What About Trophies?

The first rule in solving any problem is admitting you have one.

If the conversation is about the public image and perception of hunters, which is a conversation about continuance, we can no long ignore the fact that the word “trophy” now plays a significant role in what people think about hunting.

Simply put, the notion of trophy hunting carries a negative stigma of killing and wasting wildlife solely for ego embellishment—a head for the wall. Consequently, without the ability to discern one “form” of hunting from another, more people are criticizing and rejecting big game hunting in general. We don’t need more public opinion surveys to tell us this. They have already been done and the results are disturbing. The question is, is their any truth to this and what can be done about this growing PR mess?

It would be a shortsighted if we tried to hang this situation solely on anti-hunter and animal rights groups who are doing nothing more than cashing in on an opportunity. Their own surveys have them zeroed in on the fact that the thought of killing wildlife for their head is a huge turnoff for the same people they are trying to bring on board to support their attempts to end all hunting. All they have to do is put the word “trophy” in front of any animal and they have the knife to twist. You never see their headlines read bear, grizzly, elk or deer hunting. It’s now always “Stop Trophy Bear, Grizzly, Elk and Deer Hunting.”

It will be equally costly to just dismiss the whole thing because we know there are laws against just taking the head and leaving the meat to waste; that we still hunt for the meat regardless; that a trophy is in the eye of the beholder; that a trophy is a cherished memory and a tribute to an animal respected and not wasted; or that keeping mementos from the hunt is a cherished tradition, not unlike bringing home a piece of driftwood for the yard from a family vacation to the beach. The question remains, what can be done?

The answer is there is no easy answer. Trophy is burned into our culture. It’s a part of our language. It’s used to sell product, hunts, and property. It’s what many work hard for, spend big dollars for, hold out for, and aspire to obtain. It’s what many of us cherish and what dreams are made of. Trophy drives the hunting economy and pushed critical conservation funding to the remotest places on the planet where no other sustaining source of funding exists. It pays for species-specific enhancement and management programs and helps keep the cost of general season licenses low.

The answer might be we just need to talk more about our values and what drives us to hunt and the rewarding personal experience we get from hunting, and a little less, “I smoked that sucker.” It would also go a long way to talk more about a wild harvest of healthy, organic protein and share our favorite recipes. The same surveys that show trophy hunting lowest on the approval scale shows hunting for food ranking the highest. Use it. The next time you post a field photo, follow up with an image of back straps on the grill. No one can mount a reasonable argument against food.

“The true trophy hunter is a self-disciplined perfectionist seeking a single animal, the ancient patriarch well past his prime that is often an outcast from his own kind… If successful, he will enshrine the trophy in a place of honor. This is a more noble and fitting end than dying on some lost and lonely ledge where the scavengers will pick his bones, and his magnificent horns will weather away and be lost forever.”Elgin Gates

Another option is to start replacing the word trophy with “selective.” Selective hunting is the foundation of conservation and wildlife management, which also ranks high in public approval. We selectively hunt the male of a species for a reason. Our game laws and the principles of conservation, sustainable use, and hunting the surplus is based on this selectivity and has been for a century. It is responsible for game populations recovering to the abundance we have today. In those places now where game is too abundant, we selectively harvest females as well.

Bottom line is, we do the same, we’ll get the same and the same hasn’t been working.



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