Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Competitive Hunting--BARF!

I just watched an episode of Drury Outdoors’ “Dream Season, Redemption” and I came away from the television with exactly the same sense of revulsion that I came away with the first time I tried to watch a Drury Outdoors segment. The company executives may have convinced themselves that they have “revolutionized” outdoor programming but I believe the only thing they are doing is chain handing anti-hunting ammunition to the anti-community.

I want to give you a good understanding of why I reacted so strongly to this program.

First, here are some of my hunting values that relate to this issue:
1. I support ethical trophy hunting. Long ago wildlife biologists convinced me that trophy hunting is a form of predation that removes older bucks and bulls thus allowing their progeny to strengthen the gene pool.
2. I support scoring trophy deer and I support the B&C, Safari Club and other trophy scoring programs. They provide a system of ranking the animal against other animals—not against hunters. Scoring can be for a “found” trophy or one taken by a hunter.
3. I enjoy looking at mounts of trophy deer (and other animals) and both my home and office are adorned with the mounts of big game that I have taken here and in Africa.

But, I can’t buy into the idea of teams of hunters heading into the country for the purpose of shooting deer or other big animals for “points” in a television program. Hunting is not about “points” between competing teams of hunters. The competition, if there is going to be one, is between the hunter and his quarry. Can the hunter overcome the terrain and all the other elements that nature can muster to stop the hunter? I believe this is why the trophy becomes something of importance—the hunter has overcome nature’s obstacles to kill that animal (not harvest, that’s what the biologists do--manage the harvest).

There have been animals I have hunted and the animal won—a lion, a kudu and a magnificent mule deer, all beat me and I am just as proud of those hunts as those when I was successful. As for those store run local big buck contests, I’ve seen and heard of more complaining than compliments and often jealousy among winners and losers in these contests has broken up friendships. Sometimes, when the prize is substantial (which is always a relative term) there have been allegations of cheating that has led to fights, threats and even criminal charges. Contests rarely work and often it is a case of “is the book worth the candle?” when considering a big buck contest.

When I switched off the television this evening I had to think about what I’d watched. The massive deer taken by Bonnie McFerrin, which is supposed to be the largest deer ever killed by a woman hunter in Texas, was fantastic. When I first switched the set on it was right in the middle of her hunt sequence and the deer was crossing in front of her stand. The shot of her hitting the deer with an arrow was excellent photography. In fact, everything about the sequence was well done and I was pleased for her—until I found out that the “score” was for a competitive hunt and at that point I became disgusted. What had been a magnificent trophy became a scorecard, no different than the NFL scoreboard on Sunday afternoon.

My revulsion to competition in hunting is not new. It is rooted in the work of one of our most important authors—Ernest Hemingway. He was an incredibly competitive hunter who was constantly comparing the size of the trophies he killed with those of others on the hunts. He was apparently equally competitive whether shooting pigeons in Cuba, pheasants in Idaho or lions in Africa. But he did recognize one fact about his competitive nature—it was destructive. When he wrote Green Hills of Africa Hemingway’s obsession with being competitive becomes a poison in the camp that taints his hunting and it is a foundational part of the book. An excellent examination of this is the critical study: Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa As Evolutionary Narrative: Helix and Scimitar by Bredahl and Drake. The authors break the novel down so the destructive nature of the competition on the hunt is clearly understood whether you are an academic or just the average reader interested in learning more about Hemingway’s writing.

I first read Hemingway’s “Green Hills” when I was in what is now Middle School. My father bought me a copy and surprisingly I managed to recognize some of the tension brought about by the competition. Still, I was passionate about the book and it led me to Ruark and many other writers, but the sense of the competition having cast a pall over the hunt stayed with me and I do remember talking with my favorite English teacher (she is also responsible for my becoming a writer) about the book. As I came to understand more of the internal issues of that book (and Hemingway) it generated a guiding principle for me about hunting that has stayed with me—when competition is introduced to the hunt, no matter how good natured the competition may first be—it will create a poison.

Some people in the broadcasting side of our industry may have convinced themselves that competitive hunting programs are good for hunting but I do not agree. Competitive hunting will lead to nothing but problems and poison in the outdoor industry. Those individuals at Drury and The Outdoor Channel may have the First Amendment on their side but they don’t have the welfare of the future of hunting on their minds—all they seem to hear is the clink of silver.

