Media Misrepresentations of the Hunter, the Hunted, and Hunting
It is an ongoing effort to keep on top of the ways hunting is represented in the media. The speed with which information, and misinformation, spread through social media can make it difficult to be aware of and respond to every conversation about hunting. On top of that, with attention spans becoming increasingly short, there is the danger that misperceptions about facts will become a part of the public’s collective memory before inaccuracies can be addressed.
On Friday, February 10th, CBC’s episode of the fifth estate, “The Hunter and the Hunted”, examined the complex, sometimes contrasting, ways that humans interact with wildlife. The first of four profiles focused on Jacine Jadresko, a Canadian hunter. In the 15 minute segment, host Bob McKeown apparently expected to typify the vastly diverse identities of hunters through the experiences of one individual. For me, the segment was characterized by misrepresentations, oversimplifications, and missed opportunities to examine the nuances that define hunting.
Even for those who might dislike hunting altogether, the fact that I easily identified seven problem areas with the segment should make it clear that the fifth estate bit off too large a chunk of this complex issue to hope to cover in 15 minutes.
Here’s the segment on Jacine. The rest of this post will make more sense after watching:
Here are seven areas I’ve identified where the episode could have more meaningfully engaged in the conversation. To make something else clear from the outset, I think Jacine was a poor representative of hunting, and while she and I would undoubtedly share some ideas, I disagreed with many of the things she said and much of the underlying sentiment in her representations of hunting.
1. An extreme case as representative of hunters and hunting
Hunting has been more than a significant factor in the history of human evolution and civilization. This is not to say that historical continuity justifies an activity, merely to point out that it is impossible to expect that a single person can encapsulate and represent such a historically and culturally diverse part of human culture.
I have to believe that in choosing Jacine to profile, CBC must have known that she is a minority among the hunting community in terms of the kind of hunting she does. The majority of us do not have thousands of dollars to spend on big game hunts around the world; social media followers numbering in the thousands (Jacine’s Instagram, inkedhuntress, currently has 9,031 followers); endorsements and sponsorships; professionally filmed hunts. So there’s just no way that CBC should have even implicitly suggested that Jacine’s experiences represent the broader hunting community.
I’ll also point out that Jacine’s views and representations of hunting do not reflect my own and I would not choose Jacine as my ambassador. I’ve heard people say that hunters need to stand together, but I don’t believe that’s true. Social media and celebrity hunters sometimes do more harm than good. Antagonistic attitudes and inflammatory phrases (e.g. Jacine’s “the more you hate the more I kill”) do not reflect the attitudes that define the broader hunting community. The way we frame our messaging is important, and while I look to Jacine to rethink her approach, CBC could have chosen not to highlight things like this to their audience.
2. Limited discussion of hunting as conservation and management
Regulated hunting has played a critical role in the history of wildlife management and conservation throughout the world. It’s a topic I have addressed in other posts and there are plenty of poignant and informative resources out there detailing this topic. Bob gave a passing remark about Jacine identifying as a conservationist as if the mutual self-identification as both hunter and conservationist is questionable, but neglected to talk about the important role hunters have played throughout the history of the conservation movement on this continent.
From the creation of the first national parks, to species recovery movements, to providing funding for scientific research, monitoring, and enforcement, the profound financial and physical labour contributions of hunters is unequivocal. In North America, fish and wildlife management agencies generate around 80% of their operating budget from hunting-related fees. Even if we isolate the more controversial aspect of Jacine’s hunting activities and focus on her big game hunting in Africa, the legal and economic picture is complex. Like it or not, the economic reality is that species conservation in many countries relies on the fees generated by hunting.
It’s also important to note that hunting is carefully and tightly regulated. Each year, jurisdictions release hunting regulations that stipulate precisely what hunters are allowed to kill, often specifying requirements for gender and physical traits intended to select for individuals of specific age classes. Highly trained individuals spend their entire careers refining the methods for studying population demographics so that wildlife can be managed effectively. For an example, the Ontario Hunting Regulations and Ontario’s Cervid Ecological Framework specify management objectives for all four deer species in the province.
