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10 Ways to Win Hearts and Minds About Hunting

10 Ways to Win Hearts and Minds About Hunting
Photo credit: Ron Sinfelt

Here are 10 simple steps you can take to educate those who don't understand what hunting is really all about.

Hunting is a "total" experience. Just being on stand at dawn can be a reward unto itself. That total experience is what hunters, as ambassadors for hunting, need to explain to those who don't hunt. Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Today, only about 6 percent of Americans hunt in any given year, so non-hunters are by far the majority in our democratic republic. This is why the image we show them of ourselves as hunters is critical, particularly given the popularity of Social media and the ways what is said or the images shown online can influence public opinion almost instantly. There is more than enough evidence today that the argument against hunting is an emotional, and not scientific one. Here are 10 ways to win the hearts and minds of reasonable people about hunting in an emotional debate — when you speak to the unreasonable ones, just keep in mind some reasonable people are probably listening as well.

1. Hunting Is About Real Experiences That Shape Us

Conservationists are created by the realities of the natural world, of which hunting is a critical part. Hunters tend to become conservationists because they create a bond with the game they hunt and where this game lives. The game we hunt is neither helpless nor helpful, which requires us to develop skills and knowledge to be successful. Learning where deer bed and what they feed on, what calls a mallard makes and when and why elk move out of the high country are just a few examples of what helps create this bond. All of this knowledge, this reality-based experience, produces good wildlife stewards. Share this with a non-hunter. Show them how you use an elk bugle or show them the browse line deer have created behind their suburban home. Let them know you have come to understand these things because you are and active participant in nature, which is where your sense of responsibility to conserve comes from.

2. Tell Them About Our Code of Conduct and Sportsmanship

Hunting being conducted under the laws that are established to protect the game is a part of the story that non-hunters often miss. Our game laws are not arbitrary. They are based on science and what is best for sustainable populations. In most cases what can be hunted and how many is one of the most tightly controlled aspects of using any natural resource. We've cut all the trees in some areas, and mined the minerals, and pumped the oil, but the hunter harvest of game is monitored very closely by state wildlife agencies. So much so that we have more deer, elk, turkey and other games species today than we did 100 years ago. Everyone expects laws to be in place, but not everyone knows that hunting has a code of ethics.

that extends beyond the law. In fact, there are some things that are considered legal but still unethical by most hunters.

Our society rightfully expects any human activity to be conducted legally and ethically in order for that activity to continue. Tell them hunting has a code of ethics we call fair chase that is grounded by a conservation ethic that ensures game species are not only not threaten by, but enhanced by hunting.

Camaraderie and sharing good times around the fire with friends and family is one of the most enjoyable aspects of hunting. Photo by Ron Sinfelt

3. All Hunting Is Conservation

Animal-rights activists are using the notion of "trophy hunting" as some sort of sub-set of hunting in a marketing strategy to portray hunting as morally objectionable and wasteful in an effort to sway public opinion against all hunting. The truth is, all hunting is conservation in practice and every animal is a prized trophy. Choosing to hunt hard, hold out, and hunt selectively for a large, mature male is another tool in wildlife management and conservation at its core. Choosing to do so versus taking the first legal buck one encounters extends the hunting experience, which is more to the point of why people go hunting.


Selective hunting is not wasteful. Every part of the animal is brought in from the field, including the head, antlers, horns or hide. A mounted head or horns are traditionally kept as a constant reminder of a memorable experience, usually with family and friends, and as a sign of admiration for an animal respected and not wasted. Just taking the head and horns and wasting the meat is offensive to sportsmen, which also happens to be a crime.

The existence of mature (trophy quality) game animals in any wildlife population is an indicator that the herd is healthy, and in a balance with its habitat and other wildlife. Trophies are valued by sportsmen, and like anything else, what is valued is nurtured and respected. What our society doesn't value is neglected and left to fend for itself.  By working to enhance the number of mature animals in a herd, which hunters and wildlife biologists do all the time, they are working to improve habitat that benefits all wildlife, not just trophies. A side-benefit to good habitat and a managed herd size is an increase in antler size. When deer are allowed to age on good habitat, they grow larger antlers. This is another sign that our management efforts are working, and the entire herd (and many other animals) are also benefiting. Explain this to anyone who sees a mounted deer head on your wall or a photo of you smiling with a buck you have taken.

