I sat at the bar in Dallas, Texas, a few months back, enjoying an adult beverage with a fellow hunter and gun owner. We were deep in conversation. One of the best conversations any grown man can have. We were finalizing the glorious details of a possible trip to Africa. Which caliber would we take? What were the possible plains game species we would target? The list goes on.
Before long a college-age young lady decided to interrupt our fun. She clearly had been drinking: red eyes that carried a vague look of desperation and what seemed to be a partial lack of fine motor skills. She looked a bit like the living version of a Lindsay Lohan mug shot.
Clearly pissed, she sat down at our table in a huff.
"Do you guys kill zebras," she blurted. "Zebrassssss are endangered!"
Before she even uttered the final syllable in this declaration of ignorance, it occurred to me that this girl was most likely impervious to logic. That's the only way she had survived in this incubated state for 20 or so years.
"Hunters are evil!" she roared. "You kill endangered animals for fun!"
Before I could collect my jaw from the floor and dispense this young lady with facts and figures, one of her benevolent friends swooped in and scooped her up from the table.
"Sorry, guys," he offered. "She does this all the time. She's really into 'hunter shaming.'"
(Picture this young man actually making the air quotes around "hunter shaming.")
I was left speechless as the group moved away toward a downstairs bar. It was clear, I thought, that alcohol had fueled this girl's misguided rage, as no sane young woman would ever approach two strange men at a bar and go straight for verbal fisticuffs almost as if it was option No. 1.
Those kind of antics are normally reserved for the safe haven of the Internet. Which, coincidentally, is where the term "hunter shaming" first made an appearance.
Target: Kendall Jones
Kendall Jones, a 19-year-old Texas cheerleader, actually vaguely looks like the sober, responsible version of the young girl that approached us in the bar that night. Which is filled with all sorts of irony, as it is Jones that has been the most recent target of hunter shaming on a national scale.
After returning from an African safari, Kendall shared her pride on social media along with photos of a leopard, lion, elephant, and rhino (which was darted for veterinary reasons, not killed).
"I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Zimbabwe and can't wait until the day I get to come back," Jones posted. "Zimbabwe has some of the most beautiful scenery of anywhere I have ever been and Victoria Falls is truly a wonder of the world."
The public knew little of the Cleburne native at that juncture, and we still really only know what she has told us through social media.
She began hunting at age nine with her father on a trip to Zimbabwe, and was immediately engaged with the sport. From there, Jones lived every hunter's dream. She took home plains game trophies and most of the Big Five.
"Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to take a leopard on this trip, so I returned 2 weeks later for another 14-day safari," Jones wrote on Facebook. "This time I got my leopard, and also took down a hippo to get 6 of the Dangerous 7 at the age of 14!"
Soon, the antis discovered her posts and things erupted.
We've seen this all before: A change.org petition has nearly 150,000 signatures as of today hoping to ban Jones from Africa. Facebook is flooded with pages created specifically to hate on Jones. One called "Kill Kendall Jones" had about 400 likes.
The reaction was swift from Facebook. They removed Kendall's images under their standards and practices policy. What was the reason?
"We remove reported content that promotes poaching of endangered species, the sale of animals for organized fight or content that includes extreme acts of animal abuse," officials said.
National TV outlets soon began debating the situation, of course, without presenting the whole story. The waters became ever-so muddy as the death threats rolled in for Kendall.
This is a carbon copy of the Melissa Bachman scandal of recent vintage. Bachman, a famed television host and outdoor personality, was shamed by antis after a photo of her following a South African lion hunt was posted on Facebook.
Jones, a sophomore majoring in marketing and sports therapy at Texas Tech University, is a much younger target, but that's really the only difference. She was participating in legal, CITES sanctioned hunts that bring an influx of money and attention to the local economy.
The facts have remained the same through all of the recent hunter shaming scandals: If managed correctly, hunting is a solution for Africa, not the problem.
If you haven't already, please take a look at "Saving Lions by Killing Them," a piece written by Alexander N. Songorwa, the director of wildlife for the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism.
If you're curious about the plight of the rhino and how hunting plays into population regrowth, read the IUCN 11-page document entitled "Guiding Principles on Trophy Hunting as a Tool for Creating Conservation Incentives."
These articles dole out the facts. Hunting creates value, value leads to conservation, and conservation leads to the propagation of wild game populations. Bottom line.
