Kill-humor, long shots, and the future of hunting

Photo by Steven Depolo

Photo: A hunter stands in the woods, rifle to his shoulder, looking through the scope.

Caption: “All you can think about is how good this shot is going to feel.”

I saw the advertisement several years ago. I don’t remember if it was for the rifle or the scope. I don’t even remember what magazine it was in—I’m guessing Field & Stream. What I do remember is how much it bothered me. For most of the last year, it has been simmering on one of my mental back burners, a potential ingredient for a blog post.

Then, a few days ago, I got an email from Kevin Peer, drawing my attention to two ads that recently appeared in Bugle.

Curious, I flipped open the magazine to have a look. (I’ve been too busy to sit down with Bugle lately. Though I’ve never hunted elk—New England’s wild population was extirpated long ago—I joined RMEF to support their conservation work.)

The first ad, for Hodgdon Superformance rifle powder, pictured a white-tailed buck wall mount with a grotesque expression on his face: ears back, mouth open in a bizarre, surprised-looking grimace, tongue whipped to one side. The ad was titled “Speed Kills” and promised that “your next target won’t know what hit ‘em.”

The second ad, for Tikka’s T3 rifle, pictured a buck standing on an open plain. Encircling his neck was a wooden plaque, as if he was already taxidermied. The caption read, “What a Tikka hunter sees from 450 yards.”

I had a visceral negative reaction to the first ad. So did Cath, who does not hunt. She summed it up nicely: “That’s gross.” As Kevin said, the deer’s face was disturbingly comical, like something out of a cartoon. It made light of killing. Despite my macabre sense of humor and my appreciation for the occasional wisecrack about venison and Santa’s sleigh team, I did not find the image funny.

The second ad didn’t bother me as much, perhaps because it left the animal with some dignity and was tastefully composed in black and white. But I still had to agree with Kevin: It suggested that hunters can and should take 450-yard shots, particularly when a trophy is available for the taking. Not many hunters are capable of making a clean kill at that distance, no matter what rifle they’re using.

What concerns me is not any individual ad, magazine, or manufacturer. What concerns me is the big picture: all the ways we represent hunting.

Thinking about these things over the past couple days, I re-read Bill Heavey’s Field & Stream column from several years back, “Morons Among Us.” Heavey deplores an online post in which a guy complains that he didn’t get to entertain himself by humiliating a buck before the animal died. He deplores another post in which a bowhunter touts his success in shooting a doe in the brain. Firing an arrow at a deer’s head, Heavey notes, is “ethically indefensible”—the chances of a clean kill are far too small.

Compared to those gruesome posts, the ads I’ve mentioned are very mild. Subtly, though, aren’t they conveying similar messages?

Aren’t they saying that killing is comically entertaining (buck grimacing, tongue whipped to one side) and pleasurable (“All you can think about is how good this shot is going to feel”)? Aren’t they saying that it’s okay to shoot when the chances of a clean kill are small (the average hunter at 450 yards)?

Like Kevin Peer and Bill Heavey, I’m concerned about the future of hunting.

And I’m wondering: Can we afford the promotion of these values, even in subtle form? Can we afford their effect on current and potential hunters, both youth and adult? Can we afford the confirmation of non-hunters’ and anti-hunters’ worst suspicions?

When we see hunting portrayed in ways that disturb us, how should we respond?

One thing that struck Heavey: in those online forums, the two posts he mentioned were “met by a resounding absence of anger or censure.”

© 2011 Tovar Cerulli


  1. Kevin says:

    Great post! Can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt the same way. I also tend to shy away from hunting products that glorify killing, like a line of broad-heads called ‘Grim Reaper’ and another called the ‘Turkey Terror’ – the cartoonish depiction of a turkey running from an arrow armed with one is what I found a little disrespectful.
    I’ve even gone so far as to un-follow and avoid people on Twitter who use the wrong language.
    Perhaps I’m too sensitive… or perhaps its the result of a deep onset of AOH? The symptom of feeling that ‘Humans are not separate from animals’ symptom has probably overridden all sensible thought.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks, Kevin. (FYI to all: This is a different Kevin!)

      I’m not too fond of the various grim reaper motifs myself. And don’t even get me started on the hunting ads that use heavily military language and images. How anyone is supposed to see those ads and not think “war on wildlife” is beyond me.

  2. I have two theories about why these ads happen:

    1) Hunting marketers are all testosterone-pumped males, approximately 20 years old, who really do think that hunting is about rage, violence and domination.

    2) Hunting marketers live in a hunting world – they grew up hunting, they love hunting, they surround themselves with hunters. When we feel that we are surrounded by like thinkers, we feel safe to engage in humor that would be deemed inappropriate by outsiders.

