mountain lion trophy hunter
Facebook: Franny Esplin via Prairie Protection Colorado

Remember the Colorado Hunter Who Was Shamed for Killing a Mountain Lion?

Are these photos too gruesome, or are some of the reactions too dramatic?

In the latest "trophy hunting" controversy, we see a hunter from Colorado taking some serious heat after posting some bloodier photos with a mountain lion on Facebook.

Franny Esplin's post included photos and video footage of her hunt, in which she used dogs equipped with GPS collars. In the caption, she said it was something that was always at the top of her bucket list and that it put her "on cloud 9."

Shortly after, however, an environmental activist group called Prairie Protection Colorado posted her pictures to its own page, calling her a "sadistic killer."

"It's a trophy hunt," Deanna Meyer, the executive director for PPC, told FOX31. "They're taking animals for joy."

Meyer stressed a distinct difference between "ethical hunting" and "trophy hunting," stating the latter is motivated by the "complete glee and elation (expressed by hunters) at the kills that they've performed," whereas ethical hunting is exclusively motivated by survival and food.

Esplin did point out, however, that she used everything she could from the cat, prompting pro-hunting commenters to point out the flaws in calling her a trophy hunter.

"My family relies on that meat from hunting as a way to feed us," Esplin told INSIDER. "We can't always go to the store and buy meat where the animals were treated horribly and abused in feed lots."

Colorado Parks and Wildlife told FOX31 it had no plan to investigate Esplin's hunt, as it's legal to hunt mountain lions with a permit, which Esplin had.

However, Meyer still sees a distinct difference between Esplin's harvest and an ethical one.

"I do not find anything wrong at all with ethical hunting," she told FOX31. "To me that doesn't include selfies of the dead animal with laughing and elation."

Let's weigh in

I think we need to start by defining the term "trophy hunter."

By true definition, trophy hunting is the hunting of wild game for human recreation. However, there are other loose interpretations of the term, as many believe it's any hunting that ends with a picture that glorifies the success of the hunt. Some believe it's when people go and hunt a game animal, cut off the antlered head and leave the rest to rot. Others believe it's when people go to Africa and drop $20,000 to shoot an elephant for the hell of it.

Another common occurrence is people throwing trophy hunting and Africa's rhino poaching crisis in the same sentence.

From what I can see, no one really knows what a trophy hunter is. It seems to me activists use the term interchangeably to legitimize why some hunting is cruel and some isn't, which in turn appeals to more people with a neutral position.

However, I generally maintain that in any major controversy, neither side is absolutely right. Without delving into all the intricacies of the overarching debate, I think we can take a seat at both sides of this particular table.

First, what exactly is the difference between shooting a mountain lion and shooting a deer if you eat both? Why don't whitetail deer, the most heavily hunted animal in the United States, get the same attention? Why don't bobwhite quail, which have seen an 85-percent population decline in the last 50 years, have activists lining up to stand against upland bird hunting?

What makes keeping antlers from a whitetail on your own property any different than keeping the hide from a grizzly in Canada?

There is no difference—no rational one anyway. There are only the different levels of emotion people feel for each animal. People see an elephant or a giraffe and think of being at the zoo as a kid. They see a bear or a mountain lion and recognize its extraordinary appearance.

But when you look at the difference between animals that get attention from activist groups and those that don't, "trophy hunting" is mostly referring to the hunting of cute or majestic animals that people rarely get to observe. Furthermore, it's simply the term people use for the hunting they don't like to see.

Shooting a game animal, taking its head and leaving the body is illegal, as is poaching rhinos in Africa. It's not to say these things never happens, but they're already illegal, and any true hunter will stand with an animal rights activist to deter those who abuse wildlife with these practices.

Hunters are the main source of income for wildlife conservation agencies, a fact activists often ignore. And, in possessing a permit, Esplin paid her dues.

As she and so many other hunters point out, you can't attack hunters if you're OK with eating meat. Similarly, if you're OK with feeding your dog store-bought food that contains farm-raised chicken, decrying hunters would be grossly hypocritical.

The only other angle to this would be the posting of photos and videos, which I do believe is a fair debate.

As a hunter, I think I should be allowed to share photos of my experiences with my family and friends. But, I try very hard to do it with class.

Most importantly, I try to do the animal the justice it deserves. I've never been on any easy hunt, which is a tip of the cap to the wild animals I've had the privilege to encounter. So if I'm taking a photo with one, I want to give it the respect it deserves.

Esplin did not help herself here. As hunters, we're in a never-ending battle against anti-hunters, and posting photos riddled with blood is only diminishing our credibility as stewards of the land.

She certainly didn't do anything illegal here, and I wouldn't call this a case of trophy hunting (whatever that means), but I don't think it's outlandish to call this slightly disrespectful.

She was obviously excited about a harvest, which I can absolutely relate to. I'd be pumped if I shot a mountain lion, too. But as a community that's constantly catching flack, we have to remember that we all represent each other.

In addition to the photos, her caption included the line, "My sweet Bobby had to climb the tree to get the cat out because he got hung up on the branch he was laying on (oooops..)."

It's a bad look for all of us.

Non-hunters, educate yourselves on all wildlife and hunters' role in conservation. Hunters, approach public forums with delicacy, and exhibit the respect we all have for wildlife.