Giving hunting a positive public face begins with each of us
I shouldered my shotgun and fired as fast as the flush, then paused to inhale the pleasantly pungent fragrance of gun smoke. We’ve all done it, closed our eyes for a few seconds to let those lingering notes awaken outdoor reflections. It’s something hunters understand, but absolutely lost on the majority of Canadians who’ve never walked in the footsteps of a hunting family, let alone fired a gun.
The same goes for National Hunting, Trapping and Fishing Heritage Day, celebrated annually on the third Saturday of September. It’s been 10 years since an act of Parliament made this day official, but has anyone without a camouflage hat even noticed? Instead, fears and misinformation continue to spread throughout our society about most things hunting, from the use of sporting dogs and guns, to the death of the animals we proudly pose with.
When it comes to the public’s overall views on hunting, however, I believe indifference at least outnumbers intolerance. That means there’s still hope for a national campaign to truly inspire Canadians to think differently about hunting. It begins with expressing the values of the people who hunt, not just the value of hunting itself.
Yes, we love to hunt, but others need to know we do more than just that. Hunters are among the top donors and volunteers for kids’ minor sports and camps, for example, as well as for major charities and service clubs. Hunters are on the frontline for emergency calls, because they’re firefighters, hydro workers, nurses and police. Hunters are students and professionals in the trades, environmental science, the arts and the military. They’re celebrities, politicians and factory retirees. Some make their living on Bay Street, while others live off the land.
Hunters care about major issues, such as mental health, food security, the economy and climate change. They promote safety and ethics, and encourage kids to get off their phones and get outdoors. The lifestyles and backgrounds of hunters today are as diverse as the outdoor interests that all Canadians share. And just because we wear camo, it doesn’t mean we need to hide those facts. Thankfully, some hunters are finding new ways to openly emphasize how giving back is in our nature.
CARING AND SHARING
Local gun club events such as charity trap shoots, for example, show how the hunting community and non-hunters can literally pull together. In my home province of Ontario, hunters also donate game meat to support charity dinners, with the proceeds going towards the likes of new hospital equipment. They also help support local foodbanks with cash donations and collections of non-perishable goods, as well as game meat where legally allowed. Under new migratory bird regulations, hunters may also now donate waterfowl for charitable purposes.
Over the years, various hunting organizations have also promoted the Crime Stoppers and Report-A-Poacher programs, as well as campaigns to respect private property and motorist safety in deer and moose country. They’ve also rallied volunteers for roadside and parkland litter clean-ups.
All of these initiatives support community needs well beyond the conservation pledge. And such outreach tends to earn positive mainstream media attention, helping counter an unconscious bias that might otherwise allow governments to take aim at law-abiding hunters and their traditions.
Above all else, we hunters must continue to celebrate our leading role in wildlife management, while recognizing the great alliances that can be made with others in non-consumptive environmental organizations. They may not sport blaze orange or appreciate hunting on a grouse trail, but they do share our interest in habitat protection, wildlife abundance and new outdoor opportunities.
At the same time, hunting needs a public relations strategy, but it will take more than a once-a-year celebration of our heritage. And it will require more than just a few hunting groups waxing poetic to the already converted about the benefits of the hunting way of life. All hunters have a responsibility to reflect upon their own hunting image, and how that personal reputation is perceived in the circles they travel, and how it contributes to the public’s overall perception of hunting.
It’s up to each of us to show that hunting isn’t just our heritage—it’s endlessly relevant for all Canadians. And the time to start is now.
Eastern view is an opinion column. We invite constructive discussion of the various issues raised here.