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More Than A Hunt At The Hixon Ranch

by Michael G. Sabbeth

Sometimes an event is infused with a meaning, a character, that goes beyond the details of the event itself. The experience has a message and an ethos that inspire the participants to pursue a higher virtuous purpose. The Heritage Hunt at the Hixon Ranch was such an event.

This past November 7th through the 9th, the Hixon Land and Cattle Ranch near Cotulla, Texas hosted the winners of the 2015 IHEA-USA Heritage Hunt. The hunt is sponsored by Focus Group, Inc. in partnership with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA-USA). Hunter education students Bailey Maier from New York, Tim Coe from Kentucky and Madi DeGarmo from Idaho won an all-expense paid ‘hunt of a lifetime’ when their entries were drawn from those submitted to the IHEA Heritage Hunt contest in the Hunter’s Handbook, ( the official student publication of the IHEA-USA.

To qualify to win, all students must have successfully passed a sanctioned IHEA course in North America. Rick Webber from Washington and Theodore Loftis, Sr. from Tennessee were the winning volunteer hunter education instructors invited to join this special event.

Focus Group pays for and sponsors The Heritage Hunt along with a generous grant from the SCI Sables. Additionally, Focus Group partners including Buck Knives, Cabela’s, Federal Ammunition, Under Armour, Mossberg, HIVIZ Sights and GrovTec, made in-kind contributions. All filming was done by videographer Cody Prather with CarecoTV based in San Antonio, Texas.

The transcendent themes of the Heritage Hunt are captured in Focus Group President Brian Thurston’s eloquent statement: “This hunt allows Hunter’s Handbook and its partners to not only award instructors for their hard work and dedication in the field, but also offers young hunters a unique experience that will keep them engaged in hunting while learning hands-on field safety and hunting success.”

The Hixon Land and Cattle Ranch

The ranch is owned by Karen and Tim Hixon, two gracious and charitably-disposed people steeped for decades in Texas conservation programs and organizations. The Hixons began buying ranch properties in 1964 in the Texas Valley of South Texas and now have acquired approximately 13,000 acres. The main ranch house has a high vaulted ceiling of massive timber and a 180-degree expanse of towering windows that seamlessly bring the magnificent acreage to the viewers’ eyes. Rough-hewn wood tables and comfortable plush leather chairs and sofas create a welcoming atmosphere. Dozens of shelves are populated with Indian and cowboy art and artifacts; animal trophies decorate the walls. Signed photographs of notables such as John Wayne and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans are tucked away in smaller rooms radiating from the main salon and dining room.


Timo, Karen and Tim’s son, participated in every facet of the program. Two years ago Steve Hall, then Executive Director of the IHEA-USA and now TPWD’s Texas Hunter Education Coordinator, asked Tim and his parents to host the program. Timo agreed because he and his family recognized the role of youth hunting in game management, conservation and protecting hunting’s future. The Heritage Hunt was another extension of their past involvement in programs such as TPWD and Texas Wildlife Association’s Youth Hunting Program ( Steve pointed out “We wouldn’t have youth hunting on private lands in Texas without folks like the Hixons. This is awesome!” Events such as the Heritage Hunt punch into the solar plexus of what Steve Hall laments as the current status of modern youth: a Nature Deficit Disorder.

Timo explained that the Heritage Hunt is important to him and his family because young people are the future of hunting and without these experiences, hunting, and its heritage will be lost. “These hunts are a way for my family to advance a culture, instill respect for the land and the animals and pass those values to the next generation.” Particularly meaningful to Timo was seeing the bonding between a young hunter and his or her parent or mentor. “They smile together. They work together. They succeed and fail together. These experiences have worth beyond hunting.”

Hunting at the Hixon Ranch

The first full day we were up at five in the morning, not my favored time for opening the aging eyes and greeting the birds and rising sun.  Hot breakfast, hot coffee and a selection of snacks were available to the gathering hunters and guides. Our experienced guides, Landon Guilick; Brad Detmore; Gabe Chapa, Doss Summers, Mike Hehman and Eddie Price, exhibiting more energy than I could muster, were assigned to the young hunters and the instructors. The weather was cool and wind minimal. The intermittent rain from the previous day seemed to have left town. The day was perfect for hunting.

