Hunting philosophies in ten words or less

Reminders can be rude.

A few days ago, I was driving along, thinking about my time in the woods last weekend. I had hiked into the forest with a near-full moon peering down at me through the clouds, a thin mantle of snow cloaking ground and trees. At sunrise, I had enjoyed the play of light and shadow, and the sound of ravens quork-quorking overhead. I hadn’t seen any deer, but had savored the hours.

What, I wondered, might I distill from those mornings? It was, after all, high time I wrote a blog post. Caught up in twin whirlwinds—the final copyedits on my book and the final month of the semester—I haven’t carved out the time to offer thoughts here.

Then my eyes focused on the pickup truck in front of me.

Affixed to the rear window was a decal: “If It’s Brown, It’s Down—If It Flies, It Dies.”

Yanked out of pleasant natural reverie into unpleasant cultural reality, I thought instantly of that whole genre of decals and bumper stickers—“Shoot to Thrill,” “Whack ’Em and Stack ’Em,” and the like—words and images that portray hunting as a perpetual series of lusty kills, or as a military seek-and-destroy mission.

I was reminded, too, of the discussion following my April post about hunting ads that make light of killing. There, several of us noted that such advertisements are used because they make money. They sell product.

But decals like the one on the truck in front of me are different. They do not sell product. Hunters who display them don’t make a dime off it. With no profit incentive, they are making a completely voluntary statement. To what end?

Several possibilities occurred to me:

  • Perhaps they’re just engaging in an unfortunately public display of dark humor and aren’t thinking about the impression made on non-hunters. (With hunters flaunting decals like these, we don’t need any help from anti-hunters to make us look evil.)
  • Perhaps they’re thumbing their noses at hunting’s critics, selecting such badges of identity precisely because they’re so outrageous. (Here I’m reminded of Calvin and another decal I once saw, on my way to a workshop on hunting ethics.)
  • Or, most disturbingly, perhaps these hunters really feel that birds and animals are nothing more than living targets, to be gunned down as swiftly and furiously as possible. Perhaps they really believe that wildlife exists solely to be blasted. (Though hardly unique to hunters, such callousness points to deep value-differences among us, making it impossible to think of myself as part of a universal “hunting community.”)

I’d like a bumper sticker that tells the world why I hunt and how I feel about the wild creatures whose world I share. But I suspect I’ll never be able to summarize all that in a 10-word slogan.

I had a hard enough time saying it in 300 pages.

© 2011 Tovar Cerulli


  1. somsai says:

    “Fill The Freezer”

    I and a lot of people I know shoot the first legal animal we see. We are meat hunters. And I do understand and often laugh at the pro hunting stickers I see. Yesterday at Walmart I saw one that simply said “Elkaholic”.

  2. Phillip says:

    I honestly believe the majority of hunters displaying that sort of bumper sticker fall into your first category… unthinking. They thought it was funny or appropriate, and that’s all that mattered at the moment. If challenged, then many would fall back to position two, thumbing their noses at the critics. While I know that third mindset exists, I just don’t find many hunters that really think that way… at least not adults.

    Nevertheless, it does promote a negative message to people who choose to pay attention. What do we do about it?

    What about a “counter campaign”? I think a little creativity and energy, coupled with the right resources (hmm… Sportsman Channel?) make for an excellent opportunity to launch a campaign. With the right approach, it could have a pretty far-reaching impact.

    Here’s a story, if you’ll bear with me.

    Years ago, before the Internet existed outside of a few circles of computer nerds, a friend of mine decided to make up some bumper stickers with a nonsense word. That’s all… just a word in a kind of cool font. With myself and another friend, we posted these stickers in visible places, and we left little stacks of them in places like surf shops, clubs, and the local market. In the space of a couple of weeks, these stickers started showing up all over town. No one knew what it meant, or if it was some sort of new company or product that they were promoting. It could have been anything. It was a pretty impressive experiment/joke, and it obviously left an impression on me.

    I believe the same thing could be done with a positive message about hunting. Obviously, with the overuse of viral advertising these days it would require something a little special to break through the fog, but all it takes is a little groundswell.

    Maybe this is the place to kick it off?

  3. Tovar says:

    Love all your ideas, from zoo to freezer to table!

    As you say, Gorges, food isn’t the whole story, but it’s a big part of it. On that theme, how about, “Venison: The Original Local, Sustainable, Free-Range American Meat”?

    I like your counter-campaign idea, Phillip. If we can get something rolling in that direction, more power to us. This reminds me, of course, of our recent exchange about the line of Karl Malcolm’s (“you don’t see bumper stickers with a doe head and ‘Size Doesn’t Matter,’ or better yet ‘Delicious’ written underneath”) from that “Locavore, Meet Hunter” story from Wisconsin:

  4. Al Cambronne says:

    I’m still thinking. Tamar set the bar pretty high. So did you, actually, with the title of your book. The Mindful Carnivore. Just three words–two, not counting “The.” Although it does take a few more words to explain, mindful carnivory makes for a good two-word hunting philosophy.

