How not to keep a hunter in the closet

Seeing a neighbor coming down the woods trail, I winced.

There I was, dressed in camo with a bow in hand, headed home after a morning hunt. And here he came, walking his dog.

I suspected that he, like most of my friends and acquaintances, wasn’t keen on hunting. I could hardly blame him. I had long deplored the killing of animals for food, let alone for sport.

Though I knew a respectful hunter or two, my predominant opinions had been rooted in stereotypes reinforced by personal experience: Cath’s tires slashed after we had put up a no-hunting sign, deer parts dumped alongside our road each autumn, and more.

Now, in my first autumn afield, I was still uncertain how I felt about hunting, even my own. I imagined I would have a clearer sense of it after I killed my first deer.

As my neighbor drew near, I could see surprise on his face.

“It is you,” he said. “I thought, ‘It’s some redneck out hunting and I need to watch my back.’ But no, it’s you out hunting and I need to watch my back.”

We had a polite if awkward chat. Then, only half-joking, he reminded me that he would be in the woods for a while and that his dog looked like a deer. (It would, I thought, be impossible to mistake her for anything but a young, frenetic golden retriever.) And we parted ways.

I felt that same awkwardness three years later, when my first hunting essay was published. I knew the magazine’s readership wasn’t entirely hostile to hunting. The editor sometimes wrote short pieces about his experiences in deer season. But it felt strange to publicly announce my new pursuit. Would acquaintances see the piece and be shocked? Would they give me a hard time?

Thankfully, the essay sparked no negative response. What little feedback I got was positive: an enthusiastic phone message from a conservationist friend here in Vermont, an appreciative letter-to-the-editor from a hunter in upstate New York.

I breathed more easily. I would go about my business quietly now.

In the woods, I would rarely be seen.

In my writing, I would stick to other subjects. That first, brief essay had said all I wanted to say about hunting. There was no need to return to the topic, broadcasting news of my transmogrification.

I wasn’t ashamed of hunting. I didn’t need to hide it. But it wasn’t something I wanted my name to be associated with too strongly.

Heaven forbid it should get around on the internet.

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli


  1. This cracks me up because I’ve come across so many lifelong hunters who don’t want people around them to know they hunt. You at least had a good reason for it – you’d made a pretty radical switch. Personally, I love for people to know I hunt – to know that people who are not the stereotype in their mind’s eye hunt, and still have values they’re familiar with.

    • Tovar says:

      I didn’t realize that many lifelong hunters were in the closet!

      At this point, I’ve obviously gone past the reluctance to let the information out. I agree: it’s good to see stereotypes get troubled.

  2. Arthur says:

    Although I completely understand your reluctance to tell people, especially after such a radical change, I’m with Norcal on this.

    I work in an establishment which doesn’t contain many hunters, so I love the look of surprise on people’s face when they find out I hunt. Plus, it opens a door of conversation, and gives me an avenue to provide them with the facts about hunting, rather than leave them with only their preconceived notions.

    And, during hunting season, if we wear our camo into any public area, it always gets some sort of reaction. My brother and I jokingly call it “camo for conversation” – whether good or bad.

  3. Hello Tovar,
    Here, over the pond, there are similarities to be drawn with your experience of peoples ‘outlook’ on what is expected and indeed ‘normal’ of their associates. take myself, a grease monkey in a factory all my working life so far. my colleagues and even people who know me away from ‘the grind’ look at me as being a slightly gruff person who communicates with the above average use of Anglo Saxon but who is basically straight, likes a pint and probably has no interests other than armchair sport.. They are somewhat taken aback when I talk about fishing (and sometimes eating the catch), about the odd fluffy bunny in the pot, or that I’ve added more ink to my skin (all my tattoos can be covered by shorts n t shirt), that I find so much wonder in nature, that I’m striving to lesson my own impact on mother earth or even that I now put pen to paper (in an electronic way) to share my thoughts with others. Its good to break the mold and see their perceptions change, but like you I don’t advertise what I do or who I am, I’m me and others take me as they want either upon the surface, or if they care to a little deeper.
    An excellent post once more and one that raised a smile.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks, John. I guess we rarely know what’s under the social surface of our fellow humans. It’s good to be getting to know these parts of who you — and others here — are.

