How Can Hunters deal with the Dilemma and Paradox they face in Grappling with Ethical Transitions?

By Al Stewart

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from the Sixth Proceedings of the Premier's Symposium on North America's Hunting Heritage, held August 23-27, 2000, in Ottawa, Ontario. It is reprinted with the permission of Al Stewart. The views expressed in the article are those of the author solely, and are presented by NOTO to stimulate your thinking.

The hunting community traditionally blames anti-hunters for many of its problems. Many organized hunting groups continue to base membership appeals on promises to fight "the antis". Unity and consensus within the hunting community is usually in reaction to anti-hunter campaigns.

However, there is a growing understanding within the hunting community that hunters themselves are responsible for many of their problems. Continued failure to address those problems enhances anti-hunting campaigns, erodes public acceptance and marginalizes the importance of hunting with government bureaucrats and politicians. This paper compares hunter philosophies that support a continued focus on outside threats (anti-hunters) versus those that support self-examination and renewal. It argues that the identification of many problems and solutions can be found within the hunting community itself and that public (social) acceptance is an essential ingredient to the future survival of hunting.

Over the past year, I have been working closely with organized hunting groups across Ontario in the development of a future focused hunting strategy. This has been under the auspices of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR). I have also been closely involved with deliberations of a coalition of Ontario hunting interests known as Hunting Heritage/Hunting Futures (HH/HF) since its inception in n1993. Both these endeavours have immersed me in the hunting culture of Ontario, its individuals and its organizations. I am also a hunter.

The OMNR initiated the development of a strategy to guide policy development, priority setting and funding allocations over the next twenty-year period. The OMNR invited the Ontario hunting community to assist in the development of the strategy, however, different philosophies on how to address future issues and the lack of a shared vision within the hunting community has hampered the initiative.

Historically, hunters and anti-hunters have attacked one another while attempting to enlist the support of the majority non-hunting public for their particular position. One side or the other occasionally achieves victories; however, the fact remains that the general public really has little interest in hunting issues. When specifically asked, the majority of non-hunters continue to remain supportive of hunting, although support for hunters themselves appears to be decreasing.

There are some circumstances that do draw non-hunters into hunting issues. My experiences suggest these circumstances can be grouped into three general categories:

The species endangerment category is based on biological perceptions and hunters do very well at responding to questions and accusations with scientifically based data. The other two categories, fair chase and hunter positioning on issues, are ethically and socially based and play a major role in determining public acceptance or tolerance for hunting and hunters. Hunters have problems answering these types of questions and usually revert to providing biological based answers that may be accurate, but do not address the questions being asked.

When anti-hunting groups are able to negatively portray hunters or hunting in any of these categories, they can capture the interest and involvement of the non-hunting public. Experience suggests public involvement in hunting issues is ultimately detrimental to hunters and hunting. Hunters increasingly do poorly in media driven public debates. The potential to shift public support to anti-hunting positions is always much greater than shifting it the other way. Making the case for protection is always easier than making the case for hunting.

Interestingly enough the ability to control the three categories of public interest, species endangerment, fair chase and positioning on issues, rests almost totally with hunters. Hunters pay for the surveys, provide the data, make choices on how they hunt, and decide the positions they will take on public issues. Hunters control the issues that potentially draw non-hunters into their affairs. Hunters supply or deny anti-hunters the ammunition they need to pursue their goals. The success or failure of the anti-hunting movement is linked to hunters as much as it is to anti-hunters. Hunters want the issue to only be about anti-hunters because they are easy to identify, malign and attack. Dealing with our friends, our traditions and ourselves is difficult and messy. However, we waste time, energy and money with our anti-hunter preoccupation. The hunting community needs to look at itself to identify many of its problems and solutions. My experience reveals there is considerable disagreement on this point within the hunting community.

I have grouped the points of view encountered in my efforts to develop a hunting strategy consensus into two broad categories.

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The polarization and hardening of views as opposed to dialogue and consensus building threaten our ability to meet the future in a strategic and/or coordinated manner.

There are lessons to learn from others. The forest industry has fought their version of the "antis" for over a decade. It committed enormous resources towards education, public relations and political lobbying. At the end of it all, Tom Stephens, President of MacMillan-Bloedel is reported as saying that government licenses, approved management plans, etc. mean absolutely nothing if the forest industry loses their social license to operate on public land. The forest industry has come to accept the reality and necessity of a "social license" and that has resulted in a major overhaul of industry attitudes, actions and positions.

On the other hand, D.T. Birch in a letter in the May/June (2000) Canada's Outdoor Sportsman magazine provides these comments. "We weaken our position for support of hunting in any form if we, as hunters, condemn any legitimate hunting practice. By criticizing or defining hunting ethics, we enter the realm of political correctness by devaluing the rights of a minority."

I believe we must heed the lessons learned by the forest industry, and every other successful industry and business. Change and evolution are part of survival and the hunting community cannot continue to ignore that simple fact. The foundation we build our future on has to be more than fear of the anti-hunting movement. Without a valid social license (public support or at least tolerance) no business or activity will survive over the long term, and neither will hunting. We need a proactive approach and a shared vision that embraces the future. The future we build has to be about hunters and hunting, not about anti-hunters.

About the author: Al is a hunter. After graduating from the University of Guelph he joined the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests as a wildlife biologist. He spent the next 30 years with the Lands and Forests and its successor, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, in a variety of operational and executive positions. He was Regional Director for South Central Ontario when he retired in 1997. He is a founding member of Ontario's Hunting Heritage/Hunting Futures initiative. Al is now a consultant working with various natural resource industries and the Ontario government.

This article was taken from pages 14 & 15 of NOTO's "The Outfitter" publication, Spring 2001 Issue


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