But this is no longer about presenting only facts or dissecting Jones's situation blow by blow; that's been done. This is about identifying a rather horrifying trend in our culture and working together to fight back.
The science of conservation and the effect of hunting on Africa's wildlife and the economy is pretty much set in stone. The only variation has been the level of ignorance and anger pointed in its direction.
Defining the Attacks
As hunters let's be clear: This isn't the first time or the last time that some outside-of-the-stereotype hunter will face this kind of harassment. In fact, this is only going to get worse. The anti-hunting faction, especially the zealots, has been forever emboldened by the success they've had on social media. Almost as if Pavlov and his dog had called it, these people have been trained by the world to believe that death threats will be publicly tolerated by most, and hatred met with more hatred equals attentionâ€¦and that attention brings results.
Victims are not chosen at random. They're soft targets and, more importantly, they're "easy" for the public to hate. Why only photos of Caucasian women with the dead African game? The non-hunting public sees a dead lion and thinks "Simba." They see Kendall Jones and they think "brainwashed by evil hunters." Most commonly, they think, "Why?"
It seems that in this world of hyper-public relations sensitivity that excessive negative PR always adds up to the desired outcome for the dissenters, even if that negative attention is from a small group, if the target is doing nothing wrong/illegal, or if the criticism is in most ways unwarranted. Hunter shaming exists in this vacuumâ€¦and it works.
The Facebook page "Kill Kendall Jones" was allowed to stay public for over a week after the site had removed photos of her hunts in Africa. There is no need to review the hypocrisy here. It's obvious.
Look a little deeper and you'll find that hunter shaming is rooted in its ability to distract the media and those it influences from the real problem: the lack of factual information in this debate.
By the time hunters come rushing in with figures and conservation data, it's already too late. Nobody cares. The uproar is the focus. Memes with cartoon lions flood the Internet, "news" reporters on national TV incorrectly label animals endangered or just have the species dead wrong. Craig Boddington doles out facts on Fox News and the article gets a fraction of the attention (literally one-tenth of the shares) of a non-factual, smear job on Buzzfeed.
It was too late for Craig and the facts; the lowest common denominator had already taken hold, and those non-hunters that were so invested initially had lost interest after that first Facebook outburst.
Bachman, Jones, and their peers are only the tip of the iceberg in what is now a legitimate trend. The question is this: Will we continue to be reactionary in the face of hunter shaming?
I think it's time we stand up on a daily basis and answer the question posed by our detractors: "Why?"
In fact, as I'm writing this, another young woman is embroiled in hunter shaming. A 17-year-old Belgian girl plucked from obscurity at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, landed a lucrative modeling contract after her beauty went viral. Now she's going viral for another, more negative reason she's also a hunter.
"Hunting is not a matter of life or death," she wrote on her Facebook page. "It's much more important than that."
Celebrities Go Naked for PETA
One of the main pushes for PETA the last couple of years has been to co-opt celebrities in support of its cause. At one level this makes a lot of sense — star power sells.
But it's not just that PETA relies on celebrities to make their case — we're talking about photos of naked celebs with a catch phrase like "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" to go with. Since research points out that erotic images send blood away from the thinking part of the brain to, uh, other regions, it's pretty likely a naked picture of Khloe Kardashian or Chad Ochocinco has got people thinking about anything but animal cruelty. If you take a look at the forums where these photos are discussed, this much is obvious. Read more.
Corey Knowlton and the Black Rhino
The fierce and unrelenting attack on hunters around the world found a new target when Corey Knowlton took his black rhino in Namibia, early in 2014. He was initially an anonymous winner of a controversial black rhino hunt in Namibia auctioned off for $350,000 at the Dallas Safari Club Convention, but the anonymity quickly disappeared. Now he's become yet another poster child in the modern hunter's fight against hatred and ignorance.
As you might imagine, it didn't take long for antis to lob digital death threats, forcing Knowlton to employ full-time security to protect himself and his family. Ignoring the facts of the hunt, and very real conservation efforts in Africa, antis went on the offensive.
Contrary to the vitriol spewed by antis, Knowlton's rhino tag in Namibia was at the center of one of the most regulated, most scientifically vindicated hunts that has ever taken place in Africa. Get all of the facts here.
Bach in the National Spotlight
If anyone has earned a reputation for drawing the rage of the anti-hunting fanatics on the Internet, it's Melissa Bachman. Bachman continued her impressive streak when she enraged that same community by posting a picture to Twitter of a lion she killed in Africa late in 2013. Again, antis resorted to online petitioning, attempting to persuade the government of South Africa to ban Bachman from ever entering the country again to hunt.