  4. Bill Koury says:

    Tovar, a very interesting read!

    I’m glad that you neither try to hide the fact you hunt, nor promote it. To me, that’s the approach of choice.

    A few years ago, I bought a house in a small “over 55” community. It’s the type of place where we have a lot of common facilities, clubhouse, pool, theater, etc. I wasn’t sure how my new friends and neighbors would react when they learned that I hunt and fish – a lot – but I was prepared to “defend” it. I’ve been hunting for 40 years, and am not too shy talking about it. But as people learned that I hunt, they became very interested in what I hunt, how I hunt, how I cook game, and more. Surprised me. Same for fishing.

    Maybe it’s a generational thing. Not many vegans in the group, although there are some. Haven’t been confronted by hyper-animal rights (that squirrel needs a lawyer) folks. Although we have many conservationists, birders, and non-outdoors folks.

    Our community is only 3/4 full at 78 homes. So perhaps as new folks arrive, I’ll be challenged to explain why I would want to kill the proverbial “defenseless animal”. I’ve calmly explained it before and will do so again. I rather enjoy reciting my values from time to time.

    • Tovar says:

      My experience is similar, Bill: it’s pleasantly surprising how many people are genuinely curious about these pursuits.

    • Tovar says:

      I think I see your point, Gabe.

      On the other hand — for good or ill — how others perceive us is a central part of what we humans “manage” in all social relationships and in the stances we take on all kinds of things.

  5. Phillip says:

    Funny how that can work, Tovar.

    For most of my life, it was absolutely normal to see folks driving around in a truck with a fully loaded gunrack in the back window, a dog box in the bed, and very often dried blood on the tailgate. For my own part, it wasn’t a normal fall or winter day that I didn’t have fur or feathers blowing out of my truck, and shells and casings rolling around my feet as I headed off to work.

    And then I moved to California.

    For almost my entire first year here, I was extremely stealthy about my hunting activities, constantly afraid that I’d end up with slashed tires or red paint spashed over my truck. Working in the high tech world, I didn’t know a single person who hunted… and even fewer who so much as looked like they might. I knew mountain bikers, hikers, and a couple of hard-core environmentalists, but I kept my own outdoors pursuits a secret.

    I’ve since found that people are largely curious, and some downright interested in learning about hunting. They may very well not join the sport, but they want to know about it. Their ignorance is surprising sometimes (which has certainly shaped my feelings about the power of public relations), but they are seldom hostile. I have not, since sharing my passion for the sport, become an office pariah. I guess that’s something.

    • Tovar says:

      California put you into the closet for a while, too, eh?

      As with Bill’s comment above, your report on the overall lack of hostility toward hunting echoes my experience.

      Though my father wasn’t a hunter or serious shooter, I did have a gun rack beside my bed when I was in middle and high school…not so common these days, I guess.

    • Tovar says:

      Also, Phillip: my apologies to you and many other blogging friends for not making my usual commenting rounds over the past couple of weeks. I’ve been having trouble carving out the time.

      I have been reading a few posts here and there, though, including a couple where you decried some unethical, long-range shooting on outdoor television. Thanks for calling ’em like you see ’em.

      • Phillip says:

        No worries, Tovar. If anyone understands the impacts of real life on keeping up with the blogs, I’m there with ya.

        RE: the post about the long range shot was more about the choice of shot, running dead away at over 280 yards. I sent the show’s producers an email, and they actually followed up with a note and then a phone call. To their credit, the young man was very gracious, and even thanked me for calling them on the mistake. He told me his partner was against airing the footage, but he insisted because he felt he owed it to the outfitter (free coverage for a free trip). He regrets his decision, and told me so. He also told me he’d be contacting the Pursuit Channel and asking them to pull that episode out of circulation.

