Let me start by saying that I have personal experience on how controversial this topic is.
In recent months, I have been viscously attacked and vilified on social media by people who disagree with hunting. I was labeled a "trophy hunter" because I killed a mountain lion.
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Not willing to just stand idily by and allow my attackers to berate the way of life I know and love, I have decided to take a stance on this and act on it.
There is a vast misunderstanding about what trophy hunting is, and this has resulted in hunters being ridiculed, threatened, and in extreme cases, even physically assaulted. What is most shocking though is that some of these attacks come from fellow hunters.
Female hunters, especially as of late, have become the primary target of choice for anti-hunters and animal activists. A single picture of a female posing with her kill can strike hate into the hearts of people who would even go so far as wish harm upon her and her family.
In a recent online post, a husband stated that his wife, a hunter, has had a $50,000 bounty placed on her head by anti-hunting activists for anyone that kills her.
"They've seen an increase in women hunters over the past several years and that makes them nervous," said Nick Pinizzotto, USSA president and CEO, in a recent "Sportsmen's Daily" article by Kali Parmley. "The increase in women hunters shows that our hunting heritage is not only being passed on from the father of the family, but from both parents. Certainly something that the antis don't want to see as it puts their agenda in great jeopardy."
Some anti-hunting activists find great pleasure in the irony of the hunter becoming the hunted; however, what is really ironic is that people who claim to have such a love for animals have no problem threatening physical and mental harm to a woman or child.
I have seen some anti-hunting organizations post pictures of youth hunters online, going so far as to publish their names, addresses and phone numbers. One labelled these children as "future mass murders," suggesting they are consumed with the idea of hunting for trophy.
When someone says they are a "trophy hunter," what does that really mean? Let's take a look:
Trophy hunting is the selective hunting of wild game animals. Although parts of the slain animal may be kept as a hunting "trophy" or "memorial" (usually the skin, antlers and/or head), the carcass itself is sometimes used as food.
Is your definition of trophy hunter the same as the definition above? Aren't all hunters, at some point and time, guilty of being a "trophy hunter?"
Why do we trophy hunt then?
Do you go out on the opening morning of deer season and shoot the first two-point buck you see? Or do you wait, hoping for a twelve-point monster?
Would you be happy hanging that two-point rack on your wall to show all of your friends? Wouldn't that twelve-point be more impressive?
What makes us decide to keep a "trophy" from the hunt? Is it for remembrance? A momento? Is this not a way to honor the animal?
Trophy hunters are selective in hunting and choose not to kill younger, less developed animals. Why?
Hunters still have to pay for licenses and, at times, trophy fees; the majority of this money goes towards conservation and education. Plenty of hunters who harvest an animal and don't use the meat will donate it to organizations who provide meals for those who desperately need it.
This past hunting season, I assisted a fellow hunter in quartering an elk he had harvested. He took all of the usable portions of the animal, leaving the leg bones and rib cage.
I sat on a hillside overlooking the carcass for hours, waiting to see if another elk would appear so that I could fill my tag. I watched coyotes, red tailed hawks, turkey buzzards, and a large bear all come in and eat what was left. They all had an easy meal that day because of a hunter.
I thought back to the rides I would take with my grandfather. When we saw a red tailed hawk, he would always say, "In order for him to live, another animal must die today."
With all of the debate over trophy hunting, can hunters and animal activists agree on anything?
Yes, both agree that poaching is deplorable and needs to be stopped. Fees paid by hunters go towards efforts to control poaching and other environmental enforcements, such as predator control and conservation.
Controlling predator populations is vitally important, and most hunters understand that importance. I have seen many online comments saying we should just let nature take care of itself. Starvation and disease are the direct result of "letting nature take care of itself." This is a very slow and painful death for any animal; I would much rather see animals managed and thriving.
Another point that animal activists and hunters agree on is conservation. Although both sides agree that there needs to be conservation, there are strong disagreements on how that conservation should be achieved.
I would personally love to see everyone agree to disagree and work towards the common goal of conservation. Unfortunately, what antis want is preservation, and that is not a sustainable option.
When did hunters decide to draw a line in the sand?
Some meat hunters say they will refuse to support trophy hunters, and vice versa. There is now a division of hunters, making all of us more vulnerable.
With division it becomes easier to pass laws to curb, or in some places, stop hunting altogether. The easier it becomes for antis to pass laws to control hunting, the more laws they will attempt to pass in the future. The worst thing the hunting community can do is turn against each other because of misinformation that is being circulated by extremist groups.