    I have no experience being a 20-year-old male, so I can’t really further that argument, and as one of my own readers recently reminded me, I could rightfully be accused of engaging in anti-male bigotry for doing so. I know lots of really awesome 20-year old males, actually. I’m just thinking back to some days in the marsh this winter when every boom! splash! was followed by “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” and lots of guffawing. Good Lord.

    But I can tell you based on nearly 20 years in the newspaper business that reporters I know – including myself – routinely cracked incredibly crass and inappropriate jokes that would horrify most outsiders.

    Part of the reason we joke like that is “gallows humor.” Reporters deal with death and drama for a living, and sometimes you’ve got to lighten up.

    Much like … hunters.

    I, for one, will be the first to admit that I occasionally say inappropriate things in the company of hunters that I would hate to have quoted to the non-hunting world. What we do is 1) fueled by a lot of adrenaline and 2) deals quite directly with death. I’m not going to pretend I kneel and pray every time I kill an animal. Sometimes I shout for joy. Sometimes I crack inappropriate jokes. Almost never, but I’d be lying if I said never. (I’ve definitely admitted on my blog to chortling at least once, with a touch of guilt.)

    What the hunting world needs to be more aware of, I think, is the fact that our marketing can be seen by everyone, including non-hunters, including anti-hunters. I think the hunting marketers need to spend some time looking at the work of anti-hunting marketers. I suspect they’d be mortified to see how much of the material they themselves glibly provided.

    But while the hunting marketers’ work doesn’t resonate with us, I think we also need to accept and explore the notion that our solemn and reverent musings don’t resonate with all of them either. And that’s not an easy balancing act.

    • Tovar says:

      Those both sound like plausible theories, Holly.

      I agree about the “gallows humor.” (Like I said, I can be macabre. My tweaked sense of humor can be inappropriate, too, on all kinds of topics.) Every profession and avocation has that kind of humor in some form. One striking example, in which death and drama are also central, is the medical profession. But doctors and nurses know there will be repercussions if they share that humor with outsiders: with their patients, for instance, or by plastering it on a billboard advertising their hospital’s services. Some hunters and hunting companies don’t seem to realize that.

      And you’re quite right that my musings and yours don’t resonate with all hunters. I have no problem with that.

      I wonder how much market-testing is done with hunting ads. If a lot is done, then ads are used because they work. Which means what?

  3. Great topic Tovar,

    1) Long shots: I used to be vehemently opposed to anything over 300m, thinking it was unethical. I have come to see and know hunters who have the gear and skills to take deer at 500m BUT they are a TINY minority IMO. The problem is that there are many hunters who think they can take long shots (re our last set of comments on ‘hail mary’ shots). My old hunting mentor used to ask PH candidates how many often shot game at 300m, invariably the whole class would put their hand up. Minutes later he would pin up a life size Impala target on the 300m stop on his ranch range. The twice I saw this excercise I would say 25% of the shots were kills, the rest were misses or wound shots. I hate to say it but I think the new trend in ‘long range hunting’ leads too many folks to think they automatically qualify.

    2) Kill ‘humour’: I have given this some serious thought too. Like your deer ad, I really hate spoof taxidermy, e.g. baboons dressed like waiters or 1920’s gangsters, deer butts in the bar that dispense drinks from their vulva or anus etc. I find this highly disrespectful, and I am hardly the ‘morality police’. I love dark humor and am not easily shocked 😉 I wonder what the appeal is for some?

    It no-doubt has a lot to do with being desensitized to the kill or more concerningly making hunting kills more artificial or divorced from a sense serious responsibility (I question the euphemism ‘harvest’ for this reason).

    One topic I have thought of writing about in this regard is the aggressive discourse associated with bow hunting! Can anyone explain this? Look at bows and gear: Invasion, Destroyer, Rage, Grim Reaper, SWAT, Blood Runner, Assasin, Mayhem and the list goes on. Should I bowhunt with a sense of revenge or hate for deer?!

    Seems to me that archery should be the antithesis of this, its what makes it attractive as opposed to turning it into a UFC event.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks, Brian.

      The impala exercise you describe is certainly telling. And, yes, the messages (both visual and verbal) of disrespect and hateful/vengeful aggression bother me deeply. They sure don’t match the rhetoric of respect often present in the very same publications.

  4. Eric Nuse says:


    Your post raises a question we at Orion-The Hunters’ Institute have grappled with many times. How much weight should we as hunters put on the opinions of non-hunters or anti-hunters in what we say and what we do?

