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Winning the War Against Attacks on Trophy Hunting

By Michael G. Sabbeth


Trophy Hunting Is a Virtue

In much of the organized hunting world, ‘trophy hunting’ denotes a virtue. For example, this past September at the CITES Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, a resolution on trade in hunting trophies was adopted unanimously recognizing that:

“Well-managed and sustainable trophy hunting is consistent with and contributes to species conservation, as it provides both livelihood opportunities for rural communities and incentives for habitat conservation, and generates benefits which can be invested for conservation purposes.”

The April 2016 Briefing Paper of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) addressed bans on trophy hunting imports. The Paper stated, in part:

“However, legal well-regulated trophy hunting programs can—and do—play an important role in delivering benefits for both wildlife conservation and for the livelihoods and wellbeing of indigenous and local communities living with wildlife. Well-managed trophy hunting, which takes place in many parts of the world, can and does generate critically needed incentives and revenue for government, private and community landowners to maintain and restore wildlife as a land use and to carry out conservation actions, (including anti-poaching interventions). In many parts of the world indigenous and local communities have chosen to use trophy hunting as a strategy for conservation of their wildlife and to improve sustainable livelihoods.”

Trophy hunting would seem to be an unqualified good for animal conservation and enriching human communities. What’s the problem?

Fighting Back Against the Abuse of Words

“What's in a name?

That which we call rose by another other name would smell as sweet.”

Juliet, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II


Words have power. Words are elastic material with which one can make whatever one wants. Words show biases. Words frame issues. Word shape arguments. As the brilliant George Orwell wrote, “Those who control the language control the argument, and those who control the argument will win the argument!”

I have written and lectured that a war of abusive words is being ferociously waged against hunters through the profligate use of the phrase “trophy hunter.” The phrase has become weaponized. For the anti-hunter, the phrase is the sordid equivalent of such thuggish accusatory phrases presently degrading our culture such as ‘racist’ or ‘homophobe’ or ‘fascist’ or ‘Nazi,’ vile charges hoped long dead but which have arisen like the crabgrass in my lawn.


As with all effective propaganda, the anti-hunter uses the power of imagery to besmirch the hunter. Negative false extreme stereotypes of the hunter as a beer-swilling tobacco-spitting knuckle-dragging   murderer joyously slaughtering innocent beautiful animals out of blood lust and vanity are cultivated like world-class orchids. Not food nor game management nor the quest for a unique experience inspires the hunter, only braggadocio.

I offer verbal and analytical strategies to counterattack the derogatory ‘trophy hunter’ accusation.

In the movie of that name, Shrek points out that ogres have layers. That may be true but assuredly words and arguments and concepts have layers. The phrase 'trophy hunting' has layers.


Research by Mark Duda of Responsive Management discloses that the vast majority of Americans support hunting. But if asked if they support ‘trophy hunting,’  public support for hunting drops like an anchor. Why?


We must understand the logical and ethical defects in this anti-hunting attack. I offer six examples how the phrase ‘trophy hunter’ is abused. I offer, also, suggestions for using these insights to refute the attacks and regain control of the language, the argument and how to win the war of words.

FIRST, the phrase ‘trophy hunter’ and its variants are vague. In terms of rhetoric, this is an important characteristic. Paradoxically, the quality of vagueness is the source of the phrase’s power. It can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean—hunting an aged animal, hunting just for large horns, killing for joy, feeding your family, leaving the dead animal to rot. Whatever!  Vagueness enables easy attacks on the hunter’s morality. Vagueness facilitates intimidating hunters because they don’t know the terms of the attack. Vagueness shuts down discussions because the aggressor has control of the language and most hunters are not trained to respond under such an assault.

SECOND, the phrase is morally flawed. It is a type of logical fallacy called a strawman argument. The fallacy works like this. Since anything negative can be described as a trophy, all things negative become the strawman. It is easy to successfully attack a highly negative abstraction. Then the successful attack against the strawman—for example, attacking a hunter who kills an exotic animal for the mount and leaves the carcass to rot—is used to attack all hunters. An attack is made on one target and then the claim is made that another target was persuasively attacked.


