As Seen on TV

“I just can bring myself to watch the hunting shows on television anymore.”

Who hasn’t heard this?

One of the best and worst things that has happened to hunting in the last 20 years has been hunting shows on television. On the best side, having shows about hunting on television started out as a sort of vindication and validation after hunting on TV went dark when the American Sportsmen show left the air in 1967. Hunting shows being aired on television again was viewed as hunting’s coming out party. After all, everything else was making it to television, why not hunting? On the worst side, well that’s a can of worms subject to differing opinions and evolution.

Hunting on television started out harmless enough, but quickly evolved into a competition for viewers, ratings and sponsors. This resulted into a race for the next best thing, which led us to the kill; more specifically how many ways can we show game being taken, how many kills can we fit into a thirty minute show, and how big. Left over from the video and DVD days that preceded hunting television was the reality that producers faced, a video wouldn’t sell well unless it had the maximum number of kills on it. The story of the people, game, and the hunt was cut short to make room for more results, i.e. “let’s skip this fluff and get to the kill.” It could be argued producers were just providing the product that would sell. It could also be argued they were selling us the kill, and the unintended consequence of the kill now defining hunters and hunting.

As years passed more producers jumped into the TV game. But with competition reigning supreme and still not much of a governing body like an FCC setting standards, anything goes still ruled the day. The networks did have quality standards, but they were not enough to hold back a free market still vying for shrinking sponsorship dollars and viewership now diluted with over 400 shows on multiple outdoor networks. Enter more “all about the kill” and acting, bad acting, first pumping and dancing over a kill. Who could out do whom, and come up with their own brand of hunting proficiency followed by excitement and celebration over a kill seemed to be the only thing that distinguished one show or hunting personality from another. A good question is, so what? Why should anyone care?

For one there is the very nature of television itself, which means it’s available to anyone who lands on a channel. For the curious non-hunter what are we telling them about hunting and ourselves while dancing over a lifeless deer? Hunter’s get it. Success is sweet and high emotion worth feeling good. But anyone who has spent much time watching the body of work on television has to admit lines have been crossed. What about the parent trying to teach his kids about the right way to hunt? Are his or her teachings being supported by what they’re seeing played out on the screen? And not just TV screens. Anyone can post anything to YouTube or his or her Facebook page – no filters, no guidelines. Is a complication of my favorite kill shots something we all feel is fit for public consumption? Some folks must thing so.

On the good news side, this “all about me and the kill” has started to fall by the wayside. Independent video producers using mediums to air their videos other than television were among the first to push forward telling stories of the hunting experience, talking about the great game we hunt, how a hunting tradition has shaped their lives and that of their families, and yes, talking about their approach and ethics. Some television producers have been following suit. We’re seeing more story telling; more human interest and the special nature of hunting, more use of the great game meat we acquire, more coverage of a hunter’s role and contributions to conservation, including anti-poaching efforts and funding. The end result is there are more “watchable,” interesting, balanced and wholesome shows on television now, and hopefully more on the way.

In the final analysis there are ethical standards in every meaningful human activity, including hunting. Its not a stretch to expect these standards to be even higher for filming hunting for television and video that is available to anyone, especially when these products speak for all hunters and hunting. Hunting is personal. Killing an animal is personal. It just may be one of those things that is just not made for a public medium like television, or at least not without some commonsense sideboards that put hunting’s best foot forward.

Updated: 10/20/2017