    I got in the middle of this during a debate over a wanton waste rule. All of the hunting groups here in Vermont agreed that knowingly wasting game and fish was something they didn’t do and didn’t like. However, they disagreed over the details and disagreed over the idea of the State telling them what they could do with game and fish after they legally possessed it. I argued that we needed to outlaw the clearly unethical practices that wasted game – things like failing to make a reasonable attempt to retrieve (already a law for waterfowl) and dumping carcasses on public land or private land without permission. Many of the groups could go along with this, but when the proposed rule came back from the Fish and Wildlife Department that included critters like coyotes and suckers they balked and fought the rule. I argued that the view of many hunters and non-hunters was important to the future of hunting and we should not let the few jeopardize this future. They disagreed and the rule was killed. I was also accused of being anti-hunting and coddling the enemy.

    My take away message from this fight was – stand up for what is right, but understand that other folks have different preferences, some of which you might find disagreeable, but in a democracy we tolerate lots of things that we find offensive. Now I look at these issues as great opportunities to educate folks, present alternatives and offer different views for consideration.

    Hopefully, folks that say don’t think there is anything wrong with winging an arrow at a running deer may 1) stop doing this or practice on a running target and learn their limitations on something that doesn’t bleed, 2) stop bragging about doing this in public (not long ago lots of bow hunters would brag about how many deer they “stuck” before killing one). When it comes to ethical behavior we have to look at moving people up a notch as a plus.

    This improvement starts with discussions like this. Who knows maybe even the advertisers will get it some day!

    • Tovar says:

      To my way of thinking, yes, part of the question is how our actions and representations affect non- and anti-hunters’ perceptions and opinions. In strategic political terms, that’s important to consider, especially in states (unlike VT) where referendums are an option and where hunting has no constitutional protection. Even here in VT, I suspect that — in the long run — the non-hunting majority will, at the polls, decide much about the future of hunting.

      But I’m actually more concerned about how our actions affect animals directly, and how our actions and representations influence other hunters’ treatment of animals. What values and behaviors are being promoted? Is animal suffering being minimized? Are animals being treated with respect? What kind of future are we shaping for hunting?

      Part of what hit home for me about these particular ads is that I use Hodgdon’s Pyrodex powder in my muzzleloader and my deer rifle happens to be a Tikka T3. Hodgdon and Sako/Tikka/Beretta will probably both get letters from me soon.

  5. Kevin Peer says:

    My response to Bugle running the Hogdon and Tikka ads led me to the decision not to renew my membership with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. It was not because RMEF was not “responsive” to my concerns – after my second email stating the reasons I disliked their ads, I received an email from Bob Swanson, the director of sales, and we ended up having a long phone conversation about the situation. I found it interesting by the way that the person whom RMEF chose to contact me was the one who probably had the most at stake for making sure the ads continued to run.

    Nonetheless I explained to him in depth why I thought that the ads were educating hunters – especially the young hunters that they are so anxious to reach – in values that seemed diametrically opposed to the stated values of his organization.

    Bob assured me that my concerns were discussed at a special meeting that included the president himself (really?), but that the ads were not deemed offensive enough for them reject. He said that he “did not totally disagree” with some of my points, but that the ads would certainly continue to run. By the end of the conversation I got the clear sense that what it came down to was that RMEF was loath to alienate their corporate sponsors. Apparently even they have fallen under the influence of “the sporting goods industrial complex”. 

    After Bob assured me again that the ads would continue to run, I said that my values dictated that I would have to withdraw my membership from RMEF. I think that got his feathers up a little, for he then expounded on how RMEF’s membership was at an all-time high with over 130,000 members etc etc. and that basically my measly membership would not be missed. It rained hubris. Well, fine.

    I will probably still give money to RMEF for specific projects, but I want not a dollar of my funds to go to their publication. Yes I will miss reading Bugle magazine, but I cannot abide a publication that values advertising dollars over respect and care for game animals.

    I plan to write a letter to the president stating my disappointment with their stance, and mention that I also feel that these ads put the RMEF in the crosshairs of anti-hunting organizations in an unnecessary way. I believe he has forgotten that the future of hunting will be decided by the court of public opinion, not corporate sponsorship. 

    I will also be writing letters to Tikka/Beretta and Hodgdon. No sense in watching the hunting industry dig its own grave without some protest on my part.

    • Well, that’s quite an experience!

      As someone who runs a publication myself – a college newspaper – I empathize a bit with him. Getting advertisers and/or sponsors in this economy has been excruciating, and it’s hard for the people who’ve got their hands out to raise one of them to slap the people they’re asking for money.