        • Tovar says:

          Thanks for the update on the TV piece, Phillip. I didn’t mean to imply that “unethical” and “long-range” were synonymous, just that both described the shooting you mentioned.

          I’ve been away from the computer for a few days…

    • Josh says:

      Wait just one minute there, Phillip. I grew up, and still live in, California, and I’ve had the same experiences you describe growing up outside of California. Heck, I knew at least three cars in the high school parking lot had guns, and one of ’em was mine. One friend had his duck calls around his neck all season, no matter where he went. Right now, I live close enough to a public refuge to hear the guns going off every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday during duck season.

      This is a big state, and just because some of us are unlucky enough to live in the East Bay doesn’t mean that the whole state gets painted with the same brush.

      ; )

      • Phillip says:

        Josh, I know you’re mostly just messing with me, but to be clear… my point above was that when I came to CA, I had an expectation that colored my behavior. And yeah, it swung a REALLY big brush.

        Fact is, since coming here I’ve found that there are a lot more hunters around AND OUT than I ever imagined. You’d be surprised (or not) at the number of hunting-related bumper stickers and membership logos (DU, CWA, QU, Wilderness Unlimited, etc.) I see around. The biggest reason most of us around the East Bay keep our guns “on the down-low” these days is because letting the wrong people see them is to beg for a break-in.

  6. Casey Harn says:

    Hi Tovar! It is interesting reading your point of view about this, as I don’t think I have ever come across someone who strongly opposes hunting – the tire slashing types. But I come from a long line of hunters, and am surrounded by many more, so I have never really had to come up with the “why’s” of it. So that must have been a touchy and hard to put across subject for you, as I give this some thought and never come up with anything other than it’s in my blood, my spirit since I can remember – it’s what I’m supposed to do. Pretty lame, eh?

    Kudos for having been successful and cheers! for more success. We hunters need a voice like yours.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Casey.

      As it happens the tire-slashing I mentioned was almost certainly done by hunters (not anti-hunters). Then again, I’ve also seen a fistful of roofing nails scattered on a woods road during hunting season. Yes, I picked them all up.

  7. Doug T says:

    Hi Tovar, I think the apprehension of being judged for our actions leads people to “ghetto-ize” themselves within communities of like-minded individuals. It is a richer existence to follow our path, and be ready to accept the reactions of friends and associates.

    I see my hunting pursuit as just one part of my efforts to eat more local food (both agricultural and natural). I have been surprised how many people I have been hearing from who have taken up hunting in the last few years for roughly the same reasons (OMG it’s a fad!). Most of these people I know from the outdoor recreation world (mountaineering, ski touring), and see hunting as a perfect win/win (gather food, and hike in the wilderness).

    • Tovar says:

      Hey, Doug. I agree that we tend to stick to “like-minded” groups. And I also agree that life is richer when we don’t. I know a guy who points out that “ideological diversity” is the hardest kind to practice.

      I’ve been running across more folks who’ve taken up hunting, too, for similar reasons. Eegad, I hope it doesn’t get too faddish!

  8. Josh says:

    Tovar, this is great. I work in the environmental community in California politics, and I make it a point to mention my hunting, because it needs to be known.

    I posted, on my website, my own experiences with outing myself as a hunter; they’ve almost all been good, and none of them have been bad. In fact, I’ve made at least one fishing buddy from it.

  9. Jean says:

    This is a most interesting post and commentary. I have had good, bad and some awkward experiences with the people around me learning that I hunt.

    One place I worked in the Palo Alto area, was the most difficult, but then I had other differences in my politics, etc, that probably contributed. That was where I got asked how could I possibly hunt (killer) and be female (giver of life). I have better answers now than I did in 2006. Thank you all for your help with this.

    There was a lady who hit a dove and it stuck to her car. She was distraught about it. She asked me to remove it because I hunt. I did remove it from her car grill, but it gave me an opportunity to explain there was no joy in the death. I removed the dead and mangled bird because I had compassion for the lady and her pain. The bird spirit was long gone but she was still in tears.

    There was my sister, who was vegetarian at the time, made the rather flip comment about “Not killing our animal friends”.