Efforts like these are laughable in the hunting community. We know the facts, the statistics, and the need for responsible and ethical conservation of Africa's game. National media outlets "reported" on Bachman's kill with discernible disdain readily apparent in their "objective" broadcasts. However, what wasn't reported by most news outlets was the positive support shown to Bachman and the Maroi Conservancy, which hosted the hunt about a month ago. On the Maroi Conservancy's Facebook page, the group acknowledged the high volume of hate mail it has received, but was outspoken about it's mission to promote 'conservation through sustainable hunting. '
Corey Cogdell IS Welcome in Africa
The same social media extremists that upended Melissa Bachman's bid on National Geographic started the Facebook page 'Corey Cogdell Is Not Welcome In Africa, ' in which some less-than-civil criticism was levied against the Olympic shooter for posting a grip-and-grin with a kudu (pictured here). They also attacked the Trump Brothers in the media for a completely legal and ethical hunt in Africa. PETA's efforts to coerce, threaten and downright harass hunters obviously didn't stop with Corey, and their sadistic misinformation campaigns continue to persuade independents that ethical hunting is the enemy.
Melissa Bachman Cut From National Geographic
HUNTING favorite Melissa Bachman saw the full muscle of the attacks by antis in 2012 when over 14,000 people signed a petition started on Change.org to prevent her from taking part in the National Geographic show on Alaskan adventure and survival. Nat Geo eventually gave in to the pressure from groups labeling Bachman — a lifelong hunter who has found great success in recent years as a outdoor TV producer, writer, personality and advocate for women in the field — as a blood thirsty trophy hunter who kills for sport. Get the full story.
PETA Winning the PR Battle?
It seems there is no end to PETA's campaign against hunters. The anti-hunting group raked in nearly $29 million last year, much of it from gullible teenagers and twentysomethings captivated by a variety of ridiculous public relations campaigns. Urging Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream to switch from cow's milk to human breast milk? Gross. How about comparing meat to the Holocaust? Creepy. PETA even undertook a campaign to rename fish 'sea kittens. '
The good news is that while PETA and other anti-hunting groups may be endearing impressionable college kids and lonely cat ladies, hunters are winning the long-term war. America supports hunting by an overwhelming majority. A recent survey conducted by natural resources research firm Responsive Management found that more than three-quarters of Americans supported hunting, with more than half strongly approving. Read more.
Attack of the Drones
When PETA announced it would purchase drones to stalk "slob hunters who think they can get away with murder," most of us laughed and sighed, recalling an incident in November 2012 when a group of hunters shot down an anti-hunting group's drone while it tried to interfere with a pigeon shoot — kind of the wrong crowd to mess with; after all, they do specialize in knocking flying objects out of the sky. Thanks to the PETA decree, most of us accepted this new challenge, daydreaming for at least a minute about firing our Joe Biden recommended double barrel into the sky and knocking down one of those drones.
Not only is it stupid that PETA is willing to waste so much money on a drone to harass hunters in the field, and offer a commercial version for anyone to purchase, it's also illegal. But just like uncle Joe, PETA has no problem suggesting harebrained initiatives that completely ignore the law. As in Michigan, nearly every state has laws like this:
"Hunters in Michigan have the right to enjoy their sport free from unreasonable and deliberate interference from those opposed to hunting as a legitimate use of public land and other natural resources. Michigan law prohibits individuals from obstructing or interfering with the lawful taking of animals."
Bring on the drones, we say. Hunters are an industrious lot, always looking for a good challenge. Just don't blame us when the "warning shot" from our front porch or treestand happens to knock down your pricey toy helicopter. The real question is, what type of shotshell load works best on drones? Let the debate begin. Read more.
The connection between PETA and the use of porn to promote its message is a head scratcher at best. Apparently the logic goes something like this: Show people naked celebrities (or build them a pseudo-porn site) and they'll suddenly come to grips with the horror of killing animals for food or fur. Yeah, still not sure how that works out.
In reality, PETA's policy is to use any method possible to grab people's attention, regardless of the consequences. Ironically, in trying to make people aware of animal cruelty, PETA objectifies women and treats them like a piece of meat tossed to the masses. In a world where women are gang raped and treated like a commodity millions of times a day around the world, it is unthinkably deplorable that PETA would turn women into disposable currency for their own agenda. Read more.