Everyone's entitled to an opinion, but I want people to understand why I hunt.
Remember 10 years ago when you didn't know your friends' political positions? Remember when Facebook was nothing more than a place to share vacation photos and find out who was getting married next?
Somewhere along the way, those days became olden, now reachable only by reminiscing when modern ethos become too overwhelming. As a byproduct, our country has become so divided in the last decade that agree-to-disagree dialogues have become extinct.
Perhaps the shift in these societal norms can be entirely blamed on the surge of social media and the realness of the "fake news" paradox.
Maybe the harsh transition between two polar-opposite presidencies was the perfect storm for a country supported by a teetering balance of tradition and progress.
Regardless of how we got here, the fact is the two halves of our country can't see eye to eye, and seemingly refuse to try.
We're in the midst of a political climate dominated by gun violence and the push-and-pull struggle for increased regulation. And, it's no secret the next election will almost certainly come down to this very topic.
However, although the gun control debate has raged for decades, I've never seen hunting at the center of so many discussions.
Veganism has gained tremendous popularity in recent years, as has the condemnation of hunting practices.
It's no different from any other modern political controversy, either, in that any kind of middle ground is nonexistent.
However, unlike any other American strife, the disconnect stems from an absolute difference in experience and exposure. There's no middle ground because you've either hunted or you haven't, plain and simple.
Surely you've seen the animal rights Facebook pages that trash "trophy hunters." You've read the countless comments suggesting awful things about someone standing over an exotic animal.
As hunters, it's tough looking at one of those pages where we're so greatly outnumbered, knowing all of those people are missing a wide range of facts, only further fueling their own misinformed fury.
But I truly think most Americans are sick of arguing and want nothing more than to be understood. And, as an outdoorsman who loves hunting and hates talking politics, I think it's time to finally address you, my vegan, anti-hunting friends.
To the anti-hunters:
I respect your intentions. You aren't wrong. Many animals live an unfair life. It's easy to eat a cheeseburger until you see where it came from. I get that.
Throughout my life, I've learned the vast majority of people want to be the good guys. There's some force that drives all of us to do what we believe is right. And, with the information you're receiving, I think it would be hard for you to believe hunting isn't bad.
As for those who don't approve of hunting, I will say I can appreciate the cohesiveness of a true vegan's stance. Though we differ in opinion, those of you who can abstain from all meat and dairy certainly deserve an ear.
More importantly, though, you're consistent. I won't pretend like it isn't harder to point out flaws in someone's argument when they make it a point to avoid contradicting themselves.
If you don't abstain from all meat and dairy, though, you're condoning a much harsher fate for an animal than falling to a hunter in the wild. The go-to line, "if you eat meat, you can't hate on hunting," is a legitimate one. Opposing hunting while still eating farm-raised meat is a colossal contradiction.
So I ask you, what is it you're truly protesting? What is it you're truly defending?
You don't understand how someone could kill an animal "for fun." You have an especially strong stance against trophy hunting. Hunting with a gun isn't a fair fight. As a society, we don't need to hunt anymore.
I'm in the ballpark, yeah?
From a hunter who sincerely hopes only to be understood, I can tell you it's not about killing an animal. The actual kill is nothing more than the final step, and one that really doesn't happen as often or as easily as you think. It's very common for hunters to end a season without harvesting a deer.
Hunters don't seek a rush derived from ending an animal's life. We seek the challenge of tapping into our most primal instincts, and long for the reward of eating something earned. It's a very raw, yet pure feeling, but isn't depicted as such across most media platforms.
Additionally, I can't speak for every hunter, but I've personally never shot an animal or cleaned a fish without mourning its death to some degree. This is exactly where the disconnect lies.
No one thinks about the cow when they eat a burger. But when you harvest an animal yourself, especially if it demanded excessive time and effort, you discover this indescribable respect for the animal. You feel a sadness in knowing something had to die for you to eat, but a much, much stronger sense of gratitude for this specific creature.
Without feeling it for yourself, you could never understand. I could never expect you to.
I don't know anyone who gets off on slaying as many animals as they can, yet there's unquestionably a stigma surrounding hunters that crafts a heartless picture with blood instead of paint.
Second, I've touched on trophy hunting in other articles, but will ask again, what is it? Are you referring to the act of hunting a game animal and not keeping the meat? If so, people don't do that--not legally anyway.
I'm not going to sit here and act like people don't break the law, but couldn't we say that about anything we regulate with legislation?
Or, are you referring to people going to Africa and killing lions, elephants and other exotic animals? This is the most common one I hear, so what is the argument? That some animals are majestic and some aren't? You're OK with someone shooting a deer and eating it, but you're not OK with someone shooting an elephant and feeding an entire village?
At the risk of fellow hunters calling me out, I'll be the first to say I don't have an interest in hunting a lot of those zoo-type African animals. But, it's not like I have a sound argument for why someone else shouldn't.
If you were to point to something like poachers killing endangered rhinos, again, it's already illegal.
So, if we're going to draw the line of ethical hunting at the feet of trophy hunters, we need to first give trophy hunting a proper definition.
Third, hunting with a gun is actually better for the animal. If you shoot a deer with a bow and hit it in a bad spot, it will almost always die eventually. The idea behind hunting with a gun isn't only to improve hunter efficiency, but also to limit animals' suffering. Hunting with a bow is undoubtedly more challenging, but neither is more or less ethical.
Plus, the shot is often the easiest part of the hunt, regardless of what you're using. Any hunter will tell you the true challenge is being in the right place at the right time, which means studying your quarry, the land and the weather.
Fourth, most of those who oppose hunting don't know the ecological benefits involved.
As an example, I partake in just about everything I can in the outdoors, meaning I pay close to $200 to the state of Texas in licenses and permits every year. All of that money directly funds wildlife conservation.
Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States and the founder of the National Wildlife Refuge System, once said, "In a civilized and cultivated country, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen. The excellent people who protest against all hunting, and consider sportsmen as enemies of wildlife, are ignorant of the fact that in reality, the genuine sportsman is by all odds the most important factor in keeping larger and more valuable wild creatures from total extermination."
Funding aside, hunting itself plays an imperative role in wildlife management. Humans have always played a part in the ecosystem, so removing ourselves only disrupts balance for other species. Similarly, if you removed deer, predators would have much less to feed on. If you removed predators, prey populations would skyrocket, etc.
Through generations of research, we've learned how to maintain that balance. There's a reason wildlife agencies are desperate for hunting recruitment.
There are more obvious examples, too, such as the feral hog crisis in the South. As nonnative pigs continue to destroy habitat and resources for other species, southern states have turned to hunters in desperation.
Maybe this is low-hanging fruit, but how many animal-vehicle collisions do you think there would be in rural towns if whitetail populations weren't kept in check?
If you still don't feel swayed, how far does veganism go? Will you still feed your dog food made from farm-raised chickens? Will you ever stop killing spiders in your kitchen? Will tigers ever eat grass?
I can accept that a non-hunter feels a sentimental connection to certain animals. I can even accept your grievances over me posting a photo with a harvested animal.
I just want to agree to disagree, and I want to be understood.