Recently, a debate was held by Intelligence Squared U.S. on the topic: Do hunters conserve wildlife? They asked if we would stream the debate live on our website. (If you missed it, you can watch it here.)
I agreed, even though I thought to myself, "How much of a debate can this be? Of course, hunters are conservationists. How could anyone argue otherwise?"
Well, argue they did. Wayne Pacelle, CEO and president of the Humane Society of the United States, and Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, took the position against the motion, while Catherine Semcer, COO of Humanitarian Operations Protecting Elephants, and Anthony Licata, editor in chief of Field and Stream magazine, took the pro side.
When the smoke cleared, 65 percent of the audience did not feel hunters conserve wildlife. Shocking, but there are a couple of factors that skewed the numbers. One, the debate was held in New York City, and it was clear from the applause and questions that the audience was heavily seeded with anti-hunters. Two, the pro-hunting side simply got outmaneuvered.
This is not a slight on Licata, who is one of the best minds in the hunting industry. He is a passionate hunter and someone I consider a good friend. But both he and Semcer have an admirable Achilles' heel: They can't bring themselves to lie.
Some would call the arguments of Pacelle and Roberts disingenuous. Some would call them stretching the truth. Others would simply call it lying.
Both Pacelle and Roberts are highly skilled orators unburdened by the constraints of morality when it comes to debating. Neither had a problem distorting the facts or manipulating the numbers — to the point they were unrecognizable.
It was infuriating to listen to their misleading arguments during the debate, but there is a bigger problem. This goes on every day when no one is around to challenge them. The anti-hunting crowd has gained traction against us because they don't let things like facts, figures, and science get in the way of their arguments based on emotions and distortions of the truth.
So how do we combat this?
Unfortunately, it is difficult, as hunters are an isolated bunch. We tend to congregate with others who share common interests and passions. So we speak to each other in a vacuum. After enough of this, we are lulled into believing that most people think like we do — this is not the case.
"Some would call the arguments of Pacelle and Roberts disingenuous. Some would call them stretching the truth. Others would simply call it lying."
Non-hunters are bombarded by emotional arguments and misinformation — even outright lies and propaganda. It's no surprise they are predisposed to dislike hunting.
But it is more than lies promoted with an agenda of ill will. There is a general, more benign misconception of what hunting is and what it is all about, and it is hard for us to explain the emotional draw it places over us.
Tovar Cerulli, a conservationist communications consultant, examines this widening gap between hunters and non-hunters and asks some tough questions that hunters need to consider.
In short, do we submit to a siege mentality in which there is a constant fight between the antis and us? Do we attempt to convince non-hunters of our respect for wildlife and wild places through our actions, imagery, and language? Do we reassess the way we showcase what we do by censoring ourselves in our social posts? Do we refrain from the trophy photo and instead use
images that promote the experience and our values? Do we stop using certain terms like "sport" and "trophy"?
I don't know if better communications or refraining from any activity will ever pacify the antis and sway the middle. I don't know if giving up ground, finding common ground, or being selective in the battles we pick will do us more harm than good.
However, I am willing to think about it, to discuss it with fellow hunters, and to consider all options. After watching the debate, I realized that we have to initiate hard conversations within our community to change this trend. It's no longer about how to "beat" the anti-hunters, but rather how we can do a better job of convincing non-hunters why we hunt'¦and that we are true conservationists.