The late Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe once famously said that, “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” I suspect that Mr. Achebe made a reasonable point when he delivered that assessment, but I wonder if he anticipated that those “historians” would someday rise in the form of social media, fake news and a narrative that is now shaped by forces that defy the conventional wisdom of the past. Further, “the history of the hunt” no longer always glorifies the hunter! In fact, hunters rarely control the narrative that tends to define how our American society views hunters, hunting and the merits of the two.

The five-year study, National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, that has been conducted by the USFWS since 1955, revealed an alarming stat during the most recent cycle from the 2012–2016 period; that being an unprecedented drop in hunting license sales by almost 20 percent! This remarkable reduction in hunting license sales seems to paint an ominous picture for future of a “past-time” that has historically served as the chief funding mechanism for terrestrial wildlife conservation during the last 100+ years, not to mention the thought of losing an important part of our American cultural fabric. The percentage of our citizens that hunt is now less than five percent, which begs the question that relates to thresholds which render people and things as being irrelevant within the dynamic sideboards that shape societal acceptance; I suspect we are staring that threshold in the face, right now!

Now, our hunting community could simply fret over “better days gone by,” and we could, and certainly should, explore the reasons for diminution in hunting participation, but one thing that I would like to ponder is the absolute importance for our hunting community to do a better job of controlling the narrative on how we interact with society and how we project messages and images to those around us. 

Image of social-media hunting feed
Hunters must do a better job of using reasonable and responsible discretion on the images and the language that they post on social media.

Social Media

Like it or not, social media has quickly emerged as the medium that people tend to glean their daily “news” and information from. This largely uncensored communication tool represents a vast sea of material that can create proverbial viral effects on how people view certain issues de jour. “Cecil The Lion” is a prime example of how social media can unjustly write its own history, as Mr. Achebe might have put it. 

I’m not a social media expert, but I think that hunters, individually and collectively through NGOs, need to play the social media game smarter and harder. It fundamentally starts with being better stewards of what we post on social media, including hunting photos, as well as written material. I continue to see plenty of garbage that hunters post which can ultimately paint poor images of hunting, especially through distasteful photos that may evoke perceptions of hunters being low-grade people who are blood thirsty and of immoral character. Further, we fall short on sharing wholesome stories and messages that clearly articulate the beauty of the hunt and that reinforce messages that illustrate hunting as a conservation tool. From a narrative standpoint, we are often our worst enemy on this front.

Weaving of NGOs

Hunters have historically banded together through affiliation via various sportsmen’s groups. We can point to many different NGOs as shining examples of how hunters raise monies and channel sweat equity into causes that are good for hunting and good for our wildlife resources. However, where we seem to fall short with our hunting NGO efforts is through collectively working together to aggregate resources between these groups in a fashion that synergizes our broad efforts, while also creating efficiencies along the way. Some hunting NGOs have policies that preclude their option to financially support other similar groups; this seems a bit too self-focused to me. 

Shaping Public Policy

For the sake of this article, the importance of controlling the narrative perhaps resonates no louder than that relating to laws that interact with hunting and wildlife. Fundamentally, with what is intended to be a democratic system where the will of the people is expressed through our elected officials and policy-makers, special interest groups who control the narrative through their strategic efforts are generally well-positioned to advance their agendas. However, once again, our hunting community tends to not be collectively well-organized when it comes to media outreach, public testimony, legislative relationship building and general educational outreach. Pressures of society tend to shape public policy; these days, those pressures are generally greater from the non-hunting community than from hunters. Hunters need to learn to play that game harder and smarter. 

Image of Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas
Public policy strength for hunting relies on coordination of special interest groups, deployment of grass roots constituents, advocacy for reasonable and defensible practices and the ability to control the narrative.

Addressing the Slippery Slopes

The American ideal of hunter-conservationists emerged out of necessity during the late 1800s, when much of our country’s wildlife were on the throes of a colossal collapse, and then evolved over time to be reflective of the times. And as “times changed,” so did certain laws and practices that were deemed as protectionary of the whole, with some of those intra-community debates leading to a bloody process in the name of doing what was right for the resource and for the long-term health of our hunting heritage. When such policy discussions are initiated by concerned hunters and wildlife professionals, these discussions tend to create chaos within our own ranks, causing turmoil and infighting that can be self-damaging, and thus presenting paradoxical conundrums. But when you distill it down to its rudiment, the fact remains that our hunting and game management practices must be reasonably defensible in the eyes of our societal majority, or we will otherwise be squeezed out. . . . That may not be your rule, nor mine, but that’s simply the way it works these days. The barriers of these slippery slopes must be more honestly and actively addressed, otherwise our advocacy efforts and our messages will largely fall on the deaf ears of a discerning public that is increasingly intolerant of practices that are deemed as indefensible.

