How to Talk to an Anti-hunter

bow hunters with whitetail deer

Arm yourself with logical, factual rebuttals to common hunting misconceptions and you may just open a mind to the idea that hunting plays an important role in conservation.  Photo courtesy Neil and Catherine Thagard.

Hunters and anglers all love to tell a good fish tale, whether it’s about the big one that got away or some other cherished outdoor experience. No matter how entertaining the story, it is inevitable that anyone sharing their adventures will sooner or later meet an anti-hunter.

In my experience, the majority of people who categorize themselves as being anti-hunting do not fit the stereotypical image of hemp-shirted vegans waving PETA flags. They are average folks who feel uncomfortable with the idea of hunting, yet can’t define precisely why.

Every sportsman confronted by an anti-hunter has heard some variation of the following misinformed and inaccurate catchphrases. The next time you do, arm yourself with a logical, factual rebuttal and you may just open a mind to the idea that hunting plays an important role in conservation. Don’t expect an anti-hunter to pick up arms and head into the woods to kill his or her next meal – but hopefully they will leave the conversation with a greater respect and understanding of the role of hunting in today’s society.

“Hunting just to hang a head on the wall is wrong.”

We agree, and in every state and province within North America, it’s also illegal. A trophy on the wall is many things – decoration, art, a remembrance of a good hunt, but it is never the only thing a sportsman brings back from the field.

Failing to take every edible part of an animal, bird or fish is called wanton waste. Although the details of wanton waste laws vary from place to place, ethical sportsmen universally denounce the idea of wasting an animal. Being convicted of wanton waste carries not only legal ramifications such as loss of future hunting privileges, mandatory fines and potential jail time, but also social condemnation from fellow sportsmen. What’s more, wanton waste laws have helped inspire sportsmen’s organizations to donate about 2.6 million pound of meat annually to food banks, homeless shelters and needy families.

 “You should only shoot wildlife with a camera.”

Users of our public wildlife are either consumptive, like hunters and fishermen, or non-consumptive such as birdwatchers or nature photographers. Watching a strutting sage grouse or taking a photo of magnificent bull elk is free, but the conservation programs that create these opportunities are not. And it is sportsmen’s dollars raised through tag and license sales and excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment – not general taxes – that fund state and federal wildlife agencies.

Hunters and anglers pay for important things such as habitat improvement projects, compensating farmers for crop damage, wildlife biologist salaries, fish hatcheries, migration studies, disease research, winter feed for elk and countless other things that contribute to the sustainability of all our native fish and wildlife, including non-game and endangered species.

Every photographer who snaps a picture of grizzly in Yellowstone National Park, every tourist who takes a sleigh ride to marvel at elk on the refuge in Jackson Hole or the hiker who catches a glimpse of the successfully reintroduced native black-footed ferret can thank a hunter for that experience.

 “Hunting upsets the balance of nature.”

In the United States, there are more than 300 million people. We build cities and roads, put ski resorts on the mountains and casinos in the deserts. We develop oil and gas fields as dense as subdivisions that cover entire landscapes. The only balance of nature that currently exists outside of designated wilderness areas is fragile and it is one that must be constantly monitored and managed to ensure it persists in the face of ever-increasing human impacts.

Where natural predators such as wolves or mountain lions have been removed, hunters keep elk, deer and antelope populations in check and prevent damage to crops. When agricultural development paved the way for eastern whitetail deer to move west and push out the less aggressive mule deer, hunters stepped up to help maintain that native species. A well-publicized hunt in Florida aims to eliminate the exploding population of non-native Burmese pythons who are endangering not only wildlife but domestic animals and humans as well. In the southern states where feral hogs have multiplied alarmingly, culling helps to preserve natural flora and fauna. Hunting reduces the number of so-called “problem bears” in the picturesque towns that have replaced the woodlands the bears used to call home. As humans, our simple existence has already upset the balance of nature and hunting is a very important management tool that enables our game and fish agencies to protect, and when necessary, restore that delicate balance.

You may be asking yourself why you should care what anti-hunters think.  But before you go putting that sticker on your truck of a cartoon kid whizzing on the word “anti-hunter,” remember this: in America, only about 30 million of us hunt and fish. That leaves approximately 270 million who don’t. In a democracy such as ours they are the majority who will determine the outcome of ballot initiatives that affect your sporting opportunities. As a hunter and conservationist, you need to do your part and help them make an educated decision.