I went into the field mid-afternoon. Doss deposited me and Rick Webber at a well-crafted metal blind with plenty of room to move around and slots in all walls for observing and placing a rifle. Many qualities are required to increase the odds for a successful hunt. Patience is one of them; and it is not my strong suit. I opened a slot and looked at the magnificent scenery; magnificent in the sense that it was bathed in tranquility and silence, at least for me. For some of the animals, life is drenched in the unrelenting tensions of self-preservation.

What appeared to be a large doe ambled into our shooting lane perhaps 300 yards away. I maneuvered my CZ 6.5 x 55 Swedish rifle into position. Rick glassed it and concluded it was very young. I brought the rifle back to an upright position and opened the bolt. A chorus line of javelina (collared peccary) traipsed into our line of sight. A few looked large but when they marched right in front of the blind, their mass seemed to diminish like a melting snowman. A coyote appeared on a road several hundred yards away. We glassed it through the binoculars like dogs eyeing a distant bone. It never came into range. I thought of Oscar Wilde’s statement: “Morality, like art, means drawing a line somewhere.”  Not having a legitimate shot, we didn’t take one.

The reality of hunting is strikingly different from watching hunting highlights on hunting TV shows—magnificent animals wandering by or being tracked, then the perfect shot from bow or rifle, the clean kill and the congratulatory satisfaction of a job well done. Then a break for a commercial. More realistically, hunting is tedium; waiting for hours, days or weeks to pull the trigger or release an arrow. Steve Hall opined that as a consequence of that distortion of reality, we tend to become spectators rather than participants in the hunt.

The hours ticked away, as time tends to do, until a rich pastel red and pink sunset bathed the west. As the starlit sky began to darken, Doss returned to take us to the ranch. Although neither Rick nor I took an animal, by the end of the program, Tim and Madi got lovely bucks and Bailey got a doe and a spike.

Panning for Gold

Talking with Tim and Kem Coe

I spent a lot of time talking with the participants and organizers. I talk with people as a prospector pans for gold: I look for gleaming nuggets of information, stories, experiences and arguments that enable me to be a better thinker, a more impacting writer and a more skilled instructor. I struck gold at the Hixon Ranch.

Tim Coe and his father, Kem, happened to be sitting at the table where I was chatting with Leaha Wirth, National Sales Manager for The Hunter’s Handbook and the driving force orchestrating this event. I struck up a conversation with Tim. I sought insights into the thinking and concerns of young hunters, which is important because about 50% of hunter education students are eighteen years old or younger. Tim thinks a lot before answering questions, and sometimes his words come out as slowly as drizzling chilled honey. They were worth the wait.

Tim’s grandfather encouraged him to take a hunter education course. Tim began hunting small game in Kentucky with an aged single shot rifle and advanced to a .308 for big game. Everyone in his family hunts, including his mother and his sister. Hunting, Tim told me, teaches many virtuous traits, such as valuing the outdoors as well as life skills such as self-reliance, self-discipline, and, above all, respect for the lives of the animals.


Pride motivates Tim to be a responsible hunter “A key issue is safety,” Tim said. “You see what a firearm can do.” Tim’s next words dazzled me. “Hunting is the best way to teach ethics. You see animals wounded or killed. You owe the animal to be a good hunter.” From such a young man, is this not a golden nugget?

Tim pointed out that the best instructors teach him to think of honor and character as he considers doing something. He added, “They make me feel I can make a difference in protecting wildlife. They make me think I can do something good for future hunters.”

We changed topics and talked about hunters being condemned by their peers.  Since most of his friends hunt, Tim has not found this to be an issue. He brushes off negative comments.  “They don’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t pay attention to them.”