Controlling the narrative, regardless of the task at hand, can certainly be over-simplified, and I recognize that there are many other pressures facing the future of hunting than those that I’ve pointed out in this article. Bottom line, however, is that our hunting community must do a better job of stepping up to the plate and striving for excellence in our ability to control the narrative. We must do a better job with public relations, we must generate stronger messaging strategies that incorporate better repetition structure on more fronts and we must do a better job of managing our own house. Otherwise, we will lose the battle. . . . We are losing the battle right now, which is partially evidenced through an almost 20 percent reduction in hunting license sales from 2012 to 2016!

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  • Greg Simons received a B.S. degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences in 1987 from Texas A&M University and soon after formed Wildlife Systems, Inc., a company that currently manages hunting operations on over 800,000 acres of private land in Texas and New Mexico. He is also co-owner of Wildlife Consultants, LLC, providing technical assistance to landowners and other entities on habitat management and other wildlife-related needs. Greg is Past President of Texas Wildlife Association, Past Officer of Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society, serves on advisory committees for the wildlife programs at Texas A&M University and Tarlton State University, as well as many other committee appointments, and he has given programs around the country on various wildlife and hunting related topics.

  • Show Comments

  • L Miller

    I resent the assumption that so many make (only implicitly in yours, of course) that all conservatives must be pro-hunting, and that if you prefer to see animals alive instead of murdered, that you must be a liberal. The world is more complex, and I, for one, am weary of seeing smiling white males posing beside murdered animals. That’s sick. Who does that? God created the world and all life within it. He knows even what happens to a sparrow. The God of life surely can’t be pleased with humans treating murder so blithely. The day will come when we will all find out what the Creator really thinks of this, and which of us were right and which were wrong. It will be an interesting day, to gain that knowledge. On that, I’m sure we can agree.

    • aleaxander

      L.Miller
      Let me start by saying I hate sport hunting and something inside a humane being has to be very wrong to take the life of a beautiful creature just to put it’s head on your wall.Food hunting to me to survive is different.Many people rely on the hunt of game to live. I can justify that in my head.Doesn’t make me happy but to survive you do what you have to do. I take issue with this statement( The world is more complex, and I, for one, am weary of seeing smiling white males posing beside murdered animals. That’s sick. Who does that? God created the world and all life within it. He knows even what happens to a sparrow. The God of life surely can’t be pleased with humans treating murder so blithely) Don’t know why White males are the blame as many different people of color also hunt.. I see a prejudice here. Any way,, Your god of life who you say will not be happy with the murder is the same god of life that lets animals get ripped apart while they are alive as the predators EATS THEM ALIVE!! Wild dogs run down pray and eat them standing up, baby chicks are eaten in their nest by snakes as they can’t fly or run.As the Lion hold the neck of a wildebeest as the other lions are already tearing the flesh off it’s body while still alive.. Bears rip apart everything alive. I could go on for ever as every species on this planet are eaten alive or ripped apart in the most heinous death anyone can imagine..,This is the same god who made these atrocities,,and the same god you said won’t like what hunters do?????????

  • Parsons

    This was an excellent and much needed perspective on the current need for ethical hunters to make a stronger case for their role as protectors and primary funders of wildlife and their habitat. The non-hunting public generally has an anthropomorphic view of nature straight out of a Disney movie. Most of these individuals are sympathetic toward wildlife but are unfortunately so separated from nature they have little understanding of what happens when wildlife populations are not properly managed. An important facet of that management must include harvesting of game species. Ask any car insurance company about the impact of too many deer or a physician about the increase of Lyme disease or the ecologist about the destruction of the environment when deer are allowed to multiply unchecked.

  • george gaskell

    How much of the drop in license sales is attributable to the high cost of hunting on private land in Texas?

  • george gaskell

    Has a lot to do with the high cost of hunting on private land in Texas. Limited Public Land hunting opportunities, mostly by random drawing

  • Andrew

    I, for one, agree with the thought that we as hunters need to get more involved with how others see our great sport, and I do mean sport, of hunting. I graduated with a degree in Biology and focused on wildlife biology. Management is always my “argument” for those that do not know the importance of it (maintaining a healthy herd, flock, or covey). Harvesting animals to feed ourselves and our families is never wrong and is certainly not murder. I suppose some think the food they buy in grocery stores is killed more humanly. NOT!!! The amount of ignorence in this matter is overwhelming and I suppose hard to overcome. Wildlife management should never become a divider in politics as so many other topics are. And to bring a divided political system into what is a natural thing (eating) is sorely unappreciated. I digress. I do not think that many hunters know HOW to get involved with the proper organizations or have TIME to extend their already overworked lives into doing so. Thus, controlling the narrative, which takes money, time and knowledge is left up to those who get paid for this. Hunters are not paid, and in fact spend rediculuos amounts of money to pursue their sport. This in turn funds our wildlife and habitat for “the ignorant” people out there to enjoy. Anyway, sure would be nice to harvest a healthy, plump, deer this year!

  • george gaskell

    IN TEXAS, THE HIGH COST OF HUNTING ON PRIVATE LANDS HAS DRIVER MANY HUNTERS OUT OF THE MARKET. .ERY LIMITED QUANTITY OF PUBLIS LANDS FOR DRAWN HUNTS

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