Editors Note: I wrote this after reading a post over on MeatEater.com, the first in what looks to be a series of upcoming essays, labeled Hunting Matters, on hunting, conservation, and cultural issues . The topic at hand was social media, etiquette, and interfacing with non-hunters. I highly recommend it, check out the post HERE. This isn’t necessarily a response, and certainly not a rebuttal, but more my thoughts and experience with social media as it relates to hunting.
Growing up in the Northeast, vacillating between Massachusetts and Connecticut, I dread the usual Monday morning question, “What’d you do this weekend?” At a time of adolescent insecurities I always hesitated to add one more judgmental opportunity to the lengthy list my peers already had to choose from. “I went hunting.” Three simple words became forged in my perception as something to guard, to only trust with those close to me.
I shied away from the debates, tired of explaining why my Grandfather, Dad, and I spent the weekend “killing Bambi.” I learned this pursuit made me an outsider. And so, I built a habit of coming up with something else, trying not to stand out, like every other teenage kid, wanting to blend it.
This is a habit I carry with me to this day, despite relocating to the much more (overall) tolerant point of view on hunting here in Wisconsin. It is also hard to completely hide as an adult, the plethora of conservation organization stickers on my truck give it away to those in the know. And, as I mature, I care much more about authenticity than I do placating acquaintances.
My biggest hiccup, however, is social media. Having started college with the advent of Facebook, I learned, quite quickly, that people go there to form their judgments long before meeting or even speaking to you.
Recently, I’ve taken to it as a platform for advocacy, but still tentative. My posts more about conservation and promoting stewardship and rights organizations like BHA, RGS, PF, and others. I can count on one hand the number of photos I’ve posted involving game, and never a grip & grin. The photos so public “worthy” it would meet even the most stringent publication criteria.
Despite my trepidation on Facebook, I do however maintain an active Instagram account that centers around what I’ve placed in the short “About Me” section, New Englander Living the Dream in Wisconsin; Dogs, Food, and Outdoor Adventures. Even those words were carefully chosen, hunting noticeably absent. But if you look at my feed you will not miss that I hunt, from the photos of my bird dogs to the filtered shots of ‘what’s for dinner?’ highlighting whatever wild game we’re eating that night. It’s a cat and mouse game of saying it, but not.
I often debate about posting things. My “followers” consisting of real world friends from every generation of my human experience, and total strangers, at least in terms of meeting in real life, who share my passions. Over the four years I have been on Instagram I have found a common bond with many people, all outdoors and hunting minded, and I find myself with a sense of belonging. And, for once, a desire to share. I still make sure its tasteful, and aim to promote the positives, but, it is still far more than I would have shared in the past. The amalgamation that comprises those tuned into my feed presents a unique opportunity. It bridges the gap. I have found a like-minded, supportive network, and I am able to promote a hobby. A way of being and interacting with the world to some of my peers who, otherwise, may have never thought anything of it.
The funny thing is, despite all of my worry, my insecurity and concern over judgement, I have never received a negative comment from any of my non-hunting friends. They may just scroll on, they may not like my post, but every now and then I see a username next to the little red heart symbol I never would have imagined would be there. And I smile.
For all the judgement I was worried about, and all the preconceived notions I had about how people would take it, I fear that I was the one with prejudice all along.
Hunting Matters, Conservation Matters. And I’ve learned that if those things make you happy, post away. The happiness and emotion conveyed transcends the subject. The cultural divide between non-hunters and hunters is smaller than we think. We should be making this less about battle lines and attitude. We should be promoting our story without fear of judgement, and without judgement of those we have not shared it with, yet.