Hunting bonds us to nature as we were always intended to be.
As all good students of Ron Swanson do, I eschew places with crowds, so I opt to order my groceries online and have them placed directly in my truck. On this occasion I had forgotten to unload my full body Canada goose decoys which left little room. When I opened the topper, a few dozen heads were staring at the young and clearly not outdoorsy girl who was there to load my bags. “Are those ducks? Why do you have so many ducks?” Again, channeling Swanson, I didn’t want to disclose more information than necessary, so I hesitated a bit. The other worker helping informed her those were decoys, but didn’t correct her species assignment. “My family doesn’t hunt,” was all that she replied. And in the Walmart parking lot I averted any ideological discussion that sounded like it might be forthcoming.
Living in Montana, you would think conversations like this are rare, but unfortunately they are not. When I leave the protected isolation of a sporting goods store and enter the market that has stuff I don’t need from around the world I become a foreign national. More than that though, I become an ambassador for hunting. With hunters making up 5-15% of the population (depending on your source), we are all virtually foreigners in our own land. It shouldn’t surprise us then when someone encounters us and is totally unfamiliar with hunting, our lifestyle, or our ethos. Instead, it should inspire us as their first contact with an unknown world and we get to be their first meeting. As hunters we love what we do, where we are, and what it does for us. Ask any public speaker and they will tell you it's easiest to talk about something when you're passionate about it. A few thoughts on talking about hunting the next time you meet someone willing to listen:
Start With the Why.
What is it that makes you passionate about hunting? The emotional connection we have to our pursuits is strong. It is what drives us to brave early mornings in the cold and continue the chase after the trail is long cold. It is no secret that many new hunters enter hunting focused on food and is an acceptable motive by over 80% of the population. But therapy, sport, natural engagement, heritage/tradition, and personal challenge each have their own receptiveness. There is a greeter chance of connection and further conversation when they understand what hunting brings into your life.
Be Mindful of What You Share.
There can be a tendency to overshare when the excitement takes over (ever hear of logorrhea?).
Very few want to hear how the sausage is made, only what flavors it comes in and perhaps a recipe. Describing the internal carnage a bullet leaves behind is more appropriate for a ballistics study than it is describing how we desire quick and human kills. Death is part of the reality of hunting (as Ortega y Gasset would say) and there isn’t a need to overly sanitize it, but discernment may mean a deeper conversation with your initiate instead of revulsion and rejection. While I’m on the soapbox, this includes what we share in the media as well. I appreciate a good hero shot that shows respect to the animal and a focus on it instead of our selves or weapon.
Answer Questions Honestly and Clearly.
I am a falconer, but it is something I shy way from talking about at parties. The reason is when it comes up, so do 10,000 other questions that I have answered as many times elsewhere. However, curiosity is interest in the topic and shouldn’t be discouraged. Remember, we are likely the only connection to this that they have ever met. This will require that you do your own research on how hunting funds conservation, why hunting doesn’t lead to extinction, or how “trophy hunting” is a misnomer. As the good book says, we should all be ready and willing to give an answer for the hope that is in us.
Everyone likes a good story, but not everyone can tell a good story. When danger set on me as I was in the desert of west Texas over a mile from my truck, out of
water, and desperately, doggedly trying to make my way back instantly hooks someone. They want to know more, the invest in the outcome. Hopefully, not all of your hunting stories are that perilous, but there should be something that draws them in. Share the highs and the lows. Be self-deprecating instead of falsely bravado. Focus on details of the senses that help them feel they are there. Word pictures are powerful because they linger in the mind long after the description is forgotten.
Invite Them In.
I built my house for me, not the rest of the world. It may seem like an obvious truth that doesn’t need to be written, but when I apply the same principle to my taxidermy, it helps it all make more sense. An invitation to dinner at my house will mean wild game for dinner (unless you supply the protein) and a viewing of the results of years of hunting. Taxidermy is one of the most misunderstood elements of hunting by those outside of it, but also one that is most helpful to sharing. Each mount has a story and an intimacy with a creature they have likely never touched. I can point out the different feathers on my snow goose and their various roles in its life. I can show them the different rings on my sheep’s horns and count its age. If you are more adventurous, you can invite the listener to a conservation group event or even to observe a hunt. I’ve led waterfowl identification walks at our local National Wildlife Refuge sharing tricks I use when I am hunting to help me better know what is coming in. Use good judgment and caution, but be willing to help someone better see what and who we are as hunters.
As hunters we have an engagement with the natural world no others will ever know. That is special and precious to each of us in its own way, but we need others who don’t know it to see it as well. The image that we are all “Fudds,” wins over the thoughtful and studious Leopold. Recapturing and revitalizing this visage into a better prepared and serious student of the hunt is critical for our continued legacy as sportsmen.