I asked if Tim if he had ever been called a murderer because he hunted. As he began to answer, his dad interrupted. “Let me tell you about one of my experiences,” Kem said. He was about twenty years old, a student at Lindsey Wilson College, a small college in south central Kentucky, taking pre-pharmacy courses. A new professor from New York City asked if he hunted. “Yes,” Kem replied. The professor then vilified him. “You are no different from a person that kills a family!” Many people, perhaps most, in Kem’s position would have lashed out at the professor with the savagery of a momma bear protecting her cubs. Kem maintained a stunning poise although he confided he fought an impulse to slap her.

With dignity and restraint, he made the professor an offer she, evidently, couldn’t refuse. “Why don’t you and your son stay for a weekend with me and my family at our farm?” She accepted his offer. Kem’s farm was in Turkey Neck Bend, Monroe County, Kentucky. When the professor saw her first deer, she exclaimed, “I didn’t realize you had deer here!” Kem chuckled.  

The professor admitted she had no insight into the conservation component of hunting or game management. She learned how hunters work to preserve animals. In a remark that most of us would find to be less than an extraordinary epiphany, she said: “I now see that every hunter is not a mindless blood thirsty killer!” Apparently that’s a major insight for many folks from big cities who only know of guns in the context of crime and know of animals only from zoos, a few TV programs and Walt Disney. She returned to Kem’s farm. They became friends. That’s a powerful story, a real chunk of gold with practical application for educators and hunters.

Speaking with Leaha Wirth


Leaha was taking notes as I chatted with Tim and Kem. After Kem shared his professor story, she stopped writing and added some of her perspectives to the conversation. “When the topic is firearms, people will engage in a conversation more quickly and intensely,” she said. “It’s a good topic to learn about responsibility. An informed hunter then has an opportunity to reach and persuade people in a non-threatening way.”

Leaha continued. “Hunting experiences are a vital part of who I am.” It is a forum for communicating values, wisdom and knowledge. “Whether in the field with friends, family or students,” Leaha said, “I can share a one-of-a-kind opportunity. It’s not the kill; it’s the people and the experience; and an intimacy with the amazing Earth, the wildlife.”

Her experience affirmed that the young hunter will come away with a thirst for more experience and knowledge. “That is the emotional foundation for what I do. I can produce positive results.” Her next comment penetrated to the core of the honorable hunter’s character. “There’s an experience you have to own that comes with taking a life.” No excuses. No blaming others. You are accountable. Echoing some of Tim Coe’s comments, Leaha added, “taking a life demands that a respect for life be acknowledged.”

Inherent in hunting are matters of honor, of ethics, of integrity. These traits determine the moral timber of one’s soul. Speaking with increased intensity, Leaha added, “I can make a difference. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s absolutely true. Look at these young hunters! They are the future, and they are marvelous!”

Venison and Chili and Dove, Oh My!

Nutritious delicious cuisine is one of the great rewards from hunting. The chefs at Hixon Ranch were masters, serving up fabulous meals every lunch and dinner. We had baked ziti pasta with spinach, cheese, sausage, tomatoes and enough garlic to be noticeable all the way to downtown Denver. We had dove stuffed with jalapeño peppers and cream cheese wrapped in bacon. But the culinary triumph of the visit was Chef Siboney Chapa’s fried backstrap of venison. Soft as butter, the venison possessed a layered game flavor and was not masked by strong sauces. It reminded me of a rich Cabernet wine. My cut, done rare to medium, was a banquet for the senses. Who needs to go to Michelin-rated restaurants in Paris when you can have Siboney’s cooking in South Texas?


Siboney’s recipe was so marvelous I asked her permission to share it. Here it is:


Fried Back Strap of Venison

Slice venison into 1/4 in. Slices and tenderize. 

(To take out any gaminess)

Soak back strap in milk or butter milk for about 10-15min. Some people also use vinegar. I’ve never used it-

While the venison is soaking grab two mixing bowls and a skillet with some oil to fry. In one bowl fill about half way of flour or Panko crumbs, whichever you prefer. Salt & pepper or any seasoning to your liking. – I use Lawerys or Johnnys

Next grab about 5- 7 eggs or more if needed and mix.

By now the back strap is ready to coat with egg and flour. 

Time to fry!

Fry about two minutes on each side or until done. 