    I think I’d probably add a few more phrases like fair chase, minimal gear and technology, earning what I eat, aiming carefully and killing humanely, aim small, eat big, etc. But now I’m already way over ten words. I’m going to need a bigger bumper for my sticker.

  5. Erik Jensen says:

    Interesting bit about the “if its brown it’s down” thing is that in another context, it just represents something locavore-type hunters like: the deer is food, not a trophy. The most recent discussion I heard the phrase was this MN deer season, that just ended today. At the private land me and two others hunt on, a member of the family that hosts us, a former hunter, used that phrase in reaction to my expounding on the virtues of quality deer management (“QDM”), which I have come to support and believe should be state policy. It would lead to more big bucks, something I have to admit I like, having only seen one in my whole hunting career. Plus, I love the dynamic of the early rut during bow season, which is greatly intensified by QDM. But it would also lead to more hunting pressure on does and fawns, less on small bucks, something that is needed in a lot of places.

    The saying going on the sticker in the overall context (esp combined with the “it flies, it dies” bit) is just crude, but in another it represents a simple fact: hunting isn’t easy, even with good high-power rifles, and most hunters make the reasonable choice to shoot the first deer that they get a solid shot at, as you might not see another.

    • Tovar says:

      Good point, Erik. I, too, have heard the “brown…down” phrase used in that context: taking the first legal deer that comes along (hunting for food), rather than being more selective (to manage for big bucks, for instance). As you say, though, the “flies…dies” phrase doesn’t seem to carry the same meaning. I doubt that any non-hunter would read such things into either phrase.

      • I know I’m late to the table here, but the “flies…dies” bumper sticker absolutely IS the exact same thing as “brown…down.” In duck hunting, there are the prime ducks (many take pride in getting a “limit of green” – all male mallards, which are big ducks and almost always taste good), and then there are ducks that, depending on where you’re hunting, may taste really awful if you don’t handle them perfectly: spoonies, gadwalls, and wigeon can all be really off-tasting depending on where I hunt them in Northern California. So “If it flies, it dies” means that I will not be a snob and shoot only mallard; it means I’ll shoot any legal bird that comes my way.

        That said, I always cringe when I see these bumper stickers, because you are correct that no non-hunter is going to understand that one of the connotations is the absence of snobbery or trophy lust.

          • Tovar says:

            I think it’s telling that this discussion could go 40+ comments, mostly among hunters, without anyone pointing that out before, Holly. We might expand your observation to “no non-hunter is going to understand and at least some hunters aren’t going to understand that one of the connotations is the absence of snobbery or trophy lust.”

            • And that is PRECISELY why I try hard not to judge any form of hunting without having first-hand experience (e.g., hunting bears with hounds) – just because I hunt doesn’t mean I know everything about hunting.

              • Robert Smith says:

                Wow, Holly is on here – all my heroes are showing up! We have a funny bumper sticker here in Vermont that I’m sure Tovar has seen. Being a big dairy state, it’s not unusual to see “Got Milk?” stickers. Hunters have a “Gut Deer?” one.

                Even my NYC friends chuckle at that one.

        • sam says:

          Much of the use of these stickers has to do with group inclusion. Even the people using them aren’t cognizant of the deeper meanings.

    • Tovar says:

      I like it, Eric! (Why didn’t I think of that? Just last week, I typed a similar line for an article, and that line of Campbell’s does show up in my book.)

      Maybe we should print some.

  6. Robert Smith says:

    Love some of these suggestions and would definitely buy the bumper sticker. The first time I heard the “If it’s brown, it’s down” phrase was this year, hunting with two grandsons for the first time on youth weekend. My son told me on youth weekend, if it’s brown, it’s down, because they could shoot bucks or does.

    Some other sticker suggestions:
    I’m a Hunter, the Ultimate Localvore
    I’m a Hunter, The Mindful Carnivore (you could include a little link on it so people could buy your book!)

    By the way, Tovar – how’s your season going? Mine, as usual, not too successfully, though I did have 3 does bed right in front of me for 3 hours, which made for a very interesting morning. I finally had to shoo them away! My son got a very nice 160 pound 4-pointer, which I finished dressing out this past Saturday.

    On another note, The Commons newspaper in Brattleboro, VT is reprinting my Why I Hunt article from the Winter 2011 issue of Local Banquet. Not sure if you read it, but you can find it here:

    Also, did you catch this show on NPR’s On Point last week:

    Probably should have sent this as an e-mail! Hope you are well and good hunting!


