By P.J. Reilly
Tips for talking to nonhunters about our sport.
If you’re reading this magazine, odds are you love deer hunting. You know it’s fun. You know it puts meat on your family’s table. You know your hunting-license dollars pay for the management of all kinds of wildlife. And you know that you are the primary instrument for deer management wherever you’re hunting. That is, you are the tool wildlife managers count on to keep deer numbers in check.
Do you think non-hunters know all those things about deer hunting? They don’t. To some, watching Bambi is the extent of their education regarding deer and deer hunting.
There are an estimated 13.7 million hunters in the U.S., according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service statistics. But the nation’s total population stands at around 319 million. That means you’re surrounded by people who don’t hunt. Count on at least some of them to think hunting is barbaric and cruel.
Despite the fact that fewer people hunt today than at any other time in history, hunting is not universally despised by the non-hunting masses, however.
Prior to recent setbacks in public opinion spurred by social media posts and the shooting of a collared lion in Africa, surveys suggest Americans support hunting by a three-to-one margin.
Should you talk to non-hunters about hunting, or is it something that should just be kept in the family, so to speak?
If you do talk to a non-hunter, how should you do it? Are there things you should or shouldn’t say? Or should you just talk to them like you were talking to one of your hunting buddies?
Kip Adams is the director of education and outreach for Quality Deer Management Association. As QDMA attempts to spread the word about the value of deer, deer management and deer hunting, he often finds himself talking to people who don’t hunt, have no interest in hunting, know very little about hunting, and who, if pressed to take sides, would probably say they are against hunting.
Adams makes no apologies to anyone about being a hunter, and he’s obviously a staunch advocate for it. But depending on who he’s talking to, he moderates the way he talks about it.
“When I was a student at Penn State, I had a technical writing professor who told us to know our audience when we discussed different topics,” Adams said. “As an example, he told us to think about how we would write letters about spending the summer with a beautiful girl at the beach. We would write one letter to our buddies and another to our grandmother.
“Obviously, we’re going to talk about the same thing in two very different ways,” he continued.
When it comes to deer hunting, Adams said it’s possible to offend non-hunters at the very start of a conversation if you take the wrong approach.
“If you do that, they’re not going to hear anything you say after they get offended,” he said. “So all you’re doing is wasting your breath.”
Wildlife in the U.S. is managed according to the North American model of wildlife conservation. That model dictates fish and wildlife belong to everyone, and their populations should be managed so they exist forever. Under the model, hunting is the primary method for controlling game populations that would otherwise balloon out of control.
A common sentiment you hear from anti-hunters is that deer should be left alone. Tell them that’s a nice thought, but it’s not practical. A lot of people — hunters and non-hunters alike — have either hit or had close encounters with deer on roads. Short of that, they probably know someone who has.
State Farm Insurance Co. reported there were about 1.23 million deer-vehicle collisions from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012. Those wrecks caused about $4 billion in damage. Something you might consider mentioning to a non-hunter is to think of the number of deer-vehicle collisions there would be if deer numbers were not kept in check.
Without hunters, there would have to be some other measure in place to limit deer numbers so deer and humans can coexist. Natural deer predators are gone in most developed places. And we’re not bringing back wolves and cougars to the suburbs.
So it’s either hunters, who gladly pay to take care of deer populations by buying licenses, or taxpayers who foot the bill for sharpshooters to cull the herds. That already happens in some places, and it’s expensive.
Taxpayers nationwide currently are paying sharpshooters to keep the deer herd balanced with the habitat at Valley Forge National Historical Park near Philadelphia, Pa. The cost is expected to be around $3 million over 15 years, and that’s just one piece of property.
Valley Forge aside, hunters pay for the management of all wildlife in Pennsylvania. The state Game Commission is tasked with that responsibility, and the agency receives no general tax funds from the state. Its revenues come from hunting license sales, earnings off its lands – which are entirely maintained and were largely acquired with hunting-license dollars – and other related sources.
“In terms of management alone, hunters provide a valuable service that otherwise would be unfunded, or would necessitate funding through tax revenue,” said Travis Lau, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. “Hunters alleviate a tax burden that would fall to all residents, and in doing so, provide something that benefits everybody.”
