These are the most common mistakes when portraying hunting in American movies, TV and video games.
Portrayals of hunting have carried over widely into mainstream media over the years. Movies, television and video games in the United States have all shown the rich heritage of our favorite pastime at some time or another.
But more often than not, the portrayals are often filled with all sorts of errors. As a hunter who also enjoys movies, TV and video games, these errors are glaring and quite annoying.
The wrong animal in the wrong place
This one happens all the time. The animal the hunters shoot doesn't exist in the area where they were hunting! Perhaps the most prominent example of this is in the above clip from the 1978 film "The Deer Hunter." The film won five academy awards, but clearly not for accuracy.
First and foremost, it's a movie set in Pennsylvania. I feel pretty confident in saying that is NOT where they shot this scene, by the way. Regardless, this group of friends would be hunting whitetails in Pennsylvania. In later scenes, you can clearly see whitetail mounts on the wall in one character's house. But, the animal Robert De Niro shoots on their hunting trip isn't a whitetail at all. It appears to be a red stag, which aren't even in the U.S.
Look, I get this is an anti-war movie and not a hunting one, but it still bugs me to have such glaring mistakes like this.
The two hunting stereotypes
Hunter characters seem to only fall into two stereotypes. The first is a redneck or hillbilly that checks every box on the list of clichés. You know, someone like Stone Cold Steve Austin in the WWE or Rueben Soady in "Escanaba in da Moonlight." These guys follow ridiculous hunting traditions, vote conservative and drink heavily. Newsflash: not every hunter drinks and not all who do are drunks!
The other character is the rich trophy hunter. Think General Zaroff in "The Most Dangerous Game." This character has scads of money, but feels unfulfilled in life. So he or she spends it all traveling the world looking for bigger and better hunting challenges.
Another good example is Roland Tembo in "The Lost World: Jurassic Park." In a deleted scene, you see how Tembo is brought into the story with a hunt for a T-Rex used as a MacGuffin plot device. Thankfully, Roland is one of the few cases where the character isn't a villain. In Roland's last scene, he mourns more for the loss of his friend than his failure in securing the ultimate predator trophy.
But still, this isn't a realistic depiction of what is probably 99 percent of hunters. Yet, this is what we get nearly every time. Can we get a little more depth for hunter characters over here?
"Hunting season" means open season...on EVERYTHING
Far too many movies and TV shows make it seem as if there's just one hunting season where you can shoot whatever you want. It's always just "hunting season," and apparently anything and everything is legal to shoot with any weapon. There also tend to be no bag limits or size restrictions. The hunters go into the woods and just start unloading on everything that runs, flies, swims or crawls.
In the TV series, "Family Guy," the guys talk about hunting quail and pheasants and then a few seconds later Peter is sighting down a deer. You don't go from small game to big game in the blink of an eye like that. I know it's supposed to be comedy, but that's not how this works. This would be one of the first things you'd learn in a hunter education course.
Total disregard for laws
For some reason there's often no distinction made on screen between hunters and poachers. And, it usually isn't just wildlife crimes they're committing. In the "Rescuers Down Under," McLeach goes from poaching to kidnapping in a matter of a few scenes. He also has no qualms about attempted murder when he tries to kill Cody later in the movie.
To be fair, we're not saying a poacher can't make a great villain, but it would be nice to see a law-abiding hunter character to counter-act this stereotype. In the "Open Season" clip above, they lumped the poacher stereotype in with the redneck one. This is just lazy. However, it also makes us wonder how often the two are lumped into the same group by movie-goers who simply don't know any better.
The unrealistic anthropomorphism of animals aside, can we also talk about the weird timeline in "Bambi?" His mother is shot in the spring after Bambi's first winter. So technically Bambi's mom was shot by a poacher, not a hunter.
That also means Bambi is one year old at this point, but still the size of a newborn fawn with spots. Never mind the fact that in real life, a fawn loses its spots by its first fall and is usually on his own by the time he gets this old. I guess narrative trumped reality in this case.
While it happens in movies and television, terrible animal mistakes seem much more common in video games. "Grand Theft Auto 5" contained a "hunting" mission with Trevor in which he and his friend Cletus go off and hunt some "elk." The animals the characters end up shooting actually look like whitetail deer.
The whitetails in the game also make an elk-like bugle. And female elk are referred to as does instead of cows. Come on, didn't anyone do any research beforehand?
Sometimes it's just the size of the animal that ends up being unrealistic. Such is the case with "The Last of Us" on Playstation. I absolutely love this game. It's a gritty, emotional and grounded approach to a post-apocalyptic tale--except for one thing. The first time you play as Ellie, you control her as she hunts down a big buck somewhere in the mountains of Colorado.
The thing that always really bugged me about this scene was the ridiculous size of the buck. This thing would have put the Milo Hanson world-record buck to shame! The odds of anyone running into a buck this big are remote to say the least.
Why are hunters always wearing plaid in movies, TV and video games? I've watched far too many movies and TV shows where hunters are shown hunting for turkey or quail with rifles. One could write a book with all the ridiculous firearms mistakes alone.
Bows are often shown to be deadly accurate at long-range distances. How about the ridiculous use of knives in hunting scenes? Remember Rambo killing that hog with one in "First Blood?" Yep, that would be easy to do (insert eye roll here).
Some of these uses, like in the clip from "The Distinguished Gentlemen" shown above, may be meant to be satirical. But it doesn't do hunters any favors if most people aren't familiar enough with hunting to realize that.
Hunting is easy!
This is the worst one of all. It leads to a massive public perception that hunting is easy and the animal has no chance against humans. One can't just walk into the woods and mow down a turkey or an elk in mere minutes.
Until you've actually gone in the woods and tried to hunt an animal for yourself, you really have no idea how challenging it is or much work is involved.
For example, take the scene in "The Edge" where Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin kill a Kodiak bear using nothing more than a wooden spear and rocks. These guys would be bear poop in real life.
In "The Last of the Mohicans," Hawkeye makes it look easy with a running shot on an elk in the middle of a summer forest. Good luck making that shot in real life through all the foliage. The bull would likely be lost in the leaves before you could draw a bead on it.
Things are even worse in video games, where it's WAY too easy to harvest an animal. In some games like the western, "Red Dead Redemption," it's basically a shooting gallery on Xbox. Deer hunting is never this easy because no animals are this dumb in real life!
Just this weekend I finished playing the game "Detroit: Become Human." It's a great game, but the "deer" mount on the wall of a house that looked like a whitetail with moose antlers really bugged me. It really isn't that hard to research what a deer mount is supposed to look like! Sadly, these errors happen all the time.
Even some of the best hunting movies, like the African lion-hunting adventure, "The Ghost and the Darkness," are unfortunately riddled with errors. Michael Douglas' character was a complete fabrication that Hollywood added to this true story. Why? Was Val Kilmer's portrayal of Lt. Colonel John H. Patterson (a real person) not enough?
Unfortunately, I don't see these portrayals and mistakes going away any time soon. I really do hope anyone working within any of the mediums I've talked about here sees this article and realizes the many mistakes that are often made.
A little accuracy will go a long way in helping to bring in the hunting audience, and further legitimizing the finished product!