It seems like every time you turn around there is another threat to hunting as we know it. Whether it be animal-rights activists lobbying against hunting, public lands being threatened by Congress, or an outbreak of CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease) that is thinning herds, there is always something that is posed to have a negative affect on hunting.
These are all legitimate threats, to be sure; however, there is a much more insidious, silent threat to hunting as we know it that if left unaddressed will certainly spell a change in the hunting landscape of North America.
With the advent of social media and the increased success of hunting shows on TV, more and more hunters are seeking ways to be recognized by their peers and obtain some piece of attention and their own 15 seconds of fame. As a result, poaching, lying, and other unethical means are employed in order to set oneself apart from the crowd as having really accomplished something. Hunters now use Photoshop to alter the appearance of their buck in order to make it appear larger, while others harvest a bull elk on a high fence property and then post about it online as if they had been hunting in the backcountry for weeks in order to earn their trophy.
This all points to a huge problem that is developing within the hearts of individuals. For some, hunting is becoming a self-centered endeavor that exists solely for the purpose of exalting self. No mention of conservation or passing on a legacy or past time, instead it is all about what one can do to set him or her apart from everyone else
The Problem of Self
Self-promotion and pride are silent killers. At some point in human history, pride came to be seen as a good thing. However, pride has historically been treated as a bad thing (and for good reason). Pride leads us to do things that we would otherwise never do in order to “save face” or come out looking better than the other guy. It leads us to do things that are at minimum questionable and sometimes outright illegal. Promoting ourselves for the sake of garnering the attention and approval of others is based in pride and it manifests itself in 3 very distinct ways in the hunting community:
Ego is a person’s perception of their own worth or importance. Someone who has a large ego sees him or herself as indispensable to the rest of his or her peers. This person feels that he or she knows more than anyone and feels threatened when someone else seems to know more on a certain topic. Many of us are guilty of having a large ego when we try to act like our way is the only way. Criticizing others who use a different weapon or different tactics is a form of an ego problem. Poking fun at the size of someone’s harvested buck in order to try and make your own buck seem more impressive is another form. Ultimately, ego causes us to minimize the importance and worth of others for the sake of maximizing the appearance of our own importance and worth and it happens far too often in the hunting industry.
There is nothing wrong with desiring to have something. However, coveting goes well beyond mere desire. To covet something means that you desire it enough that it causes you to be discontent with what you already have. When you covet, you start plotting how to get something that others have, even if you cannot reasonably justify needing it. However, coveting also takes a more passive form where you start hoping that something bad will happen to someone else so that they don’t get to enjoy their nicer things. Someone gets a new truck so you hope that someone keys it. Someone gets a new bow so you start picking apart of its “flaws” in order to feel better about the fact that you don’t have that bow. Coveting ultimately results in a negative attitude toward other people as a result of the stuff you do or don’t have. Very, very sad.
Antler envy is the result of seeing someone else shoot a bigger, more impressive buck or bull and wishing you could have shot it. To put it another way (and to really get at the heart of the issue) it is what happens when you see how much attention that person is getting and you wish you could have that attention for yourself. Antler envy is completely based in insecurity and a desire to have the approval of the masses. It is this desire that has led some to fabricate stories and images in an attempt to garner some of this antler-based attention for themselves. This pursuit of inches and mass takes away the joy of hunting and the fulfillment of a quality harvest.
How to Combat the Threat
These manifestations of pride are the ultimate threat to hunting because it not only threatens the entity of hunting, but it also threatens the heritage of hunting as it will influence our children to view hunting through a completely different lens than previous generations. The only answer is to change how we view ourselves and how we view those around us in comparison.
Since I am a Christian and a pastor, I base my understanding of this in the Bible. There is a verse in the book of Philippians in which the Apostle Paul says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (While you may not agree with the Bible as justification for my position on this issue, you may still find the issue at hand to be true so let’s not get sidetracked on where we disagree). What this is saying is that we should be more focused on the big picture, the value of one another, and the real reason for what we do.
No human being has the right to elevate him or herself above another because we are all equally human. Instead, we should look to how we can build one another up, encourage one another, and seek to enrich the experience of everyone, not just ourselves.
Here are some tangible ways we can do this:
Being satisfied in your own successes
Whether your buck measure 170 inches or 70 inches, be satisfied in your filled tag. Don’t let others influence how you view your buck or bull. If you are glad to say that you harvested that animal, then be glad. Period. I once shot a 78 inch buck and was over the moon because it ended very long period of going home empty. I didn’t care about the size; I cared about the fact that this time I would be coming home with meat and satisfaction.
Being Content with What You Have
Contentment is not about stuff; it is about your heart. If your heart is greedy, you will never be content no matter how much great gear you have. On the contrary, when you recognize that you have what you need, you can enjoy true contentment and truly enjoy the things you have to the fullest.
Celebrating one another’s achievements
Instead of harassing someone who shot a small cow or a yearling buck, celebrate their achievement. Plenty of people went home empty last year so the fact that he or she filled a tag is impressive and should be celebrated. I see this happening a lot on Facebook in the various hunting groups I am a part of and I love seeing it. However, too often I also see people criticizing those who harvested a smaller animal and it breaks my heart. What if that was a first time hunter who will now never hunt again because someone felt it necessary to criticize? Was it worth it? I think not.
Pointing out the positive, not the negative
I see far too often where people will seek to negate the value of someone’s hunting experience by pointing out something negative. Someone might shoot an elk over water and someone will inevitably say, “That’s not real hunting to sit at a water hole.” That kind of statement is not only false, it is unhelpful and ultimately proud and self-serving. Instead of finding the one negative thing to focus on (which we are all too good at doing), choose to find something positive to say.
Viewing ourselves rightly
We are all very small parts of a much, much larger heritage that spans over centuries. For me to think that I somehow have a right to make hunting purely about me is foolish and short-sighted. Hunting is about all of us and the wildlife that God has entrusted to us. When I see myself as a tool for managing the resources on earth, I can rightly have a humble attitude that puts others before myself because, after all, I am just a part of something much greater than myself.
Let’s do away with the envy, ego, and arrogance that is poisoning our lifestyle. Let’s have a realistic view of hunting and of one another. Only then can we be sure that we are not falling victim to the threat of a self-centered, proud approach to hunting that will ultimately result in negativity and unethical behavior.