Final Thoughts

Hunting is a complex process that calls upon many skills and traits to do it honorably. In her illuminating essay, What Kids Can Learn From Hunting, Melissa Bachman writes: “Spending quality time in the field with kids is priceless, but there are a lot of things that hunting teaches them above and beyond the hunt….. such as physical labor, disappointment, patience, preparation, mental toughness and personal responsibility.” Hunting can provide meaningful lessons for those who have the character and wisdom to learn them.

“Let’s be frank,” as Vito ‘Don’ Corleone said in a different context to Bonasera in The Godfather. One aspect of hunting is taking the life of an animal. There is no joy in watching an animal die. Yet hunting has value and can accomplish noble goals. Without hunting, animals have no value, and without value, the animals will die. That’s reality. Preserving animals means preserving hunting. A lot of people do not like reality. And a lot of people prefer the soothing fantasy world of feeling good rather than doing good. Unfortunately, only the animals suffer in the fantasy world, not the smug anti-hunters.  

The informed hunter knows that hunting’s past does not pass on genetically. The past does not guarantee present or future acceptance and support. Hunting must be defended and advanced every day. Steve Hall, Leaha Wirth and the marvelous Hixon family understand the big picture, and part of that picture is encouraging young hunters to accept the duty to keep hunting and the animals sacred and protected. That’s the reality. Honorable people deal with reality, not with wishing and hoping the world would be some other way.

The Heritage Hunt at the Hixon Ranch gave substance to hunting by transforming the idea, the abstraction of hunting, into reality. The young hunters learned that the ideal of hunting cannot materialize without the real world effort. I was enriched by the Heritage Hunt. Meeting dedicated people pursuing a noble cause; spending days under clear skies, breathing air scented more deliciously than the finest perfumes and sharing great food with vibrant young hunters and instructors; well, as Ira Gershwin wrote in the musical I’ve Got Rhythm, Who could ask for anything more? 

Eight Strategies to Effectively Handle the Next Cecil

Eight Strategies to Effectively Handle the Next Cecil

By Michael Sabbeth

Walter Palmer killed a lion bestowed with a name—Cecil. For a while, much of the hunting world, particularly hunting iconic African big game, imploded as if into a death star. For months people uninformed about lion hunting, who never heard of the Hwange Game Park and who couldn’t find Zimbabwe on a map if their fat-free soy lattes depended on it, issued death threats on social media, threatened the person and business of the hunter, condemned much of hunting with broad-brush swipes and raised fortunes for predatory opportunistic animal activist groups.

Drenched in ignorance, energized by a luscious sense of moral superiority and the need to feel good, they were unmoved by the damaging consequences their demands would have inflicted.  Unleashing a flash mob of hate, death threats and physical intimidation, they illustrated their deceit in purporting to value life.

Another Cecil-esque event will occur again, either by the act of a hunter or by an event orchestrated by an anti-hunter in a propaganda hit. We must be prepared to mobilize factual and rhetorical defenses for that next event. I offer eight strategies for crafting our defenses.

Strategy 1: Understand the Moral and Intellectual Terrain

We are in a defensive asymmetrical war against people and organizations that do not value reason, logic or consequences. Indeed, reason, logic and consequences are an anathema to anti-hunting people and organizations. Ignorance is a virtue for it facilitates self-righteousness. Hunters tend to see defending hunting and conservation as a high-minded chess game, winnable by reasoned strategy. Consequently, hunters over-value truth and facts. We tend to see the battle through a narrow lens. This small aperture stifles a comprehensive understanding of hunting’s opponents. We tend to ignore the complexity of human nature; its narcissism and need to feel morally superior, its cowardice, its lust for easy solutions, the avoidance of pain and the pervasiveness of predatory opportunistic greed.

Our opponents operate on a more primal and effective level. They see anti-hunting in terms of power and the opportunity to advance anti-human and anti-conservation ideologies. Hunters value the research of South Africa’s Ron Thomson and are motivated by the stirring speeches of Shane Mahoney and the narratives of Craig Boddington. The anti-hunters disregard them totally.