Does anyone agree with me?



Phillip said...

Galen, I'm with you and then some.

For my part, I don't like the B&C, P&Y, and other scoring and record-keeping organizations precisely because they foster that competitive element. I can see some potential benefits of keeping records of trophies, but I feel those benefits are rapidly being outweighed by the over-emphasis on trophy acquisition.

Like many hunters, I'm always tickled when the animal that falls to my gun or bow is a really fine specimen. I'm not likely to pass up a shot on a trophy elk or deer, should the opportunity present itself. But I'll be honest... given an equal shot at a humongous bull and a healthy, younger animal, I'm apt to take the younger one. It'll eat better, and everything else that went into the hunt will be the same.

I am slow to judge every other hunter by my own ethical measure, but I do feel the huge upwelling of competitive hunting will become a source of significant problems within our sport (if not in the environment itself). With trophy farmed whitetails growing 400" racks and the disdain so many show toward killing does and lesser animals, we're on a path to completely lose track of hunting as a wildlife management tool.

Just some thoughts...

Galen Geer said...

I'm with you on the eating thing. My father always made a point that you "can't eat horns!" When given a choice I will always opt for a doe or cow tag.
As for the scoring system. It took me a long time to accept the idea of the scoring system and when I did we didn't have all of this TV crap corrupting the ideas behind it. I am sure that the B&C scoring founders are not thrilled with the direction it has all taken. How far do those people who are force growing large antlers think they can push it. At some point nature is going to revolt and God knows what will happen to the deer.


SimplyOutdoors said...

I pretty much agree with you. I do think the B&C and P&Y have their place in the hunting world: they provide a place for animals to be scored against each other.

I don't think hunting should be about competition, and I definitely don't agree with the scoring system, but I can relate to the show to some degree, though. I have an older brother, and we tend to naturally make everything into a competition, hunting included.

That being said, though, it's just good-natured ribbing and picking between brothers, not a scoring system broadcast to millions of people.

Very interesting post.

Albert A Rasch said...

Well said fellows.

I hunt. Not necessarily for any reason other than to hunt. Sometimes I kill something, most of the time I don't.

Competitive hunting. Bah! What a bunch of crap. We (Americans) have always been a competitive lot. But to compete for kills, horns, or bag loses all respect for the hunt.

Great subject, I hope lots of folks come and comment! I'll highlight this on Saturday's Rodeo.

Best Regards,
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles.
Reviewing the Nikon Monarch 8X42.

Tovar Cerulli said...

Good post and comments, all!

I, too, find the competitive element distasteful.

This past fall, the deer who happened to come my way was fairly large. When I checked it in at the local station, one of the guys said I should have chipped a few dollars into the store's "deer pool." No thanks.

NorCal Cazadora said...

I'm a little torn on this one.

I'm an extremely competitive person, and I constantly measure my performance against my No. 1 hunting buddy's and against my previous year's performance. I'd like to think that this is a manifestation of my desire to become a more effective hunter, but I can't 100 percent rule out less noble motivations.

That said, there are some types of competitive hunting that I find really distasteful, particularly when the goal is to kill the most animals. This is probably anthropomorphizing way too much, but putting myselves in the animals' shoes, I'm thinking being killed for food isn't so bad, because that's the way of the world. But being killed for bragging rights? Not so much.

So individual motivation is what matters most to me. What if we had a contest to kill the most delicious-tasting X type of animal? This would foster hunters making what are to me wise decisions in choice of animal and shot placement. That wouldn't bother me.

But I'm not sure even positive individual motivation makes contest killing any more appealing to the non-hunting public.

Eric C. Nuse said...

I too feel that moving hunting from a sport to an athletic event is the wrong way to go. Sport is something you do for the joy of the activity. Which is exactly why I do it; quality meat, friendship, population management are all wonderful side benefits, but they aren't what get me up at 4 am everyday turkey hunting. Athletics are done with a goal of winning or in this case killing a bigger deer than the next guy. That is the goal, if you don't win you come in second, you are the loser.
In my years of experience as a game warden this attitude is what pushes some to violate game laws, break the safety rules and throw ethics to the winds. The lessons from athletics like basketball is, if breaking the rules helps you and the team win, then do it.
In hunting it means endangering the future and reducing the pleasure of the hunt for the majority who respect the animals we hunt and honor the hunt.

Tovar Cerulli said...