4. Everyone Can Agree on Healthy Food

Whole Foods' popularity and knowing the origin of the food we eat are just two examples behind the trend toward healthier, chemical free, more natural food. In response, there are now butcher shops that only sell locally raised, grass-fed, hormone-free meat. More people are coming to see the benefits of hunting for this reason because nothing is more healthy and renewable than wild game meat

How often do you share your harvest with friends and family, or those who may not hunt themselves?  Doing so may provide the opportunity to open this discussion and help to educate non-hunters. Sharing the fact that acquiring healthy organic protein remains a primary reason people hunt is a great way to start the conversation.

Hunting teaches life lessons and builds special bonds between parents who hunt and their children, while providing lifelong memories. Photo by Jeff Phillips

5. Make It Personal

When talking with non-hunters, at the end of the day we're talking about other people reconciling in their own minds why someone else would kill another animal they claim to care about. This is the most difficult thing for many non-hunters to wrap their heads around.

Loading them up with facts and figures, like how much hunting creates jobs and helps the economy, or how much hunting helps wildlife conservation is certainly truthful and part of the conversation, but this argument is not powerful enough to overcome the counter argument raised by anti-hunters that sportsmen get enjoyment from killing. Here are a few suggestions on how you can provide a basis for your belief in hunting when speaking with those who don't understand our ethos. The most important thing is to keep your cool and don't be baited into an argument. 

Providing examples from your own family and upbringing can be a powerful means of persuasion. "My family has always hunted. My dad was a hunter, as was his father. My uncles hunted. It is just something our family had in common that brought us all together.

"Some of the most memorable times I had with my father were when we would go hunting. There we years when I was growing up as a teen that it seemed we didn't have anything in common, but we could always talk about hunting and the game we hunted. Hunting provided a way for my father to teach me valuable life lessons (as his father taught him) such as self-reliance, self-determination, self-esteem, personal character, and taking responsibility."

  • Hunters Feel A Responsibility To The Game

Speaking about the moral connection and responsibility hunters feel toward the game we hunt and all living creatures is another good way to educate people. To others who also care about wildlife, a tack like this proves common ground exists: "My dad taught me about wildlife and our responsibly to conserve and protect, and never disrespect, waste or take it for granted."

"He would always say that we owe it to the game we hunt to give them our best effort every time and develop the skills necessary to ensure a humane harvest. I guess that's why it bothers me whenever I see anyone mistreating or disrespecting any animal. Hunting taught me that their suffering was my suffering. That's why I'm a big advocate for doing what is necessary to cut down on deer-related vehicle collisions, and advocate against the mistreatment of pets and domestic livestock. You need a license to hunt, but not to own a dog or a horse, yet we see horrific examples all the time of people who have no business owning these animals."

  • Hunters Prefer "No Guarantees."

Non-hunters have a tendency to believe that game is somehow helpless, that hunting is easy, and we are successful every time out. This supports the notion that hunting is just killing, which we know is a gross misconception. Point out to that them that if they knew the score of a game beforehand, or the ending of a movie they would be less interesting to watch.  Not knowing the outcome is a big part of the experience, and hunting is no different. There are no guarantees in hunting and that's the way we like it because hunting is greater than the sum of its parts, and certainly greater that just a kill. Hunting is preparation and skill, challenges to overcome, problems to be solved, discomfort, and physical and mental effort to be expended, and more often than not the game wins. Let them know that if hunting was guaranteed it would be hard to call it hunting.

  • Hunters Have A Tradition Of Sharing

We never owned our own property to hunt on, so we had to ask permission from local farmers and ranchers to hunt on their land. If we got a pheasant or a rabbit my dad always insisted we offer some of our good fortune to the landowner. After all they basically raised this game on their land; the animals ate from their crops and grain fields.

Some farmers would even leave strips of tall grass for the game to live in. We also always shared wild game meat with family and friends. It's part of the hunting tradition. Nothing brings people together like food, especially game that is wild caught from field to table.

  • Hunters Have A Responsibility to Conserve

Many people believe that all hunters want to do is kill all the game. This couldn't be further from the truth. Think about it. If we shoot all the game, what will be left next year? What will be left to reproduce? This is the reason hunting and conservation go hand in hand. Sure, we could always shoot our limit, but that was never the point. "Save some for tomorrow" may dad would always say. "That's a responsibility we accept as hunters."

By making it personal, you're not only being truthful but honest. Chances are people will come away with a whole different impression of you as a person and as a hunter, which bodes well for all of us.

6. Choosing Not To Leave It To Chance

There is a growing belief that the abundance and diversity of wildlife we have in this country today happened by chance and has always, and will always be there because its nature. The truth, as we know, is far from it.

