You’d be hard-pressed to find many Hollywood stars who openly admit to being avid hunters. And you certainly won’t hear many morning show anchors make canned small talk about taking a 10-pointer over the weekend, regardless of TV network affiliation.
Anymore, you rarely see outdoor coverage of any sort on a certain 24-hour cable sports network, which did away with its outdoor brand in favor of exclusive live sports coverage. Regardless of the multiple explanations behind such a move, it only bears witness to the fact that hunting has fallen far from the limelight of American popular culture, a place it hasn’t been in quite some time.
At one point in American history, the outdoor lifestyle was something to be admired, with films like Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier and Jeremiah Johnson portraying the outdoorsman in a heroic, positive light. Hunters and trappers were regarded as the pinnacle of self-reliance and oneness with nature, as notable actors like Robert Redford graced the screens of Hollywood with rugged manliness and timeless good looks.
But even before Walt Disney began putting coonskin caps on the heads of boys across America, it had already set the stage for hunting’s image in the broader culture. When a certain doe was dropped in the 1942 film Bambi—a movie now viewed by some as a sort of animal rights manifesto—children of that era began to look at hunting in a different light.
“But he’s so cute! I don’t want to shoot Bambi!” was the new cry from the masses.
As years went by, the esteemed outdoorsman was forced out of the spotlight in favor of a more clean-cut, urban businessman whose definition of self-reliance probably depended more on the penthouse’s proximity to any given restaurant, dry cleaner, or subway station.
For a while, that was the “in” thing. That was sexy. But somewhere along the way hugging deer became more marketable than turning them into your next meal.
However, maybe Hollywood isn’t the root of this shift. We can’t kid ourselves and pretend hunting is completely glamorous; it’s not. Killing is messy, yes, but it’s natural. No lion or bear is hoping to have its prey pre-processed and placed on a Walmart shelf.
Industrialization and the mass production of food has made it all to easy for humans to ignore the grim reality of where exactly their meat comes from. Therefore, since they never come to grips with it, they’re more prone to shock when a .308 bullet passes through a big buck’s boiler room.
A recent wave of harassment that overcame Melissa Bachman, a regular blogger at Petersen’s Hunting, is a prime example of the narrow-minded hatred that in some cases has fueled outright threatening, violent speech, as if that was some new way to show the compassion animal rights activists ask hunters to show everything on four legs.
Between death threats and almost-instant encyclopedic legal knowledge, these people made one thing clear: the only thing they know about hunting is that something dies. From their perspective, that’s all they need to know to make up their minds. If it bleeds, then for the love of God, don’t shoot it.
Nevertheless, that seems to be enough to change the minds of a major publishing group like National Geographic TV, which claims to understand conservation and culture yet bows to the demands of an extremely vocal minority, some of whom even took it upon themselves to threaten the life of Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.
Television cowers before these eco-terrorists, while Facebook gives them a voice, turning a blind eye to what is very clearly a threat on a life—a human life. It’s obvious hunters aren’t the target audience of, well, anyone.
But can the once-beloved hunter make a comeback? A simple Google Images search of the word “awesome” will bring up a plethora of pictures that wouldn’t exactly be considered politically correct. Could a grip-and-grin be among them?
Irish-born actor Liam Neeson, for example, has gained online admiration for his ass-kicking portrayals in movies like Taken, Batman Begins and The Grey, while simultaneously earning the ire of animal rights organizations for his culinary choices and his defense of New York horse carriages.
So if overall badassery can be popular online, can hunting make its way back into the mainstream? Is it becoming more socially acceptable to say with Jennifer Lawrence of Hunger Games “screw PETA” and show a character in a hunting movie without being morally bankrupt?
All it really takes is one good movie to show a hunter in a positive light for a change. Blockbuster films like The Hunger Games are a good start, showing a protagonist who isn’t afraid to put an arrow through a whitetail’s lung while getting an audience to root for her—and even becoming an inspiration for the younger generation.
But again, Hollywood isn’t always the answer. Ultimately, any meat eater turned off at the prospect of hunting needs to come to the realization that they’re eating a dead animal, and the journey from field to table probably wasn’t pretty.
Chances are that hamburger probably died a much worse death than some venison backstrap. While a cow may suffer for months, pumped full of hormones before being chopped up, processed behind a curtain and sent to any given restaurant or supermarket, hunting gives the chance to see exactly where the meat came from, as well as the opportunity to process the meat personally. It’s messy business, yes, but it’s organic, and the result is a tasty, healthy steak.
We’re not saying everyone needs to become a hunter, and we understand the logistical improbability of every American citizen killing a whitetail during one hunting season. But if we could at least get back to the point where hunters are no longer vilified by movies—or celebrities acting as mouthpieces for animal rights groups—then we’ll begin to see a cultural shift in which the outdoorsman will once again be admired, and hunting will no longer be viewed by the closed-minded masses as senseless murder.