I'm on board with your sensibilities here, Eric. "Sport," though, is a word that I think may have outlived its usefulness as a descriptor for hunting. I understand the definition you're using and the way Jim Tantillo argues for it, yet in common usage today it is, I think, too closely linked both to athletics and to spectator events.

Lisa S. said...

Pttttoui, accckkkkkkk. My husband, also a 'Nam vet was trained in quick point in 1968-69.
He does hit what he shoots.
I am the woman who makes what he shoots into fabulous cuisine. I do not hunt, but certainly have an appreciation for those who do.

That said; There is a fine history of competitive shooting. Competitive hunting, not at all. The antis and PETA will be all over this and rightfully so. Just my opinion, but as other posters have noted, a wonderful hunt doesn't always mean shots are fired.

One of my husbands favorite hunts was for coyote. After a long snowy stalk, the coyote ended up huffing on my hubby's neck from behind. The coyote won that round, but still a successful hunt.

My first visit to your blog, not the last. Thanks!

Galen Geer said...

Wow! Some truly great comments and observations.
I can see where every answer is coming from. I really agree with Eric's notion that this sort of thing is what leads people to getting into trouble. We can't say these people are weak or have other problems, sometimes the desire to compete, which is a natural thing in us (maybe a leftover from the early days of impressing the female?), is truly abused.
Something that was tossed at me during a conversation at our Wildlife and Gun Club's annual dinner/auction was the idea that as the drive in competition increases and those participants demand larger and larger trophies isn't there a tipping point in the species where we begin to cause serious harm to the genetics of the species?
Maybe a warning bell?
PS Welcome to Lisa!

Cork Graham said...

Galen --

This is just the tip of the iceberg of what's been happening with "outdoors" programming in the last 10 years. When I first noticed the hunting/fishing shows in the mid-1990s on local stations, I was pleased and excited.

There was worth in what I was viewing: lessons in hunting/fishing, great how-tos and through the teaching a chance for excitement missed out on because I wasn't personally in the field.

As programming has changed ( the channels used to buy the content and got the advertising themselves, instead of like now, channels requiring the producer to get the advertising themselves and purchase airtime...and not even getting the full 10 mins to sell!), it has turned more into either a glory hogging of an hour for show a host as a 'mighty hunter' or it's a 20 min. TV ad for the title sponsor.

Personally, I was going to go the route of one of the outdoor channels for my show, but having seen the writing on the wall (over saturation), and how the Internet is now really the new cable TV of mid1980s to Ted Turner, offering what you want when you want it, I've actually put my skills taught to me during the first multi-media journalism class at San Francisco State to very rewarding use, offering a full multimedia experience for outdoors enthusiasts along the lines of what I used to enjoy hunting magazines, and outdoor shows during the 1990s.

Sure, we don't charge the much bigger bucks of the other shows for our sponsors, but we don't have to! And our viewership/readership doesn't have to first purchase satellite programming services to get access.

...And when we're getting 12,000 hits a day at Cork's Outdoors (magazine/TV/radio) our advertisers can be sure our visitors are coming for hunting/fishing/cooking and not ATV racing or gold mining: true market targeting!

With how our visitors can already download the episodes through Real Media for full screen viewing, I wouldn't be surprised if in the next 5 years all TV programming is delivered through the Internet.

In the TV business, they call these hunt competition shows "Jumping the Shark"...

Hog Hunting Texas said...

Really i can't believe it man thanks for sharing.

Galen Geer said...

Hey Hog Hunting Texes, To whom is your comment directed? Can you expand it for us? glg

NorCal Cazadora said...

Boy, it pisses me off enough when sex spammers clog my comments, but when fellow hunters start spamming my blog, I get pretty irked. And I make a mental note never to visit their hunt club, or say anything nice about it, ever. Are you listening, Centex?

Galen Geer said...

Do you know that person? glg

NorCal Cazadora said...

Only in that I've seen this person spam other blogs.

Galen Geer said...

Okay, I am going to be stupid here for a moment. For what purpose is this jackass doing this? What is to be gained? I did go over and look at the website connected with the address and was unipressed. Did Cork's post with all the information about his tv thing trigger the spam? Do they have some sort of crawler that looks for key words, like number of hits, and then hits the blog to trigger people going to their website. If that's the case I've got a couple of good friends in their area who ride choppers and are always looking for, well, you know...