      I wouldn’t whore out my publication for just anything – we had a $1,000 ad earlier this semester that we initially rejected (not because it was offensive, but because it was misleading and anonymous), and we ran it after the advertiser redesigned it to address our concerns (win win). But I have a business to run, and I have to accept some forms of income I really don’t like, because they pay the bills.

      I think perhaps the most effective response would be for us to contact the advertisers directly and withdraw support for THEIR products – because in that equation, they’re the ones with hands out seeking money from US.

  6. Fantastic and timely post, I’ve recently been troubled by some posts of a blog I read, in which the kid who writes it has taken a very long shot at a pheasant (with a .223) and in his latest outbreak of ass-hat-ed-ness caught a spectacular trout only to hang it from a post an use it for target practice. Deleted from the blog roll. There will always be arseholes – some will hunt, some will arrange flowers. What interests me is the reluctance to criticise their behaviour, ‘any hunter is my bro or the anti’s will overrun us’ seems to be the equivalence that drives the silence. Are we so weak that we can’t bear any criticism?


    • Tovar says:

      Glad it struck a chord, SBW.

      The reluctance to criticize is curious, isn’t it? On the one hand, we hear and read how important certain practices and attitudes are to hunting: making a clean kill, making use of animals taken, treating animals with respect, etc, etc. On the other hand, there seems to be this notion that we shouldn’t criticize behaviors (or ads) that run roughshod over those ideals. As you say, it seems to come from a kind of circle-the-wagons/don’t-get-divided-and-conquered mentality.

      In some areas (like debates over longbows-vs-compounds and sidelock-vs-inline-muzzleloaders), I do think hunters engage in pointless internecine conflict. But when the behavior or message is truly disrespectful, I think tolerating it is a huge mistake, for multiple reasons.

      Among some US hunters, there seems to be a notion that hunting is not a privilege that entails responsibilities, but a kind of God-given right to do whatever the heck they want. I imagine these ideas play out differently in the UK.

      • I hate to rain on your parade, guys, but the circle-the-wagons mentality is there for a reason. HSUS seizes on and exploits every negative thing said by hunters, and every time they tell the non-hunting public, “Hunters agree with us on this,” they win votes for their agenda.

        That’s one reason that I have made a strong effort to stop judging types of hunting I know nothing about. Many hunters are quick to judge high-fence hunting or hunting over hounds (bear, hog, whatever) when they know nothing about it. Let’s keep in mind here how quick many of us were to judge hunting itself before we knew anything about it.

        That said, the circle-the-wagons mentality – while it might be necessary in some cases – need not be applied across the board. A moron who catches a trout only to use it for target practice is guilty of wanton waste. Companies that use marketing schemes that associate hunting with war, hostility or hatred are not doing anyone a favor and need to be spanked.

        • There is a fundamental ethical baseline which I am sure most of us could agree upon ITO practices or imagery that is unacceptable.

          However I also am suspicious of hunters who automatically look disdainfully upon forms of hunting that are not essentially unethical, merely very different to theirs, without first considering the context.

          As you well know it’s considered treason and heresy by many hunters to criticize any hunting act and they are quick to lecture one on the value of banding together in support of our passion. While I agree with this latter sentiment I think the former accusations against ‘traitors’ are too often used as a crutch to prop an ‘anything-goes under the right to hunt’. I guess the challenge is for us to act collectively and reign in the small offending minority without falling into a divide-and-conquer trap.

          • LOL, I’ve been accused of being “anything goes” (for not opposing high-fence hunting) and “traitorous” (for writing about not shooting lead ammo anymore). Frankly, all I care about is trying to ensure some internal consistency about my decisions – if I’ve done that, I really don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks. If I haven’t done that, then it’s back to the drawing table.

            • Holly,

              I am fan of non-lead ammo too, but I do use both. It seems amongst certain hunters that if you like using non-lead you suddenly become and some kind of pinko eco-facist who is selling out to the antis!

              Coming from SA I was never opposed to high fences, its the dominate property rights system there regarding game management. The last half century has seen an explosion in wildlife numbers, but as a result wildlife activites are totally gentrified. Hunting is an activity for elites or those lucky enought to know game owners as it is out of the price rnage of many working class people, especially larger of more glamorous species.

              Have you seen Keith Warren’s ‘The Highroad’ TV show? I watched him make a case as to why high fence deer farmers are the best thing since sliced bread, true conservationsists and the ostensibly the future for America’s deer….his argument was weak. I have no issue with high fences per se, other than one needs a mighty fat wallet when its the only option you have to hunt.