    There were also the people who encouraged me to learn about hunting. These people were coworkers in the ’90s. I owe much to these folks for helping me develop my interest.

    People are curious about hunting. I hope the “Bambi Effect” will fade some day, along with the manic run from the horror of WWII. I believe that is a piece of the puzzle in why our food chain got so convoluted.

    • I doubt the Bambi effect will ever go away entirely in our society, but I really do see people changing, especially in the Bay Area, because of things like Omnivore’s Dilemma and people’s interest in breaking out of the industrial food chain. A lot of people sense that there’s something deeply wrong with the way we produce food; they just need reasonable options, and when you tell them what hunting does for you in addition to breaking out of that system, they can be persuaded pretty quickly.

    • Tovar says:

      There are, as you point out, Jean, lots of different perspectives and reactions to hunting, and to animal deaths on car grills and elsewhere. I’ve held several myself at different times over the years. 😉

      And, yes, I agree with you and Holly both: people are curious about hunting, and becoming more so as more of us reconsider the “industrial food chain.”

  10. sam says:

    Tailgate up or tailgate down?

    I don’t think you should be worried as long as your tailgate is up.

    We used to have a person down the road who coyote hunted. It’s not that he coyote hunted that prompted his neighbor’s ire, but the fact that he hung the dead coyotes in front of his house 10 feet from the road. Everybody, included loaded up school buses, got a close view every time they went by his house. Definitely a tailgate down kinda guy.

    • Tovar says:

      I guess I’m a tailgate-up kind of guy. I don’t have any desire to push my hunting (especially the bloody results of the rare successful hunt) into anyone’s face.

      On the other hand, one of my major reasons for taking up hunting was to yank the tailgate down, to give myself an up-close-and-personal view not just of hunting but of meat and food in general.

  11. Hi Tovar,
    I recently went back to hunting, after a long hiatus, and scored my first wild pig. My wife, while not too happy about the new hobby, has expressed some reservations, but hasn’t really put up any barriers. In fact, I recently went out and purchased a 4X4 pickup, and she went along, did the test drive, and enjoyed it.
    I bought a shotgun for upland and waterfowl hunting, and am preparing for that, and I told her I’d be introducing some more wild meat into our diet. Since we’re both looking for healthier alternatives to “industrial food,” she’s in line to read the “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” with which I’m about half finished. Now, when people are talking, she mentions that I’ve been hunting, have a “new to her” hobby, and it is a conversation topic around our house quite often.
    When I talk about some of the activities that I used to do with my father, like molding and painting duck decoys, she talks about how her ex-father in law, who is also from Michigan, used to do the same thing. She’s beginning to relate to the fact this is a lifestyle that I have been around all my life, and has made a gradual adjustment to it. The fact that I’m not “in the closet” about it has made it easier for our family, relationship, and friends to adjust to my pursuits gracefully.
    I think it was harder for her when I first took up fishing, because she made comments like, “You aren’t the guy I married, are you?” “I thought you were a poet…,” and other such disparaging remarks were made, and we practically broke up once over the time I spent away. When I got a boat, it was almost like I brought home a time bomb, but eventually she adjusted, fed a steady diet of Kelp Bass.
    Now, she’s eaten and enjoyed wild pig, and the next step will be rabbits and ducks. I’m not sure about doves and quail, since I’ve never hunted them before, but I know that if prepared right, she’ll find room for them, and we’ll be healthier for not eating “store-bought” industrial meat.
    I have gained some of my courage by reading and commenting on this blog, the Hog Blog, and Norcal Cazadora, as well as being able to read some of the books you’ve all reviewed. The lifestyle has changed, and it’s good to find a community where minds are open, and the moderation I’ve sought makes me feel welcome. Thanks, all, for having my back.

    • Tovar says:

      Good to have you here, Richard.

      It’s interesting to hear how these things have been playing out for you and your wife. My return to fishing — which came after Cath and I had been together for seven years, and just weeks before our wedding — wasn’t too hard for her. Hunting took a bit more adjustment.

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