Are Trophy Hunting Photos Still Appropriate?

Should celebratory trophy photos go the way of the dodo bird? Should we avoid giving ammunition to the anti-hunters out there?

Trophy photos, and now video, are a source of pride and joy for hunters, and scorn and ridicule, for anti-hunters. It seems that hardly can a hunter share a photograph of himself on social media, kneeling behind an elk or deer or - god forbid - a bear without getting at least a few hate-filled comments from anti-hunters.

Share a photo of a successful hunter smiling next to some harvested African game animal and you'd think that he or she had just committed murder and is grinning next to the body of his/her latest victim. In fact, that is exactly what some anti-hunters charge legal and ethical hunters with: murder. It's ridiculous.

If you happen to be a well known hunter the animosity is through the roof. The mere sight of a celebratory hunting photograph sends antis into fits of rage. A trophy photo has them accusing hunters of being inhuman, lusting for the death of innocent creatures, engaging in the hunt solely for an alleged ego-boost, and has them calling for bans and even the deaths of the hunter and his or her family. It is incredible, the raw, negative emotion that trophy photos seem to elicit.

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And let's face it, anti-hunters have a loud and influential voice in today's world. Look at what happened with the "Cecil" the lion incident less than two years ago. The antis raised such a stink that some African countries banned exports of trophies and the USFWS banned trophy imports, much to the detriment of those African countries and the wildlife conservation programs that hunting helped fund.

Look at what happened when Rebecca Francis shot a giraffe, shared a few pics, and comedian Ricky Gervais got hold of it. Francis was at the center of a media firestorm led by Gervais, whose followers hurled an incredible amount of vitriol and hatred upon her. Same situation with Melissa Bachman, whose photo of herself posing with a culled lion started an avalanche of calls for her head and for a complete ban on all lion hunting.

Cameron Hanes was also inundated with threats and curses when he shared a photo of himself with an Alaskan brown bear he took. But the story is the same whether you're a well known hunter or not. Even little old me, a guy who very rarely posts any of my own hunting photos, has been called some pretty terrible things by anti-hunters. I've even been attacked for simply defending other hunters' pictures.

It seems clear that anti-hunters will use whatever ammunition they can, whether honestly or dishonestly, and that their goal is to ban hunting altogether. Trophy photos are a powerful tool in their war on hunting. They will rally behind a single photograph or video, raise their collective voice, and try to negatively impact hunting by putting pressure on politicians to institute stricter laws and outright hunting bans. And sometimes they are successful.

Just look at the wolf issue in the Midwest and Western states. Wolf numbers are growing unchecked and they are decimating populations of deer and elk, mainly because of a federal ban on managing them with regulated hunting and trapping seasons. Wolves have a tremendous lobby of unwitting anti-hunters, much to the eventual doom of wolves themselves.

Given that this is the world we live in today, is it time to seriously rethink our practice of sharing trophy photos and videos? If they are going to be seen and interpreted by people who have no understanding of their context and who are adamantly opposed to the hunting lifestyle, would it not be better to not give them the ammunition to bring us down in the first place?

I'm just asking the question here. I'm not suggesting that we succumb to the pressure.

But something has to change, or at least it should probably be addressed collectively.

I believe we need to be more sensitive in how we depict the hunt and especially the kill, not necessarily to appease or avoid giving ammo to anti-hunters (they'll do whatever it is they do regardless). But rather in consideration for the non-hunter, the person who doesn't hunt and who doesn't really have an opinion on the issue one way or the other.

Who knows what it might take to turn an uncommitted non-hunter into an anti-hunter? Could it be a photo of a poorly shot whitetail or coyote, covered in blood and held nonchalantly by a seemingly uncaring hunter, that leaves a bad taste in his or her mouth? Or maybe it's a video of the killing of a deer or bear, where hunters whoop it up and high five one another, seeming to gleefully celebrate the death of a magnificent creature?

That's generally not what really happens, we know. Typically it's normal and good to celebrate a successful stalk or the culmination of a long and grueling hunt. But that's where context is important. But you don't always get context from a single photograph or the kill shot on a video.

Should we, as the hunting community, dispense with sharing trophy photos or releasing videos that do not at least reference some context? Should we be critical of those in our ranks who post photos that are arguably in poor taste: people gleefully smiling atop dead animals as though the animal is little more than a prop, or photos of bloodied animals in awkward positions and tongues hanging out, that sort of thing?

Or should we remain unabashed in depicting the reality of the hunt? Should we not shy away from gut shots or head shots that blow most of the animal's skull away, or other graphic images? That too is reality, after all, and reality is what a lot of hunting videos especially lack, to the chagrin of many hunters.

There's a line somewhere, and it can be challenging to know where it lies.

I have come to somewhat dislike the image put out by Boone and Crockett Club that depicts what they consider to be the "ultimate field photo." It is, to be sure, a beautiful image, with all of the attributes of a great photo. It shows a hunter (John M. Phillips) kneeling behind a great bear he had just killed, hat in hand and looking solemnly at the bear with what might be described a mixture of regret and appreciation (below).

Let me be clear, this is a brilliant image. But emulating it in every photo also runs the risk of reducing the obvious emotion of the image to a caricature. Should we try to look somber and as though we're genuflecting reverently over every animal we harvest? I don't think so.

Hunting is a very "mixed emotion" kind of activity. Yes, there is regret and deep appreciation for the lives that are taken. But there is also great joy and euphoria, happiness and excitement.

I think it's fair to share these emotions too. But again, context is key. How do we infuse context into a single image? I don't know. We probably can't.

If hunters avoided sharing trophy photos on social media - if that were at all possible (it's not) - that would of course eliminate giving the antis' images they could use against us. But that ain't gonna happen. Perhaps the larger narrative can be altered a bit, though.

Maybe it's more an issue of just being aware that non-hunters may also see your photograph or view your video. Can we avoid giving anti-hunters the ammunition they desire? I think so. Or at least we can curtail it by being more thoughtful in the images and videos we share.

But I think more importantly, we have an opportunity to enlist more non-hunters to our side with thoughtful and even exciting and joyful hunting photos, sensitively portrayed and accompanied by contextual material.

So, to answer the initial question, yes, I believe trophy photos are still appropriate, regardless of how anti-hunters feel about them. We should not stop recording and sharing our hunts, as has been the practice since cavemen first painted on stone walls. We can, however, be a little more judicious and thoughtful in what we share with the world. And who knows, we may even get some non-hunters interested in giving hunting a try.

What do you think?

Like what you see here? You can read more great articles by David Smith at his Facebook page, Stumpjack Outdoors.

NEXT: In a Major Blow to Anti-Hunting Organizations, USFWS Decides to Allow Some Imported Lion Trophies