In hunting, conservation and carnage don’t mix

The fall issue of Delta Waterfowl’s magazine contains some
thoughtful text regarding the ongoing decline in hunting
participation. This is not a new topic, as the hunting industry and
wildlife agencies struggle to maintain their customer base, but the
information presented in the magazine suggests they may be going
about it the wrong way.

For instance, one author muses the concurrent decline in fishing
participation may have occurred because marketers lost touch with
their audience. Beginning in the late 70s, fishing was transformed
from a contemplative activity into a quasi-athletic event with a
single-minded emphasis on success. While this transformation was
profitable for some promoters of tackle and fishing technology, it
may have left out anglers who were not interested in a bigger and
better approach to their pastime. Perhaps the same thing is
happening with hunting.

In another story, a scientist who has studied the sociology of
hunting for over 25 years cautions that current efforts to
encourage ever-younger kids to kill game places the wrong emphasis
on hunting and may ultimately cause them to lose interest in the
activity. Missing from this rush to squeeze the trigger is an
appreciation of the natural world and the social aspects of
hunting. He also is concerned the current efforts to relax hunter
safety requirements to make it easier for new, inexperienced
hunters to go afield is contrary to what most hunters want to
occur. Research shows hunters think more education in safety and
ethics is needed.

“What’s troubling me is that we’re sort of throwing out hunter
education right now,” the scientist was quoted as saying. “I’m not
sure that’s in the best interest of hunting.”

The role the outdoor media play in hunting’s decline also is
examined. Illustrated with a dummy cover for the fictional Whack
& Stack Magazine, the story looks at whether the lack of
conservation coverage, or even any substance beyond the moment of
the kill in outdoor television and print media, prevents hunters
from knowing the issues affecting hunting or becoming engaged in
conservation.

Pointing out that relatively few outdoor media outlets cover
conservation at all, the story quotes Outdoor News Editor Rob Drieslein, who says this
publication – one of the very few to devote substantial coverage to
outdoor issues – has continued to grow at a time when other outdoor
media are having trouble attracting readers, viewers, and
advertisers.

“It’s not fun to ask the tough questions of politicians,”
Drieslein says in the story. “We have a lot of outdoor writers in
this country, but I’m afraid there aren’t enough outdoor
reporters.”

The story quotes a couple of other outdoor reporters, including
genre patriarch Michael Frome, now 88, who says sportsmen fell away
from conservation in the 1970s and ’80s – perhaps not so
coincidentally at the same time that fishing was transformed into a
technological, success-obsessed sport. Another writer, newspaperman
Bob Marshall, says the media no longer provide conservation
coverage because surveys indicate readers are not interested in it.
The story concludes both viewpoints likely are correct.

However, a closer look at Delta Waterfowl Magazine suggests
another factor may be at play. When it comes to images of
“whackin-n-stackin,” the magazine ranks near the top of the heap. A
body count of dead ducks and geese pictured in this issue totaled
520 birds. I suspect there were actually more, but in some pictures
the carcasses are stacked and strewn in ways that made it
impossible to get an accurate count. At least two pictures
contained 100 or more dead ducks and geese. Large kills – fistfuls
and piles of birds – were the norm.

Many of the kill shots were associated with advertisements. It
is hard to say whether the more extravagant kills represented legal
bag limits. In one advertisement, eight hunters were posing with
100 dead ducks. In another ad, a face-painted hunter festooned with
necklaces containing at least 64 duck and goose leg bands looks as
though he just stepped off the set of a Rambo movie.

Not all of the advertisements contained such grim and lurid
images, but thumbing through the magazine one can easily arrive at
the conclusion that waterfowl hunting is all about killing as many
birds as you possibly can. At the very least, the imagery of the
advertising is weirdly juxtaposed with Delta’s purported
conservation mission. And this juxtaposition, common in bad outdoor
television and other media where the blatant urgings of shameless
marketers hold sway, says a heck of a lot about what is really
ailing hunting today.

Conservation and carnage don’t mix. There is much, much more to
hunting than squeezing the trigger. Within the world of waterfowl
hunting, some folks who ought to know better seem to have forgotten
that simple truth.

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