Those are facts Adams and Lau suggest hunters stress when talking about our sport to non-hunters.
Most non-hunters have no idea that hunters foot the bill for management of both game and non-game species.
Adams often asks non-hunters if they like songbirds.
“A lot of non-hunters are birdwatchers,” he said. “I mean, think about how many people put feeders in their yards. They’re everywhere.”
He then proceeds to inform those people that, if deer numbers would be allowed to grow unchecked, they would certainly destroy songbird habitat everywhere. And without that habitat, songbirds would disappear.
“It’s surprising to me how many non-hunters change their views about hunting when you can tell them how hunting helps what they enjoy about the outdoors,” Adams continued.
One thing Adams avoids is using the word “kill.” There is no disputing that’s what we do to deer. But Adams has found there are other terms that convey the same message. Words like “harvest” and “shoot.”
“‘Shoot’ is a really good one,” he said. “You can say we shoot deer, and it’s not as harsh as kill. I mean, people shoot a lot of things that have nothing to do with life and death. They shoot baskets or a round of golf.”
The problem with “kill,” Adams explained, is non-hunters tend to tune out after they hear it.
“They fixate on ‘kill,’ and whatever you say after that goes in one ear and out the other,” he said. “All they heard was you killed something.”
There also might be parts of the hunt you want to leave out when talking to non-hunters. Do they really need to know you followed a blood trail to recover it? Maybe you can simply say you tracked the deer until you found it, or just say you shot it and recovered it.
Don’t talk about gutting your deer. It’s probably best to leave that part of the hunt out of the discussion altogether, but if you must talk about it, say you “dressed” or “cleaned” the deer. It’s the same as gutting, but it certainly has a more palatable tone.
Lau shares that view.
“Everybody understands killing is a part of hunting,” he said. “I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with hunters talking about game they might have killed, and in my experience a lot of hunters speak in these terms. I don’t have a problem with that. But ‘harvest,’ to me, is a good word because it automatically conveys the animal being put to good use.”
What hunter doesn’t love showing photos from a successful hunt? They’re visual representations of exciting, memorable days. Other hunters can easily relate to that excitement.
But what do the non-hunters around you see? Don’t be surprised if it’s just a dead animal with its tongue hanging out. And don’t be surprised, or offended, if that non-hunter doesn’t break out into a smile as wide as yours. Remember who you’re showing it to.
If you’ve got a photo that shows a bloody deer, don’t show it to non-hunters. It’s likely all you’re going to do is offend them. Keep those photos for your hunting buddies.
You can actually avoid that situation altogether if you simply take some time and care when you’re photographing your harvest. Always have paper towels and water, or some other cleaning agent, handy when you go hunting. Clean as much blood off the deer as possible. Windex works wonders at removing even dried blood from white deer hair.
Until rigor mortis sets in, you can count on that bloody tongue falling out of a deer’s mouth just as you snap a picture. Reach way back inside the deer’s mouth with your knife and cut it off. Problem solved.
Place your deer on the ground in an area that will give the photo viewer some sense of where you were hunting. Is there really any value added to the photo by taking it while the deer is covered with blood, tongue hanging out, as the carcass sits in the back of a pickup truck parked in a dingy garage?
I like having scenic backgrounds so I always remember where I was. From that background, I am reminded of the temperature, whether it was sunny or if there was snow on the ground, and what time of day I shot the deer — all in addition to the hunt location. Those details are priceless.
For my own benefit, I want to take time and care in shooting a photo of a clean deer in a scenic setting, regardless of who sees it. Besides that, I won’t hesitate to show such photos to anyone, whether they’re a hunter or not.
“I think it’s important for hunters to be aware non-hunters might perceive hunting differently than we do,” Lau said. “Hunting is a wholesome activity. There are plenty of lessons about nature and about onesself that can be learned through hunting.
“I am thankful I was raised in a family where hunting was a part of our lives, and I got to experience many wonders of nature I otherwise likely wouldn’t have,” he added. “Non-hunters often won’t have that background, so naturally they won’t be able to make those types of associations. The more they understand about why we hunt, the better they recognize that harvest is just a part of it, and the closer they are to embracing our hunting heritage.”
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