In his Four Quartets, T. S. Eliot wrote that “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”  Eliot is partially correct. Often human kind does not care much about reality. Reality impedes their ideological advancement. The anti-hunters grasp this fundamental truth; the hunting community does not. Our failure to grasp this point jeopardizes our ability to effectively refute the anti-hunters.

Strategy 2: Use Social Media More Effectively

We know a picture is worth a thousand words and that a lie travels around the world before the truth gets out of bed. Social media has exposed several undesirable qualities of the hunting community: its aloofness from reality, its complacency, its inability to present a unified front and, worse, its lack of confidence. For example, powerful forces in the hunting community turned on Palmer before the facts were known.

The new media era battle space is complex. We must be willing to fight fire with fire, as the expression goes. We must show the vile wires, snares and traps poachers use and the resultant loathsome injuries they inflict on animals. We must highlight the consequences of children with unclean water and food deprivation. Show the decapitated rhinos with a subtitle screaming: “This is what hunting bans cause!” We should have illustrated the vulgar immorality of the self-satisfied somber-faced American woman arrogantly carrying a sign “I am Cecil,” attempting to parasitically leach morality from the Charlie Hebdo slaughter in Paris.  We must show the images; employ powerful iconography and trenchant rhetoric. We must change the social media paradigm!

Strategy 3: Shed our Delusions:

I attended the annual meeting of African Professional Hunters Association at the 2017 SCI convention. Wonderful dedicated all! However, one statement troubled me. Citing Cecil, an attendee said that “that the world will not tolerate unethical behavior.” I disagreed. There is no world in any unified sense, I said. Moreover, the world is incapable of distinguishing ethical from unethical behavior. Indeed, the Cecil event proved my point rather than the speaker’s. Additionally, this so-called world has no interest in ascertaining ethical behavior or supporting it. A hunting community, I argued, that seeks to appease ‘the world’ and which acts upon the belief that the world will embrace hunting if hunters are universally ethical is doomed to commit suicide.

It is delusional to believe that the organized anti-hunting advocates—well-funded animal organizations and European and American NGOs—will come to accept elephant, rhino, leopard hunting and remove bans on trading ivory and rhino horn if only they knew the facts. This thinking is self-destructive. It is idiocy. They know what we know. They read the reports, the data, the arguments. Secrets do not exist. Rather, they don’t care. They have different agendas; they submit to different ideologies, they make their money based on different arguments. We must understand that reality if we are to craft winning strategies and rhetoric.

The anti-hunters are willing to impose on the world’s hunting regions, generally, and African hunting nations and their populations, specifically, costs that these far-removed wealthy elites will never pay. African hunting nations, specifically, find themselves in the untenable and frankly, absurd, situation of being dictated to by people who will pay no consequences for being wrong.

Strategy 4: Shift the Paradigm

We should focus less on the virtues of hunting and focus more on the arrogant and deceitful character of those that oppose hunting. Extolling hunting’s conservation virtues is a necessary but insufficient process to persuade the vast middle ground.

We know from studying the facts regarding Cecil the lion and the black rhino hunting auction orchestrated by the Dallas Safari Club that hunting saves animals and people. No rational decent human being can intellectually and morally refute these claims. Yet such hunting is opposed. What is the explanation? Let us not flatter ourselves. We do not have an exclusive divine link to wisdom and knowledge. I accept that many anti-Cecil protesters are decent but uninformed yet that is only a small aspect of their personality structure. What kind of person rejects a rhino hunt knowing that many young rhinos would be saved? What kind of person demands a ban on rhino horn trade knowing that the result is more poaching, more rhino deaths and more hunger for the local populations? These are the messages hunters must make. Data puts people to sleep. Mutilated animals inspire people to fight those that enable the mutilation.

Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, we know that those who choose animal protection over animal conservation will get neither. And we know that airline trophy bans will kill more lions than a thousand Palmers. We know that the feelings business is profitable and the thinking business not so much.


Strategy 5: Focus on the Proper Audience

Mark Duda of Resource Management estimates that as many as 60-80 percent of the population is non-committal regarding hunting in a general sense. My reading of Duda’s material leads to the favorable conclusion that most of these people can be reached by reason, ethical arguments, caring for native populations and passion. Thus, our strategy should be to forcefully refute the radical anti-hunters, not expecting to change their minds, but to persuade the large ‘middle’ of uncommitted people. This vast group will align with those that seem to have winning arguments. 