THIRD, hunters have allowed anti-hunters to frame the issue, thus giving them control of the language. Hunters allowed them to frame trophy hunting in terms of INTENTIONS rather than of CONSEQUENCES. Why should the hunter’s intentions determine the morality of trophy hunting if the consequences are virtuous—clean water, more food for villagers; reducing poaching, conservation of animals?


FOURTH, we have allowed the anti-hunter to link an object—a trophy—with a process—hunting. They are unrelated. Either a hunting practice is justified by morality, sportsmanship and economics or it is not. The trophy aspect is irrelevant. We don’t use phrases like trophy soccer or trophy rugby or trophy tennis. We do have a phrase ‘trophy wife,’ but that’s a more complicated article.


FIFTH, there is a darker, more insidious aspect of trophy hunting analysis. Anti-hunters have conflated trophy hunting with poaching. The two activities have nothing in common. They are ethically opposite. The linkage is morally obscene. It cannot be accidental.  But, it is effective for undermining hunting and for vilifying hunters.

SIXTH, those who condemn trophy hunters; who call them murderers, have failed their moral duty to learn the facts and master the truth about hunting and its relationship to animal conservation and community development. By this failure, the anti-hunters are no more than smug uninformed bullies. They are frauds.


A challenge for hunters is that the anti-hunting attacks are Darwinian—they continue because they work. I suggest the attacks are from the reptilian part of the anti-hunter’s brain which does not value reason, judgment, logic or consequences. They value emotion and succumb to the powerful need to feel good and morally superior about themselves, despite the reality that their policies lead to the deaths of animals and the impoverishment of those who depend on hunters’ dollars and animals for food, anti-poaching programs and habitat enhancement.

In conclusion, I assert hunters can best defang this anti-hunting attack by understanding the components of the accusations against trophy hunting, see their defects and then craft arguments to refute them. We have the better arguments. Truth is on our side. Our arguments appeal to the decency of humanity. They will resonate with the vast middle of humanity who are currently uninformed about hunting but who value human and animal life. Let’s fight back!


Michael Sabbeth is the author of The Good, The Bad & The Difference: How to Talk with Children About Values. See He is currently writing the book Proud to Hunt: Tips for Being an Effective Instructor and Student




Fire Ants Change the Minds of Anti-Hunters

By Michael Sabbeth

This past April I participated in the Texas Hunter Education Annual Conference in Abilene. Rarely have I been in the presence of so many dedicated creative advocates for hunting, hunting ethics and hunting instruction. My presentation included examples of persuading hunting opponents and those neutral about hunting that hunting has benefits, including conservation and the respectful treatment of animals. The text of my talk is available on my website: .

After my talk, Texas Parks and Wildlife game warden Darla Barr approached me and shared an anecdote. Two anti-hunters disdainfully challenged Darla for advocating killing beautiful innocent animals. Darla’s response is a textbook example of effective persuasion. Her words transformed these anti-hunters into persons willing to give thoughtful informed consideration of hunting’s beneficial consequences.

Darla implemented her persuasion strategy with skillful precision. First, she elicited the values of her challengers. The opponents valued animal conservation, the preservation of habitat, acknowledged that animals die from causes other than hunting, such as from disease, injury and starvation and they valued reducing animal suffering.

Second, Darla described a typical hunt. One bullet, one arrow, is, in most instances, sufficient for the hunt. Not always, of course, but when it’s not, the ethical hunter will track the animal and end the suffering effectively. Darla also described reality in vivid detail. Starvation, disease and injury lead to brutal lingering deaths. The predators move in and rip the living animal apart. And the fire ants attack, savage merciless invaders that penetrate the eyes and nose and throat of the animal in excruciating fashion. Sugarcoating reality demeans the animals. Darla did not sugarcoat.  

Third, and most significant, Darla presented the ladies with a binary choice: hunt or do not hunt. Do you prefer a rapid ethical death or an extended painful one? Thirty seconds of pain or several weeks of pain? Darla demanded clarity of values from her audience. It’s either A or its B. You can’t have both. Which do you prefer? People tend to carve out exceptions or alternatives to reality to avoid making uncomfortable choices. This human tendency does not necessarily advance ethical thinking.

