It often appears in the media that hunting is under attack. Hunters usually respond by sharing a standard line of pro-hunting arguments. As practical as some of these arguments are, many of them are counterproductive. By looking at them more closely and considering the values we share with our audience, we can deliver our message more effectively to those who do not already agree with us, and communicate what matters to us in a more dynamic way.
Argument 1: There are more game animals today than in the early 1900s because of hunters.
Just because there are more game animals today, that fact doesn’t prove it’s because of hunters. The argument gains credibility when it includes the relevant information that hunters have invested funds and spearheaded conservation movements that brought back wildlife populations. However, an objective first reaction would be to question how many game animals are healthy for the environment (more is not always better in the minds of anti-hunters, who believe game populations are kept artificially high for hunters), whether hunters deserve all the credit, and whether this effort reflects the present efforts of hunters, and not just the past.
A better argument will focus on how the perspective of a hunter informs our reason for conserving wild animal populations. Someone once said, “The predator husbands his prey.” Hunters do this out of a desire to care for the woods, prairies and mountains animals call home. Our activism is part of an “outdoor atavism” engrained in the hunter. We envision abundant wild game and wild places because they call to something deep in every human spirit. A hunter takes this responsibility seriously, and that is why we contribute our time and money to conservation causes, which benefit all wildlife, not just game animals.
Revised statement: Hunters have successfully advocated for safeguarding wild animal populations and environments since the 1900s.
Argument 2: Hunters pay for conservation.
There’s a saying, “It ain’t bragging if you do it,” but every time we praise ourselves to those who disagree, we do little to bridge the gap between us, or create a better understanding. It may be true that no one gives more to habitat, research and wildlife enforcement work than hunters do, but an objective person will not necessarily conclude that hunters have single-handedly pioneered and funded the American conservation system. Instead, they are left to defend their own contributions, or argue that lands managed for hunting are purchased and maintained with tax dollars, despite the number of Americans who do not hunt.
A better argument focuses not on how much we pay, but on how and why we lead the charge in securing permanent and dedicated funding for wildlife and habitat conservation. We can follow up by expressing our desire to continue and expand user-pays public benefits policies and explore partnerships to share our conservation ethic with those who do not understand hunting’s value to a healthy environment. It doesn’t matter to the objective nonhunter that we are affluent; what matters is that we are ambassadors, naturalists and conservationists of land and game held in the public trust.
Revised statement: Hunters demonstrate responsibility for healthy animal populations and environments by leading wildlife and habitat conservation funding and initiatives.
Argument 3: Hunting has a high approval rating.
Hunters often cite statistics showing that 85 percent of American adults approve of hunting. These numbers might be so high because hunters are recognized as a positive force for conservation, or because they’re associated with a cultural tradition or lifestyle. But whatever the reason for the rating, the opinion of most Americans is not relevant when it comes to an argument about right and wrong. Just because something is popular, doesn’t necessarily make it right.. This argument also invites objections to certain less-popular types of hunting, such as trophy hunting. The moral debate about hunting can never be resolved by an insistence that the animal-welfare ethic is outnumbered.
A better argument provides the credibility behind the claim. In the United States, wildlife is held in public trust and access to wild lands and wildlife is shared equitably and sustained for present and future generations. Under this system, hunters actively participate in environments that few others are lucky enough to even see, but the appeal of hunting to nonhunters may be found in the basic desire to share in the freedom epitomized by wild places The information hunters provide in the form of harvest reports and conservation dollars are valuable to the scientific management of game, but the values that inform our hunts are shared by many people.
Revised statement: Hunters’ valuable contributions to conservation and quality of life have earned hunting an 85 percent approval rating.
Argument 4: Hunting is good for the economy.
Hunting is important to our economy, but when hunters focus on this argument, we often miss the point. The economic value of an activity does little to justify it in the eyes of those who object on moral grounds, or who fail to understand what hunting means in economic numbers or otherwise. Consider another industry that humans have been involved in for about as long as hunting: Pornography is also arguably good for the economy, but that fact does little to change whether an individual feels it’s wrong or right.Hunters are said to spend billions a year, but economics are concerned with material prosperity, not what’s good for the soul.
Hunting is good for the economy, but the importance of this can’t be expressed in terms of economic trends alone. A more effective argument focuses on the shared values driving the growth in service industries (particularly in the West) centered around quality of life and protected public lands. The dollars spent by hunters are made more valuable by the fact that hunters often partner with conservation groups to advance policies that protect the outdoors. In a culture desperate to reconnect with wildlife and wild lands, this value far exceeds a mere financial return on investment.
Revised statement: Hunting stimulates growth in communities, and creates a greater investment in the outdoors.
Argument 5: Hunting is a wildlife management tool.
Often when we cite this argument we discuss the ways in which hunting helps to balance wildlife populations with what the land can support, which limits crop damage, increases highway safety, and curtails disease outbreaks. Hunters help manage growing numbers of predators, such as cougars, bears and wolves—species which many people romanticize or misunderstand. The fact that we are “more than willing to pay for the opportunity” to hunt predators does little to endear us to those who claim to respect those predators’ lives. If we characterize ourselves as predator-hating bounty hunters, we alienate ourselves from the shared values we have withpeople who love these animals from a less practical standpoint.
A better argument focuses on the fact that hunters are partners in conservation. We are willing to provide our field skills and information to science; we hunt not just because we are willing to pay or willing to kill, but because we are willing to serve. Most of us have as many stories of sacrifice as we do trophies. Think about the times we didn’t take the shot, or the times we exercised voluntary restraint in game selection. We didn’t take those actions because our government needed game management help; we took them because we knew it was best for the game. Those stories show us in our true light. If we share our stories, and not just our victories, we send the message that we consider our hunting responsibilities sacred, and err on the side of what is best for the animals.
Revised statement: Hunters are partners in conservation and wildlife management.
Beyond the hunting arguments, the best advocacy for hunting may be our ability to share the deeply personal reason that calls us to the field again and again. It is not our legal or financial right that make us hunters, or even hunting’s practical value. Likewise, those things are not what appeal to nonhunters. It is respect for life—our own, our families’, and that of the creatures that inhabit our world—that makes up our hunting heritage. And by expressing that respect, we can make a connection.
Read Christine Cunningham’s column, “The Edge” here.
Christine Cunningham is a lifelong Alaskan, author and outdoor columnist known for her contributions to outdoor magazines and her commitment to creating opportunities for women to connect and share their stories. Her first book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” profiles some of Alaska’s most outstanding female hunters. View all posts by Christine Cunningham