Strategy 6: Get Legislation and Enforcement

We must develop strategies, including legal action, to combat the extreme anti-hunters’ sadistic fetish for violence and intimidation. Civil and criminal legal action should be taken in extreme cases by skilled lawyers. We should lobby state legislators to pass legislation assessing criminal and civil liability against those who make credible threats, whether in person or through cyberspace, against hunters, their families and their businesses. Paraphrasing Michael Corleone, we must become wartime consigliaris

Strategy 7: Don’t Avoid the Fight

I spoke with many people who advise hunters to maintain a low profile when confronted with a Cecil-like situation. “Let it blow over; don’t draw attention!” they say. This passive avoidance is self-destructive. Our strategy should be to make the anti-hunting attacker pay a price for its misinformation, greed, narcissism and the unethical consequences of its beliefs. Let us be guided by two of the most fundamental laws of human nature: avoidance is interpreted as weakness and weakness invites aggression. Unlike donors to the anti-hunting causes, the animals we fight to conserve do not live in a therapeutic utopian world. Nature’s one constant is life-and-death brutality. The lion does not co-habit with the gemsbok waiting for a dinner of locally sourced, non-GMO, gluten free, organic steamed broccoli. We must fight for reality if we are to conserve the animals.

Strategy 8: Unify with a Central Resource

Our focus must be on persuasion, which is not the same as spewing out data and making abstract arguments. We must identify and then use people who are smart enough and intellectually agile enough to deconstruct future anti-hunting attacks in concise, simple language. We must identify and emphasize the morality or lack of morality of the consequences of policies advanced by the anti-hunters.  We must give our hunters the words to fight back. We must craft arguments that align the virtues of animal conservation and human enrichment with the values of the larger audience. Strategic thinking and action offer the best hope for conserving animals and those in the hunting world who lives are affected.

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



Lessons For Advancing The 3 Rs

Lessons For Advancing The 3 Rs

Explain The Big Picture!


Several years ago, I took my son, Erik, then twenty, to shoot doves in Argentina. He shot many doves, but the lessons he learned were more meaningful than the experience was challenging. Our host explained how the doves annually destroyed tens of thousands of tons of grain, negatively impacting food prices. The dove shooting industry brought much-needed millions of dollars of revenue to Argentina, providing employment and increasing people’s standards of living. The big picture was patiently explained.

During our trip, my host asked Erik if he wanted to hunt a barren aged female buffalo that was wounding younger buffalo and destroying property. Erik did.  More than having a successful hunt, Erik entered the fire center of conservation, learning that romanticizing animals from afar often led to policies that destroy them. He came to understand the brutal reality of wild animals’ lives and that the cost of fantastical wishing that animals’ lives were idyllic was the destruction of animals. Erik lived the counter-intuitive truth that hunting sustains the animals.

The Big Picture

With guidance from me and our host, the big picture was persuasively presented to Erik. The ethos of hunting transcends the hunt. Inherent in hunting are layers of insight that merit acknowledgment and evaluation. The hunter, of course, should aspire to be ethical, and the well-educated hunter knows the big picture demands multi-level ethical duties to the land, to society, to one’s self and, of course, to the animals.

But ethical behavior does not simply manifest like the crabgrass on my lawn. Ethical behavior is the consequence of personal honor and integrity, characteristics that must be taught and continuously nurtured. Presenting the big picture and developing a hunter’s honor are the most effective methods for achieving the trilogy of the 3 Rs.

The primary skill required of the hunting advocate desiring to achieve the 3 Rs is discerning the potential hunter’s deepest values and then persuasively showing how hunting harmonizes with those values and breathes life into them. Love of wildlife, wanting healthy sustainable animal populations, treating wild animals ethically, preserving and enriching habitat, consuming organic protein from the hunt; all these and others are virtues that hunting offers that are consistent with the values of the large majority of people. On the warp and woof of conversation and experience, Erik uncovered values previously unexplored but were discovered as if mining for them in a rich seam of ore. Illuminating this big picture component will advance the 3 Rs most successfully.

