Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hunting and Web 2.0 – Is YouTube hurting hunters’ image?

It’s ironic that I am writing a post about hunting and open-source web material on a blog! Undoubtedly public web sources for hunting can be great for learning, reviewing and meeting likeminded outdoors people. There are lots of interesting blogs, forums, podcasts and video sites with tips, tutorials, information sharing and entertainment for hunters and shooters; I know this because I chew up a little too much time on these! However there is much on the web, most notably videos, which leave me feeling uneasy…
I have given this topic quite a bit of thought, usually after seeing some video on YouTube that leaves me feeling like I should be looking over my shoulder to make sure no-one saw what I was just watching! My point is that sources like YouTube are full of just terrible examples of why short clips can do a lot of damage to hunter PR. Now I have to pick my argument carefully here as there are some very obvious potential holes for criticism.

Ostensibly I am fretting about creating a façade for hunter PR that a critic might rebut by saying “well that’s how it is, why are you trying to hide the all-to-common truth of unacceptable hunter behaviour?” I certainly am not, and we know that the majority is not unacceptable. It can easily appear unacceptable though. I see so many attempts at making videos by ‘regular hunters’ doing what they do legally and with sufficient conscience that are too easily amplified into a distasteful spectacle that leaves a grim impression. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and if anything looks offensive it’s going to be highlighted as the norm and stereotypical of the hunting community.

I am also conscious of avoiding embarking on a path to elitism. My goal is to avoid silly arguments about one form of hunting being superior to a another or one group of hunters being role models while others who act differently to me, although still fundamentally acceptable, being labeled as ‘slobs’.

Understanding the feeling of culminating a hunt with the kill is such an intimate and personal event; a set of emotions that are strongly esoteric and difficult to articulate to an outsider. Furthermore because the emotions associated with the kill are deeply visceral, hunters’ responses run the gamut from quiet reflection or even remorse, through to high fiving and jubilation. Who hasn’t shouted YES YES YES or THANK YOU! and pumped your fists with joy? This is especially true when you have really worked hard and turned a low probability situation into success. I tend to be quietly introspective in those moments but believe I have personally covered a wide range of emotional responses in the field and each one of them is perfectly acceptable in my opinion. However, even after watching umpteen hours of hunting videos I can understand why some might find the jubilation at the quick and simple kills we see in many videos, to be distasteful.

Many countries with well managed wildlife populations and a vibrant hunting tradition are significantly urbanised e.g. USA 77%, Canada 79%, Australia 76%, Germany 88%, UK 90%, South Africa 60%, Argentina 88% and so on. This means that the majority of the population, by virtue of geography, are largely or totally divorced from food production, interaction with non-pet animals, many ‘first hand’ ecological phenomena and spending appreciable time in the outdoors, unless they make a concerted effort otherwise. Even ardent meat eaters may have never seen the origin of their bacon and often don’t want to know. Luckily the locavore movement seems to be willingly eroding this reality rift.

Back to my personal concern - if someone stumbles across a typical video online they are likely to experience this: Panning camera, bush, panning….animal…zoom…focus…whispering something like “ok take him, quick!”…animal….BANG. Animals hunches, leaps and takes off in a mad dash, starts to falter and crashes to the ground, legs kicking, then still. Next thing “WOOHOO! YEAH! ALRIGHT! Awe man, that was awesome, I am pumped YEAH!” As a hunter I can usually understand the context but if I couldn’t I would have just seen, in a few seconds, an animal get shot (which I have likely never seen before) and then some people get really excited because of it. No preamble, no context, no sense of anticipation or preparation, no information on what’s going on, all of which could help attenuate the focus of concern – this being that someone just took a few seconds to kill an animal and was elated about it. If this is totally out of the purview of someone’s lifestyle or realm of thought it’s understandable that they may be upset. Even well-made clips often leave me feeling like they could be grossly misconstrued by the non-hunting public.

In addition I would like to see the editors of these clips use a little more judgement on what they upload for public viewing. Mistakes happen and sometimes things don’t go as planned. When you are in situ you are committed to the unpleasantness of a wounded animal or slower-than-planned kill for example. The few ‘not as planned’ kills I have been involved with have all been resolved rapidly and I maintain that the vast majority of animals taken by hunters expire more humanely, certainly live more humanely, than those raised under industrial agriculture. However if you film it, edit it and CHOOSE to show it I think it lacks a little ‘professionalism’ and consideration if you upload a clip that appears questionable in its finished form; especially given the earlier point that a kill on film can never convey the emotion or capture the spirit of the moment.

It is important to reiterate that I am not suggesting for one minute that we play cover up. Not at all, be proud of what we do! By all means, upload videos (or photos) to open source sites, but take a minute to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, someone with little interest in learning more about what we do and a who can easily be turned against what we do within a few seconds of misinterpretation. That dislike can turn into antipathy that can be mobilized politically or socially against your privilege or right to hunt. Think about it.

©Brian Joubert

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