There is a tendency to romanticize the lives of animals, as if the mountain lion and the young fawn are lying together on a lush green forest floor as in an Henri Rousseau painting waiting for the arrival of gluten-free, locally-sourced, non-GMO organic broccoli and steamed rice. But that’s not life in Nature. Nature is death, disease, starvation and sometimes fire ants.

The young ladies changed their minds about hunting. They became educated. More importantly, Darla skillfully showed that hunting was consistent with their values. They opposed animal suffering and favored conservation. Even if the ladies will not hunt, their opposition disappeared. The fire ants may have persuaded them.

This article will be soon published in the "Our News" section of the website of Fiocchi USA 

Michael Sabbeth is a lawyer and writer in Denver, Colorado. See his book The Good, The Bad & The Difference: How to Talk with Children About Values. Available at



Michael's Latest Article

Follow Honor, Not Your Feelings 

By Michael G. Sabbeth 

A Colorado hunter education instructor shared this anecdote. He and his hunting buddies went on their annual elk hunt. One of the buddies had a fetish for taking long range shots, often at distances beyond his skill level. On a particular hunt, against the advice of his buddies, the hunter took a long range shot and wounded his elk. The hunting group spent two days tracking the wounded animal, which was never found. The hunting trip was ruined.  

The buddies told the hunter he was no longer invited to join their hunting group. The instructor told me it was painful and difficult to disinvite his friend. “I felt terrible, but it was the right thing to do. The hunter wounded animals and jeopardized our hunts.” I mentioned he could lose a friend. The instructor replied, “Maybe, but then he would not have been much of a friend.” 

The honorable hunter loves the hunt; loves the outdoors; loves the challenges preparing for the actual hunt often as much as the actual hunt. But love is not enough. Good intentions are not enough. Love must be intertwined with virtue and duty. When love is divorced from virtue and duty, you have neither love nor virtue nor duty. You have chaos.  

In many of my lectures and articles, I talk about the black rhinoceros hunts auctioned by the Dallas Safari Club. In the briefest summary, the rhino to be hunted had killed several young rhinos. The money to be raised would finance anti-poaching programs, enhance local water systems, and enrich schools.  

The attacks on the hunting auction were intense. The hunt was described as ‘barbaric.’ Let us go beyond the words of the attackers and examine their values. They valued the life of a post-reproductive rhino that had killed young animals more than the lives of young rhinos, cleaner water for the indigenous population and anti-poaching programs that would have saved more rhinos.  

Hunters are often accused of lacking compassion. Those who favored the DSC rhino hunt had more compassion than the opponents—compassion for increasing rhino populations, for the lives of the local human populations and for combating poaching. To have value and meaning, compassion must be built on a foundation of moral virtue. Just feeling good about yourself is morally worthless.  

Following feelings can be destructive. You should follow your values, but even that suggestion needs qualification. To be worth following, your values must be based on virtue and wisdom. Wisdom requires judgment and self-discipline.  

Risking wounding an animal by making a shot beyond your skill level is not a virtuous value. Risking people’s lives by riding in a truck with a loaded firearm is not a virtuous value. Exceeding game limits by playing the odds you won’t get caught is not a virtuous value.  

The honorable hunter seeks truth, but truth is not an end. Truth is the jumping off point for moral action. As M said to Max Denbeigh in the James Bond movie Spectre: “A license to kill is also a license not to kill. You must be sure when you pull the trigger.” The honorable hunter always asks this question: “Is the world better because I am in it?”    

Michael Sabbeth is the author of the new book, The Honorable Hunter: How To Honorably & Persuasively Defend & Promote Hunting.  

Thanks for checking out my site! Please come back soon for more interesting news!

Michael G. Sabbeth is a lawyer in Denver, Colorado. He lectures on ethics and rhetoric. He has written the book "The Good, The Bad and The Difference: How to Talk with Children About Values." & is now working on a book titled "No More Apologizing! Arguments to Defend and Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports."



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