              I might be wrong re the US experience and might have the wrong take on privatised deer there. We are currently pettioning against high fence elk hunting in this province (its also been linked to CWD transmission).

              • My main gripe with the anti-high fence crowd is that it often appears to have bought into the HSUS image of what a high-fence op is – flinging arrows at a goat in the corner of a small pen. I think it’s a mistake to let the enemy define what we do.

                • I hear ya,

                  I do defend high fences from those who believe its ‘canned’. High fences are not canned. I have hunted on some huge high fenced properties which are hardly a ‘shoot’, but definately a ‘hunt’. I just think if there is a need to maintain public access hunting habitat. Living in Canada has made me a pretty vociferous proponent of the privelage of lots of public land hunting.

          • Tovar says:

            Brian: I agree about the idea of a common ethical baseline, especially when it comes to the clean kill and some degree of respect for animals. I think most hunters share those ethics. If I didn’t think that — if I thought instead that unethical shots and raunchy taxidermy were the norm — you’d have to count me out of any effort to defend American hunting.

  7. Tovar

    The vast majority of hunting media is US based so I’ll start with the thoughts it prompts.

    The ‘wanton waste’ laws are a wonderful thing – but seem to set a minimum expectation which I find a little puzzling. Apart from the nose-to-tail-ism of Hank Shaw I’ve not seen another hunter use so much of an animal – amazing that he’s the only one really.

    I’m a big fan of Anthony Bourdain’s, the other day I was watching the duck hunting episode where he met with duck hunter who didn’t like eating ducks – amazing how people will choose to embarrass themselves on TV.

    And so to bowhunting: Probably the most contradictory sport I’m aware of. On one hand a devotion to simplicity, hard won skill and extremes of self control, on the other hand gadget-tastic, swaggering yahoos with a strange need to brand themselves as being a ‘tactical’ as possible. I’ve never seen a trad bow hunter feel the need to have arrows called things like ‘slaughterizor 3000’. Sadly it’s these boys (whatever their age) who will shape the future of bowhunting.

    On this side of the pond:
    Tikka would never advertise like that in the UK or France (where I’ve read the hunting mags) and I can’t imagine a german publication running such an Ad. Here technical not tactical is the order of the day. The hunter identity is based around precision, guardianship and a kind of taciturn competence, rather than the american (compound) bowhunter identify as ‘more extreme than rifles’ with plenty of high-5’s .

    So here’s a question I’ve often wondered about:
    Here in the UK there is a move towards having tracking dogs to seek out deer, the commentators always cite just how far behind the (mainland) European standards for game recovery we are. Yet in some US states it’s illegal to use tracking dogs. What’s all that about then?


    • Tovar says:

      SBW: It’s interesting to hear you say that Tikka would never advertise that way in the UK or France. I find the cultural value differences fascinating, including the different ideas about what emotions hunters should feel and how those emotions should or shouldn’t be displayed.

      Your question about tracking dogs is an interesting one. I’m no expert on the subject, but I’ll see if I can get someone more knowledgeable to stop by and tackle it.

      • Al Cambronne says:

        I think these same companies definitely do market their products differently in different parts of the world.

        Yesterday your post really got me thinking about some of these issues. So as I was Googling up a couple more names to go with my examples of how conglomerates can make boycotts tricky, I actually stumbled across one or two European counterparts of the websites we Americans would usually be viewing. (Some were in English, aimed at UK customers.)

        If I remember right, it was Browning, Winchester, and Federal. But this same thing would probably be true for other companies: While images of scenery, birds, and game animals were different, there were definitely more fundamental differences, too.

        Might make for an interesting study to analyze and compare those different marketing campaigns…

          • Eric Nuse says:

            I can speak to the reason the use of tracking dogs has been so slow catching on (or even being legal) here in the US. In the Northeast US one method the commercial hunters used to kill deer for the Boston and New York markets was using dogs to run deer into lakes where they could be easily killed. In the late 1800’s when game laws were tightened up and game wardens hired to enforce them, dogs known to run deer were made illegal. Wardens could kill them on sight and they did. A great book on this era is “George Magoon and the Down East Game Wars.”

            My take is it has taken a long time to go from poacher dogs used by illegal hunters to tracking dogs used for game recovery. We now have licensed game trackers in Vermont that assist with wounded deer recovery – but it took nearly 100 years!

  8. Al Cambronne says:

    Very interesting discussion! A couple of thoughts…

    First, boycotts are tough—especially since there are so many corporate conglomerates in the outdoor industry. Beretta holdings, for example, owns other brands that include Tikka, Sako, Benelli, Uberti, Stoeger, Franchi, Realtree, Burris, Federal, and about 20% of Browning. The remainder of Browning is owned by Belgium’s FN Herstal—as are the remaining scraps of what was once Winchester.

