My husband is a hunter. There – I said it. For those of you not in Australia, unfortunately admitting something like that can be difficult here, especially in the cities. Guns and hunters have had some bad press in the past few years, not helped along by the media and the Greens. There is a perception out there that all hunters are irresponsible, intellectually inferior, blood thirsty, red-neck psychos, and that they’re out there shooting native animals for fun.
This image could not be further from the truth with the hunters that I’ve met. If people even bothered to talk to a hunter they’d find a bunch of law-abiding conservationists (that’s right – it’s not a typo!) who are out there trying to restore the ecological diversity of Australian fauna. All of them have registered firearms that are kept safely as per regulations. They all hunt on legal land – in state forests and on private property – and they all hunt feral species. They hunt the foxes that prey on our native marsupials, the goats and deer that compete with farmers for livestock feed and those rabbits that cause so much erosion. Many of them will hunt (some exclusively) to feed their families wild (read free range and organic) meat. They are normal tax-paying citizens – brothers, husbands, daughters, doctors, lawyers, IT geeks and the like. So why the bad rep?
The Martin Bryant effect. Back in 1996 a psychopath called Martin Bryant went on a shooting spree in Port Arthur in Tasmania. He was sentenced to 35 life sentences for killing 35 people and injuring 21 and another 1035 years for other crimes. Bryant was also responsible for starting a media-driven public backlash against guns and gun owners, with Federal and State governments responding by tightening gun ownership laws and placing bans on certain classes of firearms. But here’s the thing – not all gun owners are psychopaths. With all the background checks that are done before one is allowed to obtain a gun license, I dare say that they are less likely to be psychopaths than the general population. And despite all the restrictions, we seem to be seeing more drive-by shootings of late. Why? Because the people responsible are not law-abiding gun owners. THEY’RE CRIMINALS, with no gun licenses, illegal firearms doing illegal things.
There are always a small number of people who do the wrong thing. There are bad eggs in every bunch of people, and unfortunately the bad eggs are always the ones who get the attention. In a similar way to how Muslims/Arabs are tarred with the same brush as terrorists, I believe hunters are tarred with the same brush as poachers. Yes, unfortunately there are people out there who are hunting illegally on private property, however these people are the exception rather than the rule. Should there not be a collective effort to stop these people rather than the law-abiding shooters and hunters?
The perception that killing is bad. I personally don’t hunt, or shoot for that matter. And I understand the moral tussle with the killing. I also don’t think I have it in me to hunt (but I have shot a gun before and it’s quite a thrill – very empowering). Does it go back to the 10 commandments and “thou shalt not kill”? Well you could safely say that I’m not religious, but despite that I’m pretty sure they meant people, not animals. Or is it the irk factor – the blood, the thought of gutting and skinning before it gets to look like neat fillets in the styrofoam trays on our supermarket shelves. Bingo. And that we’re so far removed from our food source that we refuse to acknowledge that the very meat we eat used to be a live animal running around (if it was lucky). Bingo. So as long as we continue to eat meat, wear leather shoes and handbags, we really should get a little more comfortable with killing. Just because someone else does the killing for us, does not mean we’re not involved in the value chain. Nor does it give us the right to judge those people who have the intestinal fortitude to hunt and gather for themselves.
Trophy hunting. I have to say that this is something I struggle with myself. There have been numerous conversations with my husband as I’ve tried to understand the sense of achievement that goes with getting a trophy stag. Quite often the hunters seem to be in a state of awe over these majestic beasts, so why do they want to hunt them? So here it is as far as I can understand. A) It’s the thrill of the chase. B) Generally they’re hunting for meat anyway, so the trophy is like an added bonus. C) They’re still a feral species that really don’t belong in Australia anyway. Once again the trophy is a bonus.
The media. The media has a lot to answer for if you ask me. The media can drive public opinion through carefully edited and crafted stories of half-truths, and unfortunately quite often the result is a blind following; a belief without question. So when the “news” reports on Barry O’Farrell’s decision to open up certain National Parks to hunters and ask the Greens for their opinion, there has been a decision to paint hunters as those blood thirsty, irresponsible red-necks. When Can of Worms does a badly worded poll on whether children should be allowed to learn how to shoot, without qualifying that they’d be under adult supervision and utilising an incredibly leading (and irresponsible) image, there is an outcome that has been pre-planned.
With this environment, it’s no wonder that the public has a negative perception of hunters. I have to admit that before my husband got into hunting I was probably with the larger population in blindly believing whatever the media fed me. It has been a learning process for me, however I truly believe that our hunters are out there (and at their own expense) working to help eradicate feral species. Yes, to do this requires killing, and yes there may be other bonuses such as meat or trophies, but the fact is they are doing a lot more than the rest of us to help our unique environment. And they’re not looking for thanks. They just want to get on with it without being harassed.