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Catherine Thagard

Latest posts by Catherine Thagard (see all)

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11 comments on “How to Talk to an Anti-hunter

  1. Christen on said:

    Great post, Catherine.

  2. Marilyn Kircus on said:

    I, a non -hunter appreciate hunters and have worked together with them to save habitat. Hunters pay for the privilege of hunting and the animals they hunt are managed and hunters can can only harvest animals if there will still be enough to maintain the species. So, for instance, if they number of a species of duck is down, the hunting season will be shorter and they will be able to kill fewer each time they are in the field.

    On the other hand, many nature lovers, including photographers, feel that they don’t have to pay for their use of wildlife. But in today’s conditions, where wildlife is mostly managed on public lands, it’s important to pay to maintain more of those lands so wildlife does have a place to exist.

    Land that becomes a subdivision will no longer be able to support all the wildlife. A swamp that is drained will lose the birds and animals that used to live there. That is the wholesale way to kill animals and hunters work hard to preserve our wild places.

  3. David Marin on said:

    I consider myself a hunter but it’s an interesting consideration when I think of it. I buy a deer license every year but haven’t shot (or shot at), a deer in 10 years. I also buy a fishing license and trout/salmon license each year and haven’t fished in even longer, except for one day each in 2010 and 2011. When I was younger I logged hundreds of hours annually at each of these and raised gun dogs on woodcock, grouse, pheasants, and ducks. So why, you might ask, do I waste my money each year when I get no return on it? I love to photograph birds, animals, mushrooms and wild things, and this is how I do my part to support those things and help their existence in a world where nobody in power seems to care about anything but lining their pocket. In my 60′s I spend my limted income on shelled corn for the deer and turkeys, sunflower seeds for the small birds, and suet for the woodpeckers. Just knowing that I do something, no matter how little or insignificant to save this sad, faltering planet is necessary for my own sanity and well-being. That’s why I call myself a hunter.

  4. Suzan Moulton on said:

    Catherine: well thought out points. I wish that hunting was more about putting meat in the freezer, and not heads on the wall. Wild meat as you know is better than feed lot meat. That would require educating the cooks of the family, as well as the hunters in the field, dressing out the animal.
    If hunting was seen as a healthy source of food, not just for the food banks, people might be accepting and not condemning.
    Suzan Moulton

  5. Tom Gensel on said:

    What can you say about predator hunters when confronted about eating your kill ?

    • Jimmy Torrez on said:

      I think Tom ask a valid question and I hope more people weigh in. I would simply state all animals need to be managed with 7 billion people on the planet and 300 million in the US. The natural predator-prey fluctuation creates too many conflict with people. The goal is stable populations for both predator and prey. When predators become overpopulated they have no choice but to switch from their tradition food sources. They do not care if their prey is endangered or if it happen to be the lively hood of some rancher. A hungry predator is dangerous, they become willing to risk moving into urban areas for whatever type of meal they can find. When prey numbers increase you also have conflicts with the human population whether it be destruction of property or increased automotive accidents. Both predator and prey carry disease and when either becomes overpopulated these disease spread faster and can even spread to domestic livestock and pets. Again the goal is stable population of both predators and prey and hunting is the the only cost effective way to accomplish that goal.

  6. Glenn Hockett on said:

    From Montana, I have many non-hunting friends, even some anti-hunting friends and where I have found common ground with all of them is the protection of habitat and an understanding that we all want the animals to flourish. I have much in common with vegetarians and vegans in that I want my meals to be organically grown, locally produced (when and where possible) and I want the dirt or blood on my hands. I garden as well. Knowing how things are harvested is another area of common ground. Believe it or not some vegans I have know are now carni-vegans. We have more in common than one might think. Thanks for writing this article Catherine.

  7. joe schmoe on said:

    I actually would prefer just to tell them pew pew pew pew

  8. Wolfsbane on said:

    I wish it were so simple. I’ve found that a large number of anti-hunters subscribe to the don’t try and confuse me with the facts school of thought.

    I frequently hear the it’s not the predator’s fault, it has to eat argument. Which I doubt will ever change until it’s their loved ones it decides to attempt to eat.

    They also don’t seem to be able to understand the idea that just because an animal is a trophy it doesn’t mean that it was killed exclusively as a trophy.