The North American Model offers an illustrative example for seeing the big picture. The Model is the foundation for hunting and game management in the United States. But the Model means nothing unless it is encased in our unique political economic system which values individual liberty, free markets, a somewhat transparent tax system that is reasonably honest, the right to possess and use firearms and the ability to have leisure time to hunt. The willingness of each hunter and potential hunter to see his or her role in this big picture will be a powerful driving force for advancing the 3 Rs.

Most people place great trust in the positive impact in an argument of facts, logic and science. Such trust is unjustified. Truth is not self-actualizing; reality does not advance itself like a steamroller; scientific evidence is worthless unless the audience is credibly persuaded that the evidence has value.

A vital component of the big picture is, thus, the articulate presentation that these truths matter. That is, that science and facts are consistent with the values of the potential or existing hunter. The success of implementing the 3 Rs is dependent largely on persuading people that truth is relevant to the audience’s world view and self-image.  

Similarly, the effective advancement of the 3 Rs will be achieved when ethics is transformed from an abstraction to tangible specific actions that support the values of the hunter and enhance its honor.

As a rule, people are drawn to activities that enrich their lives, enhance their dignity and make them better people. When Erik accompanies me on hunting events supporting Wounded Warriors and Paralyzed Veterans of America, as examples, he sees hunting in a broader context: achieving virtuous goals by helping others. Hunting makes Erik proud. His grasp of hunting’s picture enlarges. He is inspired to be an advocate for hunting and a dedicated participant. Introduced to hunting by me and sharing values that we find virtuous, the experiences that provided direction and purpose in nurturing Erik’s participation in hunting serve as an effective model for implementing the 3 Rs.

 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


Seeking World Approval Will Lead to Hunting’s Suicide

At this year’s annual conference of the African Professional Hunters Association held at the 2017 Safari Club International Convention, a participant expressed the opinion that after the Cecil incident the world “will not tolerate unethical behavior.” My blood pressure rocketed to   190 over 120!

I said I disagreed with that statement and explained why. I said that there is no “world” in any coherent meaningful sense of the word, especially as it applies to hunting. Thus, it follows that there is no world opinion on what the world will and will not tolerate, not only pertaining to hunting but pertaining to any human behavior. No consistent measurement enables anyone to judge what the world will and will not tolerate.

I went on to say that the world is incapable of distinguishing ethical from unethical behavior, and has no interest in trying to make the distinction, particularly as it applies to hunting.

World Opinion is Morally Bankrupt

I don’t want to tip toe into the world’s politics but I am compelled to write that the world’s grotesque horrors and obscenities of human behavior, well-known to all of us, are ignored, evaded, suppressed and not universally condemned. They are all tolerated. What the world will tolerate, thus, is morally meaningless.

The assertion that the world will not tolerate unethical hunting behavior is not supported by any evidence. To the contrary, the world is drenched in unethical animal killing—poaching, absurd hunting bans and trophy bans and trade bans that kill substantial numbers of animals —which is not only tolerated but paradoxically supported by powerful organizations and governments. Particularly regarding the iconic big game—lions, elephants, black rhino, leopards—legal hunting kills relatively few. Legal hunting, does, however, provide millions of dollars for local populations, anti-poaching support and habitat development.

The Cecil situation did not prove the world will not tolerate unethical behavior. To the contrary, Cecil proved with exquisite unarguable clarity that the world willfully refuses to differentiate between ethical and unethical hunting and tolerates all of them.

Let’s analyze the concepts of world opinion and what the world will tolerate in the specific context of Cecil. I won’t rehash all the details of Dr. Palmer’s hunt but mention a few key facts: the hunt was legal; Cecil was not induced or drawn out of the Hwange Park; no legal significance attached to the fact the lion was collared; Cecil was an aged lion and no longer reproduced; the hunt raised a lot of money for local populations and for conservation.