3. Simplification of the concept of “trophy hunting”
When the topic of “trophy hunting” flares up in the media every so often, I see two issues repeatedly emerge. First, the definitions of the term differ widely, so it becomes impossible to really engage in a discussion about this thing called trophy hunting. What one person sees as deplorable and wasteful, someone else sees as legal and conservation-minded. Second, there is a tendency to position “trophy hunting” and all other forms of hunting as mutually exclusive, as though someone is either a food hunter or a trophy hunter, and never both.
The CBC episode, unfortunately, fell into both of these traps. Bob provided a cursory and somewhat arbitrary definition of trophy hunting as “hunting for recreation, not food”. Bob stated at one point that “a Canadian family hunting deer may not be cause for controversy, but Jacine’s big game trophy hunts around the world certainly are”, positioning different forms of hunting as mutually exclusive, binary, and in necessary contradiction.
Motivations to hunt are not mutually exclusive. I understand that when most people talk about trophy hunting, they’re talking about people who travel to Africa to hunt for wall decorations. However, every hunter I know hunts for food and many of them also retain some part of the animal as a “trophy”. So the concept is not so easily reduced to a binary classification. Furthermore, regardless of individual motivations to hunt, the laws are the same. So “trophy hunters” still operate within the tightly regulated system of hunting. This perceived dichotomy becomes almost completely unproductive in a conversation around hunting.
Where it is useful to attempt to distinguish “trophy hunting” from some other kind of hunting is in a discussion purely about personal ethics. Based on my own highly specific personal ethics, I really have no interest in hunting purely for the pursuit of a skull or hide. However, my more complex understanding of the reality of wildlife conservation in many countries means that I understand it has a role in global nature conservation.
In striving for an easily digestible definition of a complicated issue, we often risk simplifying it so much that we end up judging and appraising an incomplete picture of the issue, and this does nothing for moving our collective understanding forward. I feel no internal intellectual conflict saying that I disagree with both Jacine’s and Bob’s analyses of trophy hunting.
4. Reducing the complexity of hunting to being “definitively about” killing
Hunting is about many things and these things are about as varied as the places and species people hunt. What hunting is “about” can not be neatly packaged into a straightforward definition.
At one point during the segment, Jacine says that hunting, to her, is not about killing. Though Bob had just acknowledged that he has no personal experience hunting and stated clearly that he would not hunt, his reply is simply to argue that hunting is “definitively about killing”. Without any personal experience, one is quite simply not qualified to state what hunting is “definitively about”.
I understand what Bob thought he meant with this statement. Unfortunately, in his effort to be provocative, he missed an important opportunity to try to understand how hunters understand the activity on a more emotional level. As a hunter, I can understand what Jacine meant when she said hunting is not about killing, and on multiple levels, Bob was wrong.
If hunting is definitively about killing, then a hunt without a kill is by definition a failed or unsuccessful hunt. Plenty of hunts go by without a kill and are by many criteria successful – they involve learning, time with friends and family, and so on. So while hunting involves killing, and even by definition involves the pursuit of killing, presenting hunting as some simplistic hierarchy of goals, with killing as the penultimate factor of success upon which all other components of a hunt depend is a disservice to the deep cultural and widely varied motivations to hunt.
5. Misguided fixation on the words “harvest” and “kill”
The discussion around terminology is one I’ve been interested in for quite some time, and a topic I’ve covered more thoroughly in another post. Unfortunately, the discussion was missed because Bob appeared more interested in making statements disguised as questions than meaningfully engaging in the topic.
Differences over the use of the words “harvest” and “kill” are interesting and in some cases can reflect culturally-specific worldviews related to wildlife. Bob (and most of the online comments on the episode) apparently only saw the use of the word harvest as somehow trying to water down the act of killing. The suggestion that the use of the word harvest is a way to hide the killing that is involved in hunting presupposes a moral framing on hunters’ understanding of the act that is inaccurate. On the contrary, I would hazard to say that most thoughtful hunters have devoted some time to reflect on their role as a hunter and the moral weight involved in killing. There are many complex considerations that determine how hunters understand the morality in killing, and this conversation is far more interesting than the foregone conclusion that hunters are simply searching for euphemisms.
