Saving Private Hunting
The Big Picture Can Enhance the 3 Rs
by Michael Sabbeth
I begin with an anecdote. On the first day of class for most of the twenty years or so I taught my ethics program to young children, I handed out a questionnaire. The first question was: “Who are your heroes?” The second question was: “Why are those persons your heroes?” I summarize the answers. To question 1, almost all children named their parents. For question 2, the youngsters described the traits that created their heroes: they made the child stronger; they made the child a better person; they taught the child right from wrong. The children’s heroes inspired them to reach beyond themselves.
I see an analogy to ensuring hunting’s future. Demography is destiny. Hunting’s demographic future is troublesome. We all know hunters are decreasing as are Pittman-Robertson hunting dollars. If it is accurate that hunting is approaching a metaphoric iceberg, and I think it is, then it must rapidly change course and develop agile and effective strategies as the best hope to avoid disaster.
Causation and the Big Picture
I assert that a successful future for hunting can best be achieved by instilling in young hunters (frankly, all hunters) the same characteristics my young students identified in their heroes. The magnificent 3 R programs—recruitment, retention and reactivation of hunters—should be enhanced by teaching what I call The Big Picture. The Big Picture incorporates demography, the foundation of our hunting culture, an awareness of causation and recognizing the hunter’s ethical duty of stewardship of wildlife and their duty to defend and advance hunting.
I argue preserving hunting requires a paradigm shift from focusing on the fun, the physical challenges and tasty meals inherent in hunting to enriching the wisdom cultivated in and the strengthening of character of young hunters. Young hunters should become aware that hunting imposes demands on them.
Every hunter education instructor and student know about the North American Model (NAM), the foundational principles of public hunting in the United States. I suggest understanding the NAM is merely a jumping off point for understanding the modern hunting culture. That the NAM principles exist—wildlife being a public resource, science should guide wildlife management etc.—is not divinely ordained but is the consequence of specific laws, institutions, policies and cultural norms. What we had yesterday and today are not guaranteed for tomorrow. Hunting as we know it exists because of specific facts. Hunting will survive only if specific actions occur. In his valuable volume, Inherit the Hunt, Jim Posewitz writes: “,
“Having the abundance and diversity of wildlife we live with today is neither luck nor accident. It is the result of hard, purposeful work. It was done by people of ordinary means and by people blessed with special talents and opportunity. What they had in common was that they chose to be hunters and there was room in our culture for anyone who made that choice.”
Interactions with young hunters should include teaching that the NAM and our hunting culture exist because of our unique political economy where, among other fundamental traits, our legal system allows individuals to possess and use firearms (at the moment), that our tax system leaves (at the moment) sufficient discretionary income for hunters to buy hunting equipment and licenses, and which has a transportation system that enables hunters to freely travel this nation and beyond. The United States is unique among nations.
Students should be taught that these systems and rights and privileges are fragile. They can be lost quickly, perhaps forever. They can only survive if every hunter commits to exercising his and her opportunity to be informed, engaged and to act politically to defend and advance our rare and vulnerable system. These are the duties of the hunters. Abdicating them will cause hunting to dissipate like smoke at a campfire. Indeed, hunters may become an endangered species.
This is the Big Picture in its most skeletal iteration. Thus, I hope the reader sees that hunting’s Big Picture is symbolic of a larger aggregation of rights and liberties and freedoms. The hunter that is taught the relationships among hunting, conservation, economic liberty and political freedom will tenaciously commit to be a life-long hunter, whether he or she ever steps into the field.
The 3 Rs
The 3 Rs programs represent the unified effort of the hunting community to attract and retain hunters. As a subset of the 3 Rs programs, Steve Hall, Hunter Education Coordinator of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, adds four additional Rs, which contour the practical application of the 3 Rs: Responsibility, Respect, Restraint and Resource.
The programs are diverse and remarkably creative. “Field to fork” 3 R events are popular and successfully draw new hunters. Everyone has fun, which is not surprising when great food that the individuals harvested is served. The challenging question is whether these excellent programs are sufficient to cause people to commit to hunting? A commitment to hunting within this context is more likely if the Big Picture principles are shared.
Two years ago, I attended an inspiring conference in Lincoln, Nebraska, sponsored by the Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports (CAHSS), arguably the leading authority and promoter of the 3 Rs, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). I routinely read the superb articles and data Samantha Pedder disseminates from The R3 Community, a network dedicated to advancing the 3 Rs, part of CAHSS.
Most exhilarating for me was the workshop on mentoring, where I met dozens of mentors of unsurpassed dedication, wisdom and experience. Each mentor I conversed with agreed that integrating these Big Picture principles into their work had value. When the mentors engage with the youngsters, where the rubber meets the road, as a saying goes, these Big Picture principles can profoundly influence a young hunter’s commitment to hunting.
Give the ‘Why’
In addition to teaching causation, a commitment to hunting can be nurtured by giving the “why” of hunting. Every hunter education course contains material illustrating the success of wildlife conservation through hunting. Hunters hunt for many reasons, of course, such as experiencing Nature’s Majesty, solitude, physical challenges and high-quality meat. Almost all are motivated, in part by hunting’s conservation ethic.
Conveying the ‘why’ of hunting may be the most powerful and persuasive component of the Big Picture. As stated by Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, in his acclaimed book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “The primary human drive is not pleasure but the pursuit of what we find meaningful.”
A skill for explaining the ‘why’ of hunting is to show the young hunter how hunting advances his or her own values. Every hunter will say they want wildlife to survive; to be healthy and minimize diseases and poaching. They will acknowledge the value of scientific game management. Those values can only be realized from hunting. Explained that way, hunting is a moral duty.
Another method to explain the ‘why’ persuasively is to link hunting with excellence, honor and self-discipline. The hunter hunts to become a better person. Aristotle insightfully observed that excellence is not an act but a habit. Hunting teaches excellence through the habit of the development of moral character. These concepts draw people to hunting like a magnet draws iron particles.
Colleague John Linquist of the Midway USA Foundation shared his concern that much of the hunting community was looking “at the microcosm for solutions and not the macrocosm.” He lamented the demographic threat and acknowledged the need to increase hunting’s appeal beyond a predominantly white male activity. John recognized that hunting’s survival is largely a function of linking hunting to a purpose higher than harvesting wildlife. John advocated the Big Picture.
I recently interviewed young hunters for an article. With pride they expressed why contributing to animal conservation and the preservation of hunting gave meaning to their activity. I was surprised (perhaps I should not have been) when several told me that being part of a larger community of shared values and experiences was one of the greatest values and sources of meaning in hunting.
I wrote earlier that demography is destiny. There is more to the equation. I look to the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who stated “Character is destiny.” Like a violin string resonating across all generations and demographics, advancing the Big Picture and enhancing character and wisdom can unify all constituencies. As my young students observed, everyone wants to become stronger and a better person.
About the Author: Michael Sabbeth is a lawyer, author and consultant in Denver, Colorado. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org See his book The Good, The Bad & The Difference: How to Talk with Children About Values. On Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/c5flmmu and and through Kindle as an EBook. He is currently completing a book for young hunters titled The Path of the Honorable Hunter: A Call to Action to Defend and Advance Hunting