January 14, 2022
Over the course of the last decade, the hunting community has seen an influx of what could be called non-traditional new hunters. It’s somewhat of a broad generalization to say the traditional hunter is white, male, and, likely, rural. However, we can all agree this has been the persistent stereotype for the last 100 years. Today, there are more women afield than ever. The number of people of color who are taking up the hunt is increasing. And even urban dwellers are heading to into the woods in growing numbers. All these new, and unique, hunters are a welcome addition to our ranks. A more diverse hunting community creates a stronger voice against the anti-hunting movement. It also equals a wider outreach into the world to educate non-hunters about the role hunters play in wildlife conservation and management. And therein lies a problem.
Recruiting a new hunter not only introduces that person to the outdoors, but also opens a door into his or her entire community. So it’s imperative we educate them about all aspects of hunting in hopes they will come to spread the gospel. We teach this new hunter firearm handling for safety and educate them on wildlife behavior and hope they’ll be successful. Whether through mentorship or media like this magazine, we do a fair job of teaching them how to hunt. But are we doing a good enough job teaching them why we hunt? Sure, we’re quick to pound our chest about the history of hunter-conservationists (and rightly so), but are we educating them on how hunters are one of the most important tools in the wildlife management toolbox?
I bring this up here because it’s a question that really needs to be raised when it comes to predator hunting. Over the course of the last year or two, I’ve seen a marked increase in people who identify as hunters asking: “Why should we hunt predators?” These people like hearing a wolf howl or seeing a coyote sneaking through the brush. (And, honestly, I do, too.) They put predators on a pedestal and wonder why these interesting and elusive creatures should be killed.
Surveys among new hunters show that one of the main reasons—if not the main reason—people are interested in hunting is the procurement of healthy, sustainable meat. The field-to-table movement has brought more people into our fold than any other recruitment effort. And that’s great. I would bet most “traditional” hunters would point to the chunk of backstrap on the grill when asked about why they hunt. But this quest for healthy, humanely killed food raises a corollary to the earlier question: “If you’re not going to eat an animal, why would you shoot it?”
By not educating new recruits on the “how” and “why” of wildlife management—and the hunter’s role in it—we’ve created a rift in the hunting community. Some of this blame falls on modern media outlets that rely on followers and chase ever-elusive “engagement” to generate revenue. They like to pit meat eaters against trophy hunters. More controversy means more clicks, meaning more dollars for the investors financing the whole operation. Other hunter-led organizations fail to support predator hunting legislation or stay silent when it comes to predator reintroduction efforts.
Traditional or long-time hunters (me included) are not completely innocent, either. If we keep ignoring the growing tide of anti-predator hunting sentiment among our ranks, we’re likely to get swamped by it. It’s already happened in Washington, which lost its spring black bear season because of apathy among hunters, and it’s happening in several other states as well, where anti-predator hunting legislation has been introduced and is moving forward.
So I challenge you, dear Reader, to spread the word about why predator hunting is vital to managing all game populations. Resist the urge to fall into the easy trap of making predators out to be the enemy. These new hunters get turned off by phrases like: “The only good wolf is a dead wolf.” Instead, educate yourself on the facts. Learn about fawn predation by coyotes in the Midwest and moose calf recruitment in the grizzly-rich environment of Interior Alaska. When asked by a new hunter “Are you going to eat that wolf?” tell them “No, but by killing that one wolf I’ve saved as many as 20 elk this year. And that’s 20 more elk for you to hunt next fall.” Explain to them that without predator hunting—and, for that matter, trapping—populations of the game they hunt to eat would plummet. It’s already happening in areas where apex predators are protected—just look at the predator pits created by the mismanagement of grizzlies in the northern Rockies and wolves in the upper Midwest. And if we don’t do something, it could happen in your backyard, too.