    The thing hunters fail to understand is the animal rights movement is very much a religion with a significant number of the people involved. They worship animals as an idealized superior life forms that only act out of instinct . How any times have you seen or heard them ranting about a ‘innocent animals’ being killed. In such a situation, no sort of logical argument is going to matter.

  9. I appreciate the write up, but as detailed as your defense of hunting is there are a number of problems with concluding one’s position based on the information you shared. For my own part I was raised in a very pro hunting culture and myself looked forward to the yearly family hunt for most of my life. I’d heard the defenses, and propagated them myself. I often concluded that since many “anti-hunters” as you called them were not well informed as to the character or virtues of the practice, that their ignorance supported my position.

    It didn’t. The only thing their ignorance established was their ignorance and it did not justify my own, as much as I and many of us would like it to. I’ve since learned that the “pro-hunting” crowd is mostly well informed to the exclusion of the practice’s flaws. Hunters are not unique in this practice, but it is a practice which every one of us should actively avoid. The truth is that the subject of hunting is far more complex than either “side” of the debate will almost ever acknowledge. Morality, intellect and truth require that we look at the whole and not the romanticized half truths which prevail. We cannot embrace a practice’s virtues and at the same time ignore its vices.

    Some of the fatal flaws with your conclusions (applauding virtues and ignoring vices). Each is a much larger issue and requires further un-biased study and consideration:

    Trophy hunting- Though not as prevalent as it was in Teddy’s day it still exists and is ultimately the forefather of most of our modern hunting culture even if we’ve improved since then. Sometimes the meat is used, sometimes it is not, both in compliance with and contrary to the law. Because some animals are “not wasted” it is unwise to ignore the many that are. It’s a naive way to justify one’s position. The amount of meat wasted (hunted and farmed) in the U.S. is staggering.

    Hunting better conservation than photography- I would hope that every student of outdoor history has heard of Ansel Adams. If not, take some time. Ansel’s photographs have done unfathomable good for conservation and he is not alone, in all honesty where the pen is mightier than the sword, photographs may be mightier than many of us ever imagined. One of the deadly sins perpetrated by “pro-hunters” is their lack of reverence and acknowledgment, even belittlement of other virtuous and fantastically successful conservation efforts. Which leads to my next point.

    You can thank hunters for…: You claimed in your argument that every one who enjoys experiencing wild life can thank hunters for the experience. I seriously hope you reconsider this argument. While hunting dollars do contribute vast amounts to conservation efforts it’s disturbing to constantly hear hunters take exclusive credit for every thing virtuous relating to conservation. There are countless individuals, organizations and groups to which hunters and non-hunters are indebted for their efforts. Perpetrating this fiction dramatically undermines your arguments.

    Money = good: This is related to my previous point and addresses the misconception that because hunting produces money for conservation it is in the best interest of wildlife, humanity and environments. True, funds from hunting have and continue to aid certain conservation efforts often with great success, but the market for hunting, especially considering the pressures placed on local, state and federal governments by big businesses and special interests to magnify and exaggerate the practice. This doesn’t even speak to the concern that every dollar spent on a hunting license goes, not to a benevolent government which will act in the best interests of mankind and wildlife, rather to often appointed and non-elected individuals who must appease special interests. The opportunity for dangerous flaws to surface in this system is immense. So by all means applaud the successes, but lets not pretend our system is better than it is in reality.

    Lessons of history- There are innumerable lessons from history, but perhaps the most relevant to this topic is civilization’s, and yes hunting tradition and practices’ struggle to comprehend and understand the natural world. Our own nations history is rife with proof that we have so much to learn. We’ve know a few things which our forefathers didn’t understand, but we still lack so much. And tradition, half truths and anxious justification too frequently supplant the facts and logic you claim support your argument. Just as many “anti-hunters” make naive arguments and fail to understand the larger scope of an issue, so do “pro-hunters”. Where we may have some valid points, we should never use those partial truths to ignore where we are wrong or where there are flaws.

    Too often we hold up a poster child pretending that he or she represents the whole. Hunters and non-hunters are too diverse to be so simply and ignorantly defined. This topic is expansive and I would never want anyone to just take my word for it. But I hope that we have the courage to at least for a time, divorce ourselves from our biases and honestly try to discover where we have been ill-informed, rather than focusing solely on where others have been mistaken.

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