    Similarly, Cerberus Capital Management has snapped up several outdoor and defense companies and rolled them into the Freedom Group. The short list includes Remington, Marlin, H&R, NEF, Bushmaster, DPMS Panther, Dakota Arms, L.C. Smith, Parker, Barnes Bullets, and EOTAC. So if you don’t like how Bushmaster advertises its black rifles, but you still want to keep using ammo loaded with those nice lead-free Barnes bullets, what are you going to do?

    There are also intertwined alliances and partnerships in the industry. Some short-term, some long-term. Hogdon partners with Hornady, which partners with Ruger—but also with other firearms companies. So who are you going to boycott?

    Second, archery. I think it’s time to name names. Although I’m not yet a bowhunter, I’ve been doing some window shopping. Mathews, which also owns Mission and Macpherson brands, seems pretty tame in their marketing spin. They market their products well, and cynics claim there’s about $300 worth of marketing built into every Mathews bow. But their marketing and naming isn’t so bad. Same with Hoyt. But what’s with Bowtech? Destroyer, Assassin, etc? And all the patriotic and military model names. What’s that all about? Creepiest of all? The PSE bows with Skull Camo. (Human, not deer.)

    I would hate to be in charge of marketing at a small new company making broadheads. They’re meant to do a certain job, and if you want to differentiate yourself in a crowded market… I’m almost tempted to cut them some slack. Almost.

    Third, in my opinion the long-range shooting fad is just bad. I guess that’s already been discussed thoroughly here and elsewhere. But it is part of the larger picture.

    It does, however, help sell a few new rifles and scopes. I think the whole problem is that with a little maintenance and average use, your average deer rifle is going to last for at least a century or two. (If you shoot that one rifle a lot, you might replace the barrel every 20 or 30 years. But that’s about it.) That’s not good for business. So we need to think of something new that hunters will need to buy—something they didn’t know they needed. Best of all is if they can buy it at a different time of year and smooth out our cashflow. I suspect that’s the #1 reason the outdoor industry is working so hard to promote turkey hunting and coyote hunting. Not saying either is a bad thing for us to do, just talking from a business perspective.

    Next, ad revenues and whether that excuses anything. All those outdoor magazines are getting pretty slim right now. The ones that are perfect bound have just enough pages to make that work. As long as there are plenty of subscription cards in there, at least. And an awful lot of the full-page ads in those back pages are now for products promising improved success in what we might typically think of as more indoor activities. Without those revenues, the magazines would fold. So who’s going to complain about an ad for powder or scopes that seems a little disrespectful toward deer or elk? Still, here’s the question… If the economy were better, and if the magazines were thicker and more profitable, would any of that change?

    One more thing I should mention, lest anyone think I’m being hypocritical… I did co-author a book called Gut It. Cut It. Cook It.: The Deer Hunter’s Guide to Processing and Preparing Venison. The “Gut It. Cut It. Cook It.” part was not my idea. Our working title was the more genteel but admittedly less memorable “Deer Disassembly.” Typically, authors are not invited to meetings where titles are chosen. At those same meetings, editors and even publishers—the job title, not the corporate entity—are routinely overruled by the marketing department. Often, this time included, those marketing people are right.

    Finally, suckers. A digression, but strangely relevant. Amen to what Holly said. Not that any fish should be left to rot on the bank. But suckers aren’t the same as carp. I understand they’re tastier, and they live mostly in cool, clean streams with gravel bottoms. They deserve a little more respect.

    And the animals we hunt do, too. I think Tovar makes a good point about that. Over time these ads influence hunter’s thinking and behavior. Even if it’s a subtle, unconscious influence, it’s still going to happen. And in the long run, it DOES matter what non-hunters make of all this.

    • Al, I do believe suckers were featured in the previously mentioned Bourdain episode. (Tony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern both deserve big kudos for having the huevos to put hunting out there in very naked terms – both showing it mostly unvarnished (not shying from guts etc), and connecting it directly to food.)

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for all the insightful comments, Al. I agree that boycotts would be impractical. Perhaps some internal peer pressure among hunters and hunting companies will have an effect over time; or maybe these trends will never be reversed.

      As to suckers, my wife and her brothers recall fishing for them when they were kids in upstate new York. Once they were cleaned, their grandfather would store them in salt in a big ceramic crock in the basement.