The world did not wait until these facts were determined and publicized. Rather, agenda-driven people instantly promoted and disseminated lies. We may recall Winston Churchill’s astute comment that a lie will travel half way around the world before the truth gets out of bed. That was certainly the case with Cecil. But the world and its opinion, such as they were, responded to these lies with the enthusiastic intensity of burning heretics at the stake. A dishonest narrative constructed by anti-hunting forces went viral. Truth did not matter; facts did not matter; reality did not matter. Driven by a delicious smug ignorance, with no interest in attempting to discern the truth, aspects of world opinion responded venomously like a viper’s strike.

The Cecil situation demonstrated conclusively that the anti-hunting hysteria it generated was not based on evidence or truth. Drenched comfortably in ignorance, world opinion, such as it was, willingly was seduced by a simplistic notion of the hunting ecology. Seeing things simplistically facilitated a passion bordering, in some instances, on the fanatical. Passion and moral smugness create a toxic stew when one knows nothing.

Given what the world tolerates generally, as articulated through international institutions, and the cascade of constraints it imposes on legal hunting specifically, we may justifiably draw several conclusions about the morality and consistency of world opinion and the moral weight of what the world tolerates. The world tolerates barbarity and often condemns moral behavior. Often the world vilely makes a moral equivalence between the aggressor and the victim. Thus, world opinion is morally meaningless. World opinion is often morally bankrupt. The Cecil situation proves those conclusions.  

 Cecil and the Weaponizing of “World Opinion”


How does the world articulate what it does and does not tolerate? Who decides? How sanctimonious to say, “I am the arbiter of what the world tolerates!” Nice work if you can get it! If we are to judge the moral competence of the world based on the actions and pronouncements of the United Nations and the European Union, a strong argument can be made that the world is morally deficient.

 “World opinion” is a mythical creature, like the tooth fairy. It can mean anything the speaker wants it to mean.  Like pretzel dough, it can be twisted into any shape. Here’s the key point: this ambiguity is the source of its power. Anyone can make the accusation no matter the facts. Yet, the rhetoric, the accusation, that the world will not tolerate unethical hunting, is powerful. How intimidating to charge that the world is against you! Not every person has the mental agility and knowledge to effectively fight back. Indeed, the accuser is counting on the inability to refute his attack.

The accusation that world opinion is against you is not an offer to discuss and debate the proposition. It is a rhetorical device used to shut you up; to prevent discussion; to make you submit to the abstraction that the world will not tolerate certain kinds of hunting although no facts are provided to support the accusation. Thus, saying the world will not tolerate a Cecil-type hunt or the black rhino hunt created under the auspices of the Dallas Safari Club, as examples, weaponizes the phrase. It transforms the concept of world opinion into a tool for attacking. I make it clear that the person at APHA did not have that intent. He was expressing what others would likely suggest.

What Can We Do?

First, we must reject any notion that the world will be reasonable or will be informed when it comes to certain types of hunting. Such thinking is delusional. Segments of the world have their own agendas. Many factors influence what the world seems to tolerate regarding hunting, among them cowardice, a perverse ideology, greed, corruption, narcissism, moral smugness and condescension toward indigenous populations. Ethical hunting and prudent responsible game management are, regrettably, not the most powerful factors that influence what the world appears to tolerate. Here is my key point: any tendency of our hunting communities to conform to and appease this abstraction of  what the world will tolerate will lead to hunting’s destruction.

Second, we must develop the skill to analyze the ethical and factual content of the accusatory rhetoric—what is world opinion? How do you identify it? —and use that analysis to refute the accusation.   

Third, it is vital that we fight back; that the hunting community not allow the aggressive anti-hunters to frame the issue as us against the world and thereby enable it to capture the moral high ground. Hunters have the moral high ground.

Fourth, we must, at least, we should, grasp the reality that we are in the persuasion business as much as we are hunters and advocates for hunting. We must understand that truth is meaningless unless someone is persuaded that truth has meaning. We must understand that facts do not advance themselves. Arguments do not compel on their own. We must, therefor, persuade.

Finally, we must persuade the vast majority that the values and actions of the hunter, including hunting Cecil, is, in fact, in harmony with their opinions. We can do so because it is true.


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 Now available as a Kindle EBook.