"Letting nature take its course" is a popular belief because it includes the misconceptions that no animals will die, no trees will get cut, that all lands should be treated like a wilderness area or national park, and the myth that we will stop needing and using natural resources.

Conservation, which includes regulated hunting, is a principle that recognizes human needs and those of nature. Conservation means both protection where necessary and active management. Preservation alone — keeping man out and eliminating the use of natural resources, and blocking the active management of these resources — cannot deliver the full benefits of conservation.

Tell them as a hunter, you have chosen to participate in the conservation and active management of wildlife, and the ecosystems that support them and us. Having too many deer is just as unbalanced as having too few. The reality is wildlife will only continue to exist based on what habitats our growing population makes available for them.

Clearly the lines are being blurred when hunting and poaching are being used in the same sentence and confusing the two. Hunters have work to do to correct this misconception. This mule deer was poached in Colorado by a Mississippi man and his son who were later caught and prosecuted for poaching. Photo courtesy: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

7. Explain Why Hunters and Poachers Are Not Brothers.

Poachers are not hunters. Poachers are thieves. Game agencies report that almost all calls in to 800-Turn-in-a-Poacher hotlines are from hunters. This is because hunters understand and care about the wildlife resources they hunt. Without hunters watching over these resources much of the public wouldn't even know or understand what was happening if a resource is abused.

Hunters feel a responsibility for the game they hunt, which is why they advocate humane shots at mature animals and utilize all of the meat they harvest. Photo by Ron Sinfelt

8. Expose Them to the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation

The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is a set of principles that has guided wildlife management and conservation decisions in the United States and Canada. 

The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation rests on the basic principles that fish and wildlife are for the non-commercial use of citizens and can only be killed for legitimate purposes under strict guidelines; that every citizen has an opportunity to hunt and fish; and wildlife should be managed such that they are available at optimum population levels forever. This model uses sportsmen as game keepers and as a constituency that actively lobbies for and pays for wildlife conservation.

To learn more ways that you can win the hearts and minds of non-hunters and become a better ambassador for hunting, click here and take our interactive quiz and find our if you are the hunter you think you are.

9. The Alternative Model To Science

Wildlife management decisions based on emotional arguments and not science disregards the successes wildlife conservation has been able to achieve and offers no proven and sustaining alternative. Wildlife and the ecosystems that support them are complex living and breathing things. They cannot survive in healthy condition because we wish it so. We have to apply what we know to be true. The first truth is that science teaches us what is possible and not possible, but people have to decide to apply or ignore science. The next undeniable truth is that people value what is cared for and enhanced, and we value what we have access to, use and benefit from. What we do not value is discarded and neglected.

Sportsmen having access to use and benefit from wildlife natural resources was foundational to the establishment of a long-term model of wildlife conservation. It is also true that people value wildlife in different ways. Tell them, as a sportsman, you have chosen to supply the resources (time, advocacy and funding) to support the model of judicious use of wildlife backed by science and welcome anyone who values wildlife to join in this effort.

Hunters have a tradition of sharing. Want to win over some non-hunters? Invite them to a venison dinner you've prepared and explain that celebrating the game you harvest with friends and family is part of the hunting ethos. Photo by David Draper

10. Preservation is a Tool of Conservation

The non-use of natural resources, including wildlife, is a philosophy of preservation, not conservation. Conservation and preservation are both concerned with protection of the environment, but they are based on different philosophies that produce different results. Conservation focuses on using and managing natural resources to benefit people, but in keeping within the limits of supply, regrowth, and change, both natural and human-influenced. It is the most widely used and accepted model for the management of natural resources, including wildlife, in North America.

Preservation is a philosophy that generally seeks to keep natural resources in a pristine state by excluding management and limiting how they are used by people. Preservation sees man as the destructor and is increasingly seeking to exclude man from the landscape altogether.

Tell them that despite their dissimilarities, conservation and preservation should not be viewed as opposing schools of thought. Conservation is the overarching concept, while preservation is one of many management options within a broad conservation approach. Sometimes preservation is the right choice, like wilderness areas and national parks and national monument lands. But, even these areas require the active management conservation delivers. This includes wildlife management through hunting and trapping, and habitat management through timber harvest, planting, controlled burns, fire suppression, and soil restoration and reclamation. These are not the tools of preservation.

Sometimes preservation is the right choice, like wilderness areas and national parks and national monument lands. But, even these areas require the active management conservation delivers. This includes wildlife management through hunting and trapping, and habitat management through timber harvest, planting, controlled burns, fire suppression, and soil restoration and reclamation. These are not the tools of preservation.

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