A House Divided

“It’s gotta be better than a 160 class buck for me to try a sneak. Five years ago I wouldn’t have said that, but today that’s where I’m at.” My good friend was explaining his hunting strategy to me over lunch one day. We both get fired up for our annual spot and stalk mule deer hunts in Nebraska’s panhandle, and talking about it is half the fun. Like most hunters, as the season draws near we discuss more and more the deer we have scouted and our plans. Once the season kicks off our Monday morning greeting shifts from “Did you do anything this weekend?” to “Get your deer yet?” But for all the commonality we share in hunting, our hunting goals vary wildly.

While my friend is a hard and fast trophy hunter, I would classify myself as a meat hunter. When setting out for the day I seldom chase after a specific buck or spend too much time analyzing an animal’s headgear. When the season starts I generally focus on taking a few does to fill the freezer before switching gears to hunting for bucks, and I feel just as happy letting the air out of a baldy as I do an average buck. For me the true enjoyment of hunting lies in completing the cycle of prairie-to-plate and experiencing that satisfaction. I guess hunting proves true the old adage “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Conflicting visions between trophy hunters, meat hunters, and hunters of all kinds often boil to extremes. Head to any web based discussion board with a thread about the topic of trophy hunting vs. meat hunting and you’ll likely see a civil conversation turn ugly as more and more people chime in. It’s been called “The Great Debate” of hunting and has created rifts within the hunting community. With all the challenges facing our hunting community in the future, we would do well to band together in support of each other’s hunting goals. As the good book tells us “a house divided against itself cannot stand” and if we want to retain our hunting rights in the future we need to move past our small differences. In the end we share one theme; we like to hunt.

One way to promote a positive relationship between trophy hunters and meat hunters is to understand the positives of both practices. Trophy hunters offer some great benefits to all of us. For starters, trophy hunters are great conservationists. Holding out for trophy animals requires great patience while letting many animals walk by. A true trophy hunter will never deplete an area of animals, and that is commendable. Additionally, trophy hunters harvest those animals many people enjoy looking at and admiring. I live near the original Cabela’s and whenever we go into the store I can’t help but admire all the mounts. State record animals, Boone-and-Crockett animals, and world record book animals litter the place. Often times it is easier to see a shopper browsing the mount collection rather than the camo collection. Trophy animals are fun to look at and can be appreciated even by non-hunters. Finally, trophy hunters help the economics of hunting. I always razz my buddy that I hope he doesn’t get anything, that way he can save the $700 to get him mounted. Mounts, access to trophy properties, and licenses all cost money. I recently read about an oil tycoon that spent nearly $400,000 on a mule deer tag. That type of money is enough to help the hunting industry, and much of that money trickles back to state game departments for habitat and herd management.

Meat hunters on the other hand also contribute to the overall good. Meat hunters carry the torch of past generations shedding light on how our ancestors lived. Meat hunters preserve old ideas, knowledge, and the culture of our past. Traditions of harvesting, processing, and consuming the meat of their animals remain alive in our American households because of meat hunters, and in a society with more and more people out of touch with that reality of life, this is important. In addition, meat hunters can also benefit game populations by removing undesirable animals and thinning the herd. Overpopulation is one of the major threats of our whitetail population today. A recent article in Time magazine suggests more deer may live in America today than when Columbus landed. Without meat hunters culling excess does and other deer, our deer populations run the risk of a disease decimating a herd.

Bickering between meat and trophy hunters drives a wedge between two important groups of our hunting community. Both meat hunters and trophy hunters are working to preserve our hunting heritage in America and should be supported by each other. It’s important to remember that neither side is wrong in this debate; hunting means different things to both of them. As a social studies teacher at a rural high school, I do an exercise each year with my kids about understanding different perspectives. One example I use is food. People can see food either as an enjoyment of life or as fuel for their body. Each side will have radically different behavior, eat differently, and may even come to believe only they are correct. “You’re missing out on the finer things in life” or “you’d actually put that junk into your body” are two common quips in their argument. Who’s right? Like in our hunting debate, both are right since the meaning of food is left up to each individual.

At a time when anti-hunters are gaining more power, both socially and politically, it’s important that our hunting community sticks together. The anti’s pose some big threats to our way of life and our passion in life. It will take both sides of the hunting camp to oppose them in the future. In the end, both groups want to hunt and that common goal should bind us together. Hopefully next time you meet a fellow hunter, head to an online discussion board, or enter into a conversation about the topic you will remember the benefits both sides bring to the table and build up hunting in general. Recognizing our own view of hunting is something we created in our minds is the first step to appreciating the other side. Supporting the other side will help secure everyone’s hunting rights in the future and will keep our hunting house undivided.