  9. Erik Jensen says:

    Good discussion. I generally agree with your points, Tovar, although I’m not so worked up about the Tikka ad. I own one and they are great rifles, and it’s just advertising the fact even if I couldn’t take such a shot. I think the point that the hunting industry is insular and targets a certain audience – ones that will spend more money and are totally into it, and are probably more conservative politically and in their thinking about animals is really what this comes from is right on. This group marketed to is also probably more likely to oppose animal welfare laws or ideas as caving to the animal rights crowd, even though those are two different positions in my opinion.

    I have to say, it is important we discuss these things, and they can have a future impact on hunting, I’m definitely not an across the board “circle the wagons” guy, BUT…All of this is having little impact on the decline of hunting in the U.S., at least according to studies I’ve read. We need to be worrying about the loss of places to hunt and fish, the over-scheduling of kids which is crowding out family time (hunting has always been strongly tied to family), and advancing the arguments why hunting should be an activity prioritized (like benefits to our mental and physical health, conservation, community). We need to recruit more mentors. I was just at a training for outdoor mentors over the weekend held by the MN DNR, and there are always more demand to teach people to hunt than there are people to do it. HSUS and PETA are problems, but our dislike and even hatred for them (yes, I feel that way sometimes) shouldn’t cloud our brains as to what the bigger problems are.

    • Tovar says:

      I agree, Erik. These issues are only a few out of many. They have an impact, in my view, but there are bigger fish to fry.

  10. Chas Clifton says:

    I have always attributed some of these gross advertisements to
    (a) copywriters and designers who learned about hunting by watching Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, whose work is then approved by
    (b) outdoor-product executives who do their hunting at luxury lodges–if they hunt at all–and have an aloof attitude towards their customers.

    • Tovar says:

      I like the Bugs Bunny hypothesis, Chas. Perhaps some also associate hunting with Predator, Terminator, and other Schwarzenegger films.

      Speaking of the effects of media portrayals, I believe Elmer Fudd single-handedly changed the American English meaning of the word/name “nimrod” from “hunter” to “bumbling idiot.”

  11. Good post Tovar and I couldn’t agree more. I immediately thought of this decal I saw recently from a local company:

    It’s also why i have never been a fan of stuffed mounts of animals. 1) On smaller animals the animal isn’t being eaten which I find offensive and 2) I don’t need an animal whose life I took staring at me every time I walk into my den. I’m okay with a turkey fan or antlers but anything beyond that really bothers me.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for your comment, Mike, and sorry it took all day to appear. For some reason, it got caught in my site’s spam filter, and I was on the road.

      Thanks, too, for the link. The sarcasm of that decal is unfortunate.

      I don’t have any taxidermied animals and am not sure I ever will have one. But I’ve gotten to know a couple of taxidermists and have developed an appreciation for their work. (They’re not producing pieces that make fun of the animals.)

  12. Phillip says:

    I’ve been following this one and giving it some thought…

    First of all, I tend to agree with Eric that these commercials and such are a pretty nominal issue when it comes to the future of hunting. I have no doubt that some folks are going to point at these and use them to caricature all hunters, but honestly, the attitude that feeds on this is already there. Is giving it a little more fodder really changing things? I don’t think so.

    I also think there’s a level of hypersensitivity here. I don’t say that to be offensive or dismissive, so please bear with me. I believe that many of the folks on this site are bringing a brand new perspective to the hunting world that, quite honestly, the rank and file of the industry have yet to recognize. Many of you are coming from a place where you had to overcome negative preconceptions about hunting to become hunters, and of course all of these images are playing right into those negative preconceptions.

    I don’t disagree with you, by the way, that some of these ads are offensive and moronic. A few of them are just senseless. I lay some of the blame for this on the fact that the worst of these ads are pretty low budget, which suggests that some of the ideas probably aren’t vetted by a committee or editorial panel. Somebody has an idea, turns a camera and mike on it, and voila.

    Many of these ads are also pandering to the short-attention-span youngsters that the industry is trying to attract with the high-energy rock soundtracks, skull camo (the skull thing is a carry-over from the skateboarding crowd, by the way… it’s punk rock instead of country), and younger hosts wearing hip wardrobe. They’ve got to compete with the ultra-violent, first-person shooter video games and high-energy “extreme” sports. I’m not so sure it’s a great strategy, but I’m not a marketing professional. I do know you’re not going to hold these youngsters’ attention with ads featuring the artistry of a fine rifle stock or the technical qualities of a high-end scope.

    Some of the long-range shooting ads bother me a lot, as some of you may know… I have a real issue with selling people the idea that a certain rifle, bullet, or scope can instantly enable them to shoot 400 or 500 yards. But that’s the state of the industry right now. For them, it’s a need to create a niche to sell more gear. That’s just marketing. They’re not the ones who stumble over the rotten, un-retrieved carcasses and wounded animals that result from unskilled long-range shooting.