I’ll also point out that the use of the word harvest has a much deeper history in North American wildlife management than the idea that hunters are simply trying to hide what they do. When Aldo Leopold wrote Game Management in 1933, widely regarded as the first codification of the system of scientific wildlife management in North America, he used the word harvest as part of a wider conceptualization of the act of managing wildlife.
6. Real gender issues in hunting trivialized
Though this is changing, there’s no question that there are still gender inequities in the hunting world. Product development, marketing, and ingrained attitudes and vernacular continue to reinforce the male-dominated nature of hunting. I’ve declined the opportunity to hunt with hunt camps who have told me that they do not allow women to join. On the other hand, I’ve chosen to be part of hunt camps that denounce this kind of exclusion and make efforts to include women. The hunting partner I work with better than anyone and enjoying hunting with more than anyone else is a woman. I’ve watched her work hard to negotiate the line between advocating for herself as both a “woman hunter” and simply a hunter, whose identity as a hunter does not have to be defined by her gender.
I think the episode could have made an important statement by selecting a woman to profile in their segment on hunting. Both Jacine and Bob chose to highlight aspects of this story that were bound to elicit emotional responses from both the hunting and non-hunting public. Perhaps it was never the intention, but if Jacine or Bob had truly wanted to present this story as an example of a strong woman hunter and role model, they both could have taken a better approach. Jacine suggested that she experiences more shock and opposition to her photos because she is a woman, but I think this minimizes the impacts of the other ways she chooses to market herself – the nature of the photos she posts, the hashtags she uses, and her shock-based slogans on social media.
Bob stated at one point that “marketers are anxious to prove that even blood sport could use a little glamour”. These kinds of statements perpetuate the sexualization of women hunters and simplify women’s involvement in hunting to simply new marketing opportunities. This kind of discussion also diminishes appreciation for the dedication anyone must show to become a skilled hunter. I don’t doubt that sexism affects how people react to Jacine, but I think there were better ways to examine and challenge those attitudes that did not leave the conversation open to such quick dismissal.
In giving a superficial nod to issues around gender and wrapping these up in other emotionally charged issues, Jacine and Bob trivialized the real gendered power dynamics in hunting. The effect was to provide people with the opportunity to dismiss not only Jacine’s suggestion that her gender plays a part in people’s attitudes towards her but also the existence of gender issues in hunting altogether.
Here’s the kind of discussion I think is productive and powerful with regards to women and hunting (as a side note, this post was published on March 8, 2017, International Women’s Day):
7. Little discussion of hunting as gathering
The focus on Jacine’s trophy hunting left very little time or space to discuss the role of hunting as a means of gathering food. Toward the end of the segment, the conversation shifted to Jacine hunting in Canada for food. If the intention of the episode had been to focus on trophy hunting as Bob conceives of it, that might be understandable. However, the episode was purportedly about people’s varied relationships with wildlife, with hunting representing one of those relationships. For many hunters, hunting is about gathering food and filling freezers (in fact, it is illegal to waste meat from a hunted animal). The focus on Jacine’s trophy hunting trips and her social media activities obscured this prominent motivation for hunting.
I was disappointed at the missed opportunities in this episode. I think it could have been a valuable window into the unique relationship hunters form with wildlife. The problems I discussed here are of course not limited to this particular episode of the fifth estate. They are part of a broader issue with discussions of hunting in the media. I can only encourage both hunters and non-hunters alike – don’t take the bait. Avoid the temptation to allow discussions like the one presented by the fifth estate to perpetuate stereotypes and divisions. Ask more questions and find common ground.
I’d be really interested to hear other people’s thoughts on the episode and my take on it.