    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Robert. Rifle season has been quiet for me so far: too busy to hunt much, no deer seen in the woods. I’ll get out for a few more hours. If my luck doesn’t change, I’ll give another go in the December muzzleloader season.

      Yes, I did see your article and am glad to see it being reprinted.

      I haven’t had a chance to listen to that On Point episode yet, but was delighted to see last week that Hank was featured.

      Best of luck in the remaining few days of rifle season…

  7. Erik Jensen says:

    I think the last is the best in terms of covering the overall philosophy and lifestyle. It is not about “no impact” on nature, rather, low-impact or finessing our impact. One problem with just trying to counter the crudeness is that there are several hunters I know that respect wildlife and have good hunting ethics as far as “clean kills”, like to eat game, etc., but it hunting affects the rest of their lives very little. I’m sure that is a good chunk of hunters. Also, adding, the “gather and grow”, is a good counter to one of the only things Sara Palin has ever said that ever struck a chord in me. I thought it was impossible to argue with from my point of view, (I’m sure it’s been said by many others): “we eat, therefore, we hunt”. Of course, it has nothing to do with her broader lifestyle and politics, she believes that natural resources are endless, loves motorized recreation, and thinks corporate agriculture is great (if she’s had a thought about it).

    HB’s suggestion quickly incorporates the philosophy of that significant minority of hunters that aren’t heard from as much, hunting is part of a much bigger philosophy of their lives, their methods/means of outdoor activity, and politics.

    • Hoosierbuck says:

      I’m not a decal/bumper sticker guy. The only way people know my truck is a hunting rig is the inevitable blood dribbles on the tailgate. Tovar’s edit is the distillation of my philosophy/practice. I’d put that on my truck. Maybe we can get them done on magnets, so they aren’t actually glued to the vehicles? 🙂


      • Tovar says:

        I’m not a decal/sticker guy either. Yeah, magnets would be good, though perhaps pricey. If they get stolen, that might be the highest form of flattery.

        And inside-of-the-window decals have the advantage of not needing glue…

  8. Brickman says:

    I’m not sure if it quite goes exactly with the theme you are discussing, but whenever I’m trying to shake off the mental poison that I occasionally soak up while attempting to sift useful knowledge from magazines or websites full of antler hunting articles and bloodstained hunting equipment ads my mantra is a variation of a famous phrase I learned from hiking:
    “Hunt Your Own Hunt.”

    • Tovar says:

      Good point, Brickman. I have a pretty low tolerance for that “mental poison.” As a result, I surely miss out on a lot of useful knowledge.

  9. Kim Graves says:

    I like Robert’s two. I was thinking: “The mindful locavore: hunt.” But I’m not a bumper sticker guy either.

  10. Kim Ganey says:

    We once considered tshirts with the slogan “100% Organic” or “100% Free Range”.

    I, myself, have been guilty of the “if it’s brown it’s down” mentality. I think it’s a combo of dark humor, the desire to fill the freezer topped off with a nice dose of frustration. Hunting is hard! If it were easy, we’d just call it killing.

    There’s also a blog I visit…….I like that slogan alot.

  11. Erik Jensen says:

    I have bumper stickers, but I do like to limit them…right now I just have the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and Ducks Unlimited on my vehicles.

    I’m definitely with Kim, but it can’t be easily expressed to a non-hunting audience: I experience hunger-based blood lust in the field.

    I recently had a conversation with a hunter who gets a thrill from prairie-dog shooting, which I found disgusting because I have every reason to believe those animals are simply tossed, even if killing prairie dog shooting is needed for agriculture (I don’t know if this is true, I would have to know more details). Certainly a lot of varmint hunting is driven by agricultural interests.

    This was in total contrast to my own feeling after killing two does opening morning this recently concluded rifle season. Total joy. I actually entered the field with a lot of desire to kill deer…I can’t say what the exact “percentage mix” of feelings was driving it: desire for success, the simple excitement of seeing a wild animal(s), and the desire for meat I like to eat that I obtained myself. Reflecting on it, I’m sure a big part of the feeling was driven by the end result of eating it.

    • Tovar says:

      Erik: Your mention of the “joy” you felt after taking those two does is interesting. It’s something I explored briefly in my thesis: the many, varied emotions hunters express concerning the kill. At some point, I’d like to spend more time exploring the topic (perhaps alongside anti-hunters’ critiques).

  12. Robert Smith says:

    I’d buy “I eat, therefore I hunt, forage and grow.”
    There were a couple of others that would work as well.

    I guess what interests me is something thoughtful and intelligent that is a kind of antidote to the idea that hunters are a bunch of ignorant killers.

