The sport of hunting is one rich in heritage and tradition. I love seeing the old, grainy black and white photos from generations past showing family hunting camps, lots of wool and denim, and harvests gotten with gear much simpler than what we use today. However, it often seems that the nostalgia of family traditions, and the refusal to stray from them, leads to outdated viewpoints and miseducation. Simply doing something because “that’s how daddy did it” is not always the best. Of course there is nothing wrong with holding to tradition if that practice and teaching is correct, instills ethics, and promotes the truth that hunting is conversation. The following are a few clear examples of where traditional family teachings are incorrect and negatively impact the sport of hunting as a whole.
Where I grew up in eastern Oregon in the early 1980’s it was common practice to strap your kill across the hood or roof of the truck and drive all over around town displaying the trophy. This was done with hide and head still attached no matter the season. I still see it today but less common. A game warden told me that he received calls about a hunter who had two bloody mountain lions strapped across his roof and was shopping in the liquor store. Now managing lions is essential and going to a liquor store is not a problem, but when combined in an open blatant display it turned many people off, both hunters and non-hunters, who did not appreciate the lack of respect shown. For some non-hunters it just reinforced their already negative images of hunters as slobs, drunks, and hicks. Do these promote a positive image of hunters respecting the pursuit and harvest of their game? Obviously not. Additionally, it is an absolutely terrible way to handle the meat off of a kill and leads to much of the wrongly perceived notion that all wild meat tastes “gamey.” Thankfully this was a practice never followed by my father and never a tradition that I had to get caught up in. Unfortunately, many others did grow up this way and their earliest hunting days are not rooted on a foundation of ethics and respect.
A family friend of ours has two kids who were old enough to hunt big game here in Colorado a couple of years ago. Both kids were always allowed in camp and welcome to tag along with dad on his hunts. When his son wanted to hunt he did everything he could to get him outfitted and ready. When his daughter wanted to hunt however, she was told that women in the family don’t get to hunt until they are 16. The reasoning behind that? It was family tradition. So when his daughter turned 16, four years after she could first hunt, she had lost interest in a sport where she wasn’t welcome. Another youth hunter was lost.
Now for every story of bad hunting ethics there are equal stories of great ethics and youth being properly mentored. I love the elk camp traditions that my family has and desire to share them with my children one day. But I am always looking at how we hunt and analyzing it to see if that is the best way. As sportsmen we should always be striving to increase our knowledge and advance our skillset. This doesn’t always mean upgrading gear. It means ensuring that our methods and practices are ethical, honor the pursuit of our quarry, and teach others that hunting is the truest form of conservation. It can also mean changing the methods which were taught to us when we were young or distancing ourselves from friends who do not care about hunting ethics. These changes can be hard but we owe it to ourselves and future generations to preserve our heritage at all costs.
Hunt hard, hunt often and be out in it.