What goes through your head when a non-hunter unexpectedly asks you about hunting? If it’s someone you know well, it’s no big deal. But if it’s someone at work you don’t know personally, you may be wary. And if that non-hunter is a stranger, you might even feel defensive… will there be an argument?
It’s sad but true — as a hunter, you might feel like a minority, outnumbered in a world that increasingly thinks hunting is obsolete and barbaric. Non-hunters can range from the mildly curious to those with specific reasonable questions, all the way up to militant protesters. Which one is it going to be today?
Read on. I’m here to share my observations and tips for having good communication with non-hunters, and it all starts with one word: Respect.
First, a couple of examples of respect in action: a great Reddit thread started by a vegan who genuinely wanted to know why hunters hunted. Within 24 hours, his very respectful approach prompted 125+ hunters to respond with heartfelt insight. If only more non-hunters were like this self-proclaimed “hippy animal lover”!
And in “What I Learned From Talking to Non-Hunters,” a lifelong hunter shares his winning formula for breaking through to non-hunters. As with the Reddit thread, his heartfelt and respectful approach made the difference. The good stuff starts with his numbered subheads about halfway in.
These two posts make the philosophical case for respect. Now it’s time to review some proven techniques. You can start by explaining that hundreds of years of law and tradition have shaped what hunters do today.
Hunting is Regulated
Hunting seasons coincide with breeding and migration patterns, so animals aren’t hunted during critical periods of their life cycle. Game wardens are quick to levy hefty fines on anyone hunting the wrong animals at the wrong time of year. This helps to maintain the balance between predator and prey populations.
Bag limits are the number of specific animals a hunter can kill during a hunting season. This prevents over-harvesting. Again, game wardens in the field oversee the process.
Hunting equipment is also controlled to make sure that hunting is conducted in a fair and safe manner. For example, certain scopes and silencers are restricted to minimize unfair advantages.
‘Fair match’ principles require that hunters use equipment and techniques that provide a reasonable chance of success but not an unfair advantage. For example, some may find the use of cellular trail cameras and thermal scopes give hunters an unfair advantage.
‘Wanton waste’ laws require hunters to make reasonable efforts to retrieve and use as much of the animal as possible, including the meat, hide, and bones. This not only helps to reduce animal waste but also promotes responsible hunting practices.
The Pittman-Robertson Act is a 1937 federal law that imposes an 11% excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment. The money generated is then used to fund wildlife conservation, including habitat preservation, wildlife research, and hunter-education programs. It also creates jobs in rural communities.
Wildlife conservation programs in the US are primarily funded by hunters paying their Pittman-Robertson taxes, and those programs are very effective. However, without funding from hunters, conservation efforts would suffer or even fail unless non-hunters as a whole donated significantly and consistently.
Hunting is Ethical
Hunting is a way of life, dating deep into prehistory. As omnivores, meat & dairy provide us with protein, and plants offer carbohydrates and vitamins. We need both. In any case, animals will die so that we may live. With hunters, that process hasn’t changed much over the centuries. Humans have only recently lost that intimate connection with the meat on their tables.
In modern cultures, hunting is typically limited to those with rural traditions or outdoor lifestyles. Boys (mostly) grow up with fathers and relatives who hunt and routinely put meat on the table. Guns and bows are the tools of the trade, and hunters are craftsmen with professional skills and ethical standards. It’s a proud and valued way of life, much more honest than the automated meat factories that fill grocery store shelves.
Ancient cultures respected hunters, and hunters respected the animals they harvested. For example, Native Americans often had respectful rituals to thank hunted animals for their sacrifice and ask for forgiveness. In addition, they often used every part of the animal and took precautions to avoid overhunting.
Modern hunters don’t depend on taking game in the same deep sense, but gratitude and respect are still at the core of the modern hunting credo. And regulations strengthen the ‘fair match’ and ‘wanton waste’ principles and fund conservation efforts that benefit animal populations.
Hunting is Conservation
Hunters and non-hunters all agree that conservation is essential but interpret it differently — hunters think of themselves as conservationists because they help balance predator/prey populations. Non-hunters only see a seemingly large number of animals being killed and conclude that populations are being decimated.
Note: I downplay this point when talking to non-hunters since it’s seldom a personal motivator for hunters. No one I know gets up before sunrise and says, “I’m off to balance the predator/prey ratios.” I don’t think I’d trust a guy who talked like that!
Practical Steps — Before, During & After Your Hunt
Now it’s time to demonstrate respect in your approach. If you want a non-hunter to truly ‘get’ your very valid and personal reasons for hunting…
- DO act in public as if you represent hunters as a whole… because you do.
- Do NOT offend non-hunters with nasty bumper stickers, t-shirt sayings, combative language, or public displays of bloody hunting trophies.
- DO respect private property and get advance permission from landowners. Explain your hunting plans, ask for their advice, and play by their rules.
- Do NOT be intoxicated during the hunt or when out in public wearing the gear or camo ‘uniform’ of a hunter.
- DO store your animals and weapons out of sight in public situations.
- Do NOT touch or otherwise engage with anti-hunters. Break contact, don’t escalate.
- DO embody the hunting ethics described above along with related principles like ‘Leave No Trace’ — be prepared; pack out your waste; travel and camp on durable surfaces; leave what you find; don’t scar the landscape; don’t pollute water sources; etc.
How to Communicate With Non-Hunters
When people engage you with hunting-related questions, try to determine the general nature of their interest, then their specific questions or issues. If it feels like a good-faith encounter, share your personal experiences and opinions and ask for theirs in return.
For example, if someone asks me, “Doesn’t it bother you to kill another living creature?” I might start my reply with, “Well, my dad was a hunter, as was his dad…” and then share my personal take on the points mentioned in the “Hunting is Ethical” section above. I’d describe my family’s tradition and talk about appreciating “the bounty of the harvest” as the hunter’s core experience.
Above all, I’d try to stay focused on the one thing I know for sure — how I feel deep inside about hunting. Then I’d ask the other person to share on the same level, about their thoughts on the topic.
Listen carefully to the other person. Check your understanding periodically by telling them what you think you heard them say. This builds trust and keeps things on track. If the other person responds in kind, you might just have a genuine connection, and both learn something of value.
Encounters in the Field
Sometimes discussions with non-hunters are low-key and occur in public places, with your firearms safely stashed in the truck. At other times, you may be in the field and still carrying weapons. This last scenario can be scary for both parties, so make your presence known well in advance by being noisy. Also, consider stowing your guns out of sight. Be friendly and non-threatening.
If you’re unlucky and end up facing angry anti-hunting protesters, de-escalate in every way possible. Definitely stow your firearms and avoid all references to them or your harvest. Don’t be goaded into overreacting — always act like a civil and level-headed adult. Disengage quickly and keep moving.
Of course, taking notes or videos of such interactions is only sensible. Jot down names, vehicle info, license plates, etc. Such confrontations are rare, but you’ll want to have the details on file if they happen.
Building Respect With Non-Hunters is Key
Don’t let the previous section discourage you. Most non-hunters you’ll encounter during the season are friendly and curious. They may have had hunting-related questions for a long time and hope you can answer them.
When people want to talk about hunting, show respect by responding in a direct, honest, and heartfelt way. Don’t deliver a righteous speech, and gently insist on the same courtesy from them. Be patient and act in good faith.
When there’s mutual respect, the result is usually good communication, even when disagreements remain. Without mutual respect, chances are it’s just a tirade. Who needs that? Walk away in the most mature way you can muster. Focus on wrapping up your current hunt and start planning the next one!
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Last Updated on August 1, 2023