    I’m reminded of a recent No Reservations program with Anthony Bourdain, taking place with some Cajun folk in Louisiana. I’m a Bourdain fan, and this show was exceptional. It was a gathering of friends and families that started at 6 am with Bourdain doing the honors in putting down a large hog. From the blood to the tail, brain and hooves, every bit of that hog was processed and used for a huge community feed and dance that very day. These were country folk, but there was certainly an unusual sophistication in how they handled that meat.

    Mindful carnivores for sure.

    • Tovar says:

      Interesting about that Bourdain episode, Robert. That kind of full utilization of an animal has, I suspect, been the norm for most of human history.

      “Something thoughtful and intelligent that is a kind of antidote to the idea that hunters are a bunch of ignorant killers”? That’s a joint project here, I believe!

  13. Paul Roberts says:

    I just found your site. Wow! Very thoughtful. Just wonderful. I look forward to joining the discussions in the future.

    “If it’s brown…” well… ever listen to ER docs? It would be scary, unless you were in their shoes. There are comments, and slogans, that are not meant for the uninitiated. And there are those, on both sides, that don’t seem to have an understanding of that.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks, Paul. Glad you found your way here and liked what you found.

      Your point about ER docs is well taken. I think that falls into the “dark humor” category. And you’re right: no one outside the ER would get it.

  14. Paul Roberts says:

    Here’s a bunch:

    Join the Circle of Life. Hunt.

    The Circle of Life. Participate.

    I Participate in the Circle of Life.

    Hunt ergo sum.
    My ancestors hunted. Therefore I am.

    Need Omega 6? Join the Circle of Life. Hunt.

    Sustainable Omega 6 (with a doe picture)

    Got Omega 6? (with a doe picture)

    I Got My Own Omega 6! (with a doe picture)

    Did You Get Your Omega 6? (with a doe picture)

    Local, Sustainable, Free-Range, Forb-Finished, Omega 6 and Essential Amino Acids. (with a doe picture)

    I Care About My Land And My Health. I Hunt.

    • Brickman says:

      I love that! It bugs me so much when I hear people say things like “Those are my deer”. Nope. North American Model of wildlife management says they are wild animals that belong to the people of this nation, nobody gets to take them all.

  15. sam says:

    I’m not a bumper sticker person.

    “Mindful Carnivore” is about as good as any. Although you might end up explaining that being a mindful carnivore isn’t necessarily narrowly confined to hunting. Perhaps “Mindful Carnivore: Sustainable husbandry and hunting” or some such.

  16. Count me as late to the discussion. I’m generally not a bumper sticker person either, but we have two on our beater pickup truck. One says, “Buy fresh, buy local.” The other says, “No farms, no beer.” Between these two there’s room for one of your bumper stickers, Tovar. Given the context of the two we already have, I think “My meat doesn’t come shrink wrapped,” would fit in just fine. There’d need to be an image to tie the statement explicitly to hunting, because the meat we raise ourselves or buy from local farmers doesn’t come shrink wrapped either.

  17. douglas says:

    Whoa, I’m a little late to this one as well…The sawmill I work for has a slogan on their sign, “Take care of the land , and the land will take care of you”. Apparently something old uncle Kuzma used to say. It would work for hunting/foraging as well, though maybe a little long-winded.

    I REALLY like the No Farms/No Beer one, I’ll order the T-shirt version whenever it’s ready!

  18. Motaki says:

    How about one for the falconers and austringers out and about…

    “My Red-tail [or insert hawk/falcon/eagle/owl species there] is more humane than you, vegan/vegetarian.”

    Ten words exactly! Points for exact-ness?

    • Tovar says:

      Do hawks always kill quickly? Even if they don’t, I imagine they don’t toy with their dying food the way cats sometimes do.

      After a brief debate over hyphens and slashes, yes, perhaps extra points. 🙂

      • Paul Roberts says:

        I have hunted with goshawks, Harris’ hawks, and a red-tail. They do not necessarily kill “cleanly”, from what I’ve seen. We hunted rabbits mostly, and the hawks tend to latch on, tightly and deeply, and wait for the struggle to end, keeping track of the struggle by feel, and looking around for other predators. Many rabbits so clutched often squeal repeatedly. I’ve never heard a gun-shot rabbit squeal, although I know this can happen -most often if the hunter grabs a wounded rabbit. I believe, the squealing is due to fear not pain as a gunshot occurs remotely. This is one reason I am so cautious around a shot animal to not let my whereabouts be known.

        Some raptors have “learned” to incapacitate or kill directly: Falcons have a relatively strong bite and target the the spine at the neck or the braincase, utilizing a special “toothed” groove in the bill. Eagles, and large buteos, are known to target the head of larger prey.

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