We need to all join together and take a stand.
If we continue to allow this behavior, we are saying that it's acceptable and will be tolerated. This is the ultimate goal of the anti-hunting activists, to outlaw all hunting and have its loss be acceptable and tolerated in society.
Pinizzotto said, "As sportsmen, it is important that we all stand together and be accepting of the legal goals and methods of fellow hunters even if they differ from our own. Anti-hunters actively look for issues that they can use to divide sportsmen, and trophy hunting is one that they seem particularly keen on. Make no mistake. Their ultimate goal is to end all types of hunting."
The goal of these groups is not to stop what they consider "trophy hunting," but to put a complete moratorium on hunting. Antis attack trophy hunters because it's easier to push their agenda based on emotional responses from photos and other propaganda.
Factual information is, conveniently, not included with their pictures or articles as consistently as it should be.
Antis have gone as far as to claim that women hunt for sexual gratification, and men who hunt have been shown to have small genitals.
Certain parts of these groups are also trying to push an agenda of a total vegan society and at times are trying to force people to become vegan. Wouldn't their time be better spent promoting sustainable ideas for the ethical treatment of animals that are either raised or hunted for food?
I can absolutely respect a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle; what I don't agree with, though, is a forceful attempt to get others to adopt the same lifestyle, especially through violence or the threat of violence.
I realize some people will never understand or agree with hunting; I can accept that and even respect it. Human beings attacking one another though, with such hate and malevolence, should never be promoted or tolerated.
In some cases, women and children are being threatened with violence, rape, torture, and even death. This is allowed and often encouraged on many anti-hunting social media pages.
When do we say "Enough is enough," and that this behavior is wholly inappropriate?
I know I have taken a stance, and I will continue to do so.
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If you are asking yourself, "What can I do?" or questioning whether you should even get involved, then ask yourself if hunting is important to you. If it is, then you will have your answer.
One way you can help is by joining organizations like the US Sportsmen's Alliance. They have partnered up with several other organizations to try and come up with plans and ideas to tackle this issue head on. Arm yourself with factual information on the benefits of hunting, and educate people when given the opportunity.
What can we do in the right here and now, though?
First, we can be respectful. I think we can all engage in a healthy and respectful debate without threats, name calling, or harassment. I feel that social media has allowed people to remove themselves emotionally, and in doing so, they have lost respect, dignity, decency and compassion for other human beings.
I am saddened and appalled by what I have seen, and I truly hope that there will be change; and that change starts with each and everyone one of us.
"Before you act, listen. Before you react, think. Before you spend, earn. Before you criticize, wait. Before you pray, forgive. Before you quit, try."
- William Arthur Ward
If you find yourself in the middle of one of these anti-hunting attacks, please contact your local law enforcement agency immediately! You may also reach out to myself or the US Sportsmen's Alliance.
And before you judge anyone, whether they are a hunter, an anti-hunter or someone in between, take the time to learn about them. Absorb lots of information, but don't believe everything you read. Search for the truth, and take a stance when you find it.
In the near future, I plan to share my side of the mountain lion hunting story that earned me international recognition, both good and bad. I hope you will hear me out, understand where I am coming from, and give me the respect that I and all others deserve, regardless of your stance on hunting or "trophy hunting."
My story has been covered from every angle but my own. Please take the time to know me before you judge me, or better yet, leave the judgment out and agree to disagree if need be. I plan to do my best to answer many of the questions I've posed.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in a respectful conversation with an animal activist, and we found that we had a lot in common despite our differences. She had also been a victim of viscous attacks and death threats because of her views. We don't always see eye to eye, but I respect the fact that she is standing up for what she believes in and doing it because it's what she feels in her heart.
I don't agree with the attacks on hunters and I will never condone attacks on anti-hunters. There is a better way to handle the issues at hand, and I am proof that this is possible. I want to encourage cooperation, peaceful debates and respectful interactions. Above all else, maintain respect, because we're all living in this world together.
If you wish, please weigh in on the trophy hunting and meat hunting debate in the comments section below. I would love to hear your respectful, educated responses to how you feel about the issue, but please take any ill will or mean spirits elsewhere. There's no room for that here.
Until we find the perfect balance of dignity, experience and of course conservation, all we can do is keep working towards it, every day of our lives.