss civilly. Their political, economic, and ideological conflation with hunting and conservation makes for devilishly difficult terrain.
Individual hunters can and do question NRA positions and policies. There are problems, though, including these: (1) public figures often pay a high price for raising such questions, thus deterring others from speaking up, and (2) those who speak up tend to do so as individuals, not as representatives of groups or organizations.
I know people in hunting- and conservation-organization leadership positions who disagree with the NRA on various issues. Typically, though, their organizations steer clear of direct confrontation. This quote is indicative, as is the fact that it’s anonymous: “They are so ruthless, and carry such a big hammer, that very few in our community are willing to get in there and risk their wrath.”
That’s one of my problems with the organization: it can be tyrannical in its attempts to silence dissent. That makes some really important conversations far more difficult to have. (I say that as someone who has plenty of friends who belong to the NRA, and plenty who despise it.)
The key is figuring out our priorities and then forming coalitions that give us the best chance for success. One of the things I’ve noticed over the last 4 or 5 years is that everyone has their own pet issues which resonate deeply on a personal level, but that can actually be counter-productive for the big picture. Guns are a good example. Getting involved with guns right now, or in a fight with the NRA, is toxic. It hijacks the agenda and destroys any chance of substantive action on more important issues. If we’re going to have any chance going forward, we need to prioritize the issues and focus on those at the top. The more second-tier concerns we try to squeeze under the tent, the more difficulties we’ll encounter in forming a broad base of support.
Well put, Todd. I agree.
Good stuff, and thought provoking as always, Tovar.
I think there’s a lot of value in looking beyond the stereotype to the individuals, which is something that pops up throughout the comments on this thread. Recognizing the people instead of the caricatures goes a long ways to recognizing similarities between us, rather than the preconceived notions that keep us segregated.
Amen to that, Phillip!
Great new look to your blog Tovar, it must have been a while since I stopped by.
There’s a great podcast with the environmental historian Randall Williams who wrote a doctoral dissertation called Green Voters Gun Voters – Hunting and Politics in Modern America. https://youtu.be/FBCiNmHpK5w It gets good at about 20 minute mark. Randall gives some good background on where, how, and when the split came about. Not a bad idea to take a look at how we got to where we are in order to figure out a way to go from here. Kinda like a historical GPS.
Not often I hear of a dissertation with a waiting list before it’s published in book form.
Thanks much, Somsai.
I agree that there’s significant value in understanding our shared history, as part of creating a better shared future.
I don’t think that hunting liberals are as uncommon as one might think. At least in my part of the country (California). I come from a non-hunting family, went to UC Santa Cruz, eat as organic as I can, and come duck season, you will see me driving down the top of a levee in my Kia hatchback with a sleeping bag and ducks and a shotgun in the back.
I have noticed in conversation with other hunters, and in the hunting media, a sizable portion of people who hunt to know where there meat came from and to avoid factory farmed meat when possible. I think its a natural evolution of health food consciousness to decide that wild meat is more desirable than factory farmed meat. Also, if animal treatment is a concern when you choose what to eat, one might believe that perhaps hunting is more ethical than domesticated meat to the animal, which can drive a desire to hunt.
Finding middle ground between the left and the right, especially with as solidly divided as we seem to have become as a culture, is a great thing and I too hope we see more Prii with game in the back, and more trucks running on biodiesel.
Thanks for chiming in, Aaron. We need more folks like you, seeing these connections and looking for ways to find middle ground.
This is an excellent piece, and I of course agree wholeheartedly. Perhaps a side benefit to the Prius-driving hunter: it shows that mindful hunting is accessible to anyone. Hunting does not have to be a consumer lifestyle. You do not have to conform to a marketing image to eat venison. You do not need a $35,000 truck, a $10,000 ATV, a $1500 rifle, a closet full of designer camo, a GPS, a trail cam, etc, etc.
I think the marketing image of hunting is detrimental to the activity. It makes it an expensive hobby, not just a part of life.
I have driven home with an elk in the trunk of a Chevy Cavalier (it was skinned and quartered, and fit fine).
Back to the topic at hand: I see these “market segments” or “demographics” as ultimately harmful to the environment. People define themselves by politics or interests, then have to toe the line so they can still belong to that group. Shouldn’t clean water, clean air, abundant wildlife, a livable future for our children, etc transcend? Man, I hope so.
Nice work as always.
A while back, I saw an article that emphasized the cost of getting started in hunting. That kind of emphasis is unfortunate, I think. It doesn’t have to be that expensive.
And, yes, I sure hope collective, common interests will trump narrower, divisive commitments.
As someone that hunts and has a Prius as his primary vehicle, I enjoyed the photos and talk about putting deer in a Prius. I am in favor of saving our world which is why I have a Prius and I think more people getting together to discuss and work together is a good thing.
It’s also good to see someone have the same kind of problems getting a buck into a Prius that I have.
Thanks for chiming in, Matthew, and for being a Prius-driving hunter… 🙂
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