    I also think the hunting industry is missing an opportunity by not spending more time addressing the late-to-life hunters and the locavore/sustainable food movement. This is still a new market, but it’s growing pretty quickly. Time will tell if it’s more than another fad that will die out in a generation.

    There are inroads. This season I’ve spotted no less than four new programs that focus on cooking the kill, along with programs like On Your Own Adventures that are targeted at the hunter who wants to stick to basics and do-it-yourself hunting.

    Keep in mind that, until a few years ago, the hunting media seldom involved children or women. Now you can hardly find a show that doesn’t feature special children’s or family hunts. There are female hosts and celebrity hunters. The industry does notice, but it takes time for it to respond.

    So… where now?

    I probably sound like a broken record, but if you see something in the outdoor media that you really find offensive or destructive, it’s up to you to raise the issue with the source of that material… the producers, manufacturers, networks, or editors (or any combination thereof). Sure, it’s interesting and sometimes educational to bounce it around amongst ourselves, dissecting and deconstructing as we go. But change requires direct and consistent action.

    But I also think there’s not a ton of value in getting too worked up over stupid commercials. Sure, they may help to perpetuate a stereotype, but there are much more real and significant threats to the future of hunting.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Phillip. As I mentioned in other comments above, I agree with you in part. These ads probably aren’t a huge factor in the future of hunting.

      But I do think that they (like the more grotesque online material referred to by Heavey) express a certain set of existing values and help propagate those values. As you say, of course, it’s “just marketing,” trying to grab attention in a tough economy. Like the use of “booth babes” that Holly took issue with last year, it’s just businesses trying to survive and turn a profit. In both cases, though, I think there are costs to portraying animals as objects of ridicule or targets in a search-and-destroy mission, for instance, and to portraying women as window-dressing rather than as people and hunters.

      I also think it’s worth noting that a lot of lifelong hunters are bothered by messages that demean animals, encourage unethical shots, etc. Yes, those of us who have come to hunting as adults may be somewhat more sensitive to those messages, or more likely to voice our discomfort, partly because we have a keener sense of how those messages sound to non- and anti-hunters (ourselves, not long ago). But our discomfort is hardly unique.

      I agree about taking these things to their sources. This post and discussion aren’t solutions to anything. They’re just ways to put the topic forth in a public forum.

  13. Erik Jensen says:

    Thinking about this, I’ve changed my mind…a little…I think the ad for the 450 yard shot IS wrong, since it tries to give one the false notion that one could make the shot ethically by just buying a Tikka. They’re great rifles, I have one, but it takes A LOT more practice to make these shots than most of us are ever going to be able or willing to to undertake. BUT, having said that, I repeat, let’s not get too caught up in this is my view. Eighty-five percent of Americans support hunting for meat, PETA and HSUS are not taking over the world, they only have influence in only a few areas of the country and anti-hunting sentiment is not what is lowering hunting participation. Let’s not obsess about what crass ads in outdoor publications are going to do in giving them (antihunters) ammunition, pardon the pun. Let’s fight for habitat, recruit hunters one-on-one and in programs through our hunting orgs and state volunteer programs where they exist, persuade people to spend more time outside, counter the overscheduling of kids (this is a BIG rule in our family, our kids can only be in ONE structured activity at a time), and forge alliances in the political arena. Hunting is a social matter as far as I’m concerned – it is good for society, our health, and conservation. It deserves the support of public institutions such as schools and government.

  14. Howdy all,

    It’s a sign of the times… I see it here everyday. I complete disconnect with the ramifications of our actions. What’s sad about it is that there is no awareness that they are disconnected.

    But Erik makes some very good points. We feel like we are losing hunters because the loss of habitat is hastening. In ten years I saw subdivisions take over square miles, tens of thousands of acres, where I live. People feel like they have more important things to do than spend a weekend camping with the kids. It’s a shame is what it is.

    We as individuals need to make the effort that others are not.

    Albert “Afghanus” Rasch
    The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles™
    Extreme Wild Boar Hunting in Florida!

    • Tovar says:

      Agreed, Erik and Albert: Hunting faces threats far bigger than these kinds of ads. Habitat loss is the gravest danger. The over-scheduled busy-ness of modern life is a factor, too, for both kids and adults.

      I want to clarify again: My objection to these ads is not primarily rooted in a fear about the ammo they provide to anti-hunters. My main objection is to the kinds of values (and potential behaviors) they perpetuate among hunters, and to how those values and behaviors impact animals.

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