I sure hope I’m not the only hunter appalled by these productions. To me, they’re embarrassing and self-defeating.
By Bill Schneider
I warn you upfront. This is going to be a bit of rant that I usually try to avoid in columns, but with this subject, I can’t resist.
I don’t know how many readers watch hunting shows on the cable channels. I watch them, but I’ll be doing a lot less of it going forward unless somebody steps up and kills these “Chumming TV” programs that give hunting a bad image, even among hunters.
And anti-hunting groups must love watching these distasteful programs and seeing hunters desecrate their own image. It makes their job easier.
By “Chumming TV” I refer to the outrageous, unethical and often illegal practice of luring game into shooting range with bait, artificial scent or other unnatural means. I’ve seen many incredible hunting shows, true tests between man and beast without technical or artificial advantages, but I’ve also seen too much of the dark side, which I call “chumming,” where producers show images or allow narration about the game being brought into shooting range with bait or other artificial, unethical means.
There are four popular outdoor channels – ESPN Outdoors, The Outdoor Channel, The Sportsman Channel and Versus. Most programming is excellent and broadcasts a positive image of hunting and hunters, but there must be some process to assure all programming furthers the goal of preserving our hunting tradition. I’m not sure I blame the channels for airing the programs as much as I do us for watching them. Without viewers, the programs would quickly disappear.
It was tempting, but I’ve decided not to include links to specific programs in this commentary. I don’t want the comment thread to fill up with criticism and defenses of any specific program. Instead, I want to focus on the general issue of making sure hunting shows depict hunters in a positive light.
The sport of hunting has enough problems – a broken mentorship chain, declining numbers, reduced or unaffordable access, development of prime habitat, and an already-tarnished image, to name a few. Do we need to make it worse ourselves? It’s almost like we’re trying to hand over a victory to the animal rights groups who would like nothing better than the end of all hunting.
You may have seen the shows. The worst of the worst may be black bear hunting programs, which shamefully show “hunters” waiting over garbage cans filled with strong-smelling food attractants or carrion hung from trees below permanent tree stands. I realize prohibiting baiting would greatly reduce success rates, but what’s more important? A higher kill ratio up on the Precambrian Shield or the future of hunting?
As bad – if not worse – are shows with “hunters” sitting in permanent structures with gravity feeders clearly visible, programmed to release deer food at a certain time of the day so hunters don’t have to waste more than an hour or two getting their monster buck.
This isn’t a new problem; it has been around a long time, tarnishing the sport of hunting. But lately, it seems to me, it’s gotten so transparent. At least the producers could hide the bait instead of showing the bear attacking the garbage can or pulling the carrion out of the tree, or showing deer standing under the chumming machines.
I sure hope I’m not the only hunter appalled by these productions. To me, they’re embarrassing and self-defeating – sort of our attempt to make the end of hunting a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I realize it’s hard to draw the line, but chumming is definitely on the wrong side of it, as is clearly displaying and discussing hunting over manicured food plots or hanging scent leaves below the tree stand. Are “biologically engineered” or “building better wildlife” food plots grown to produce massive racks significantly different than dumping corn or salt blocks in front of the tree stand?
On the technological front, well, it gets dicey deciding how much is too much – better optics and GPS units clearly are on the OK side, but what about “scouting cameras” sending digital images to the owner’s breakfast table and handheld radios used by many big game hunters nowadays? To me, this is over the line, but I acknowledge a large gray area in what technology hunters should use.
Some people think ethics is hard to define, and I suppose it is, yet if you see ethical behavior, you might wonder whether it’s unethical or not. But if you see unethical behavior, there will be no doubt in your mind.
We all know why television producers do it. They’re convinced they must have a kill to make a successful show, but I question that philosophy. Some of the best programs I’ve seen show the quarry winning. That’s certainly the way it works most of the time when I go hunting. As most hunters realize, the experience is what counts, not the kill.
I’m mainly talking about big game hunting programs, but the same should apply to upland game bird and waterfowl hunting programs. We can’t have baiting or too much technology, and fortunately, I haven’t seen too much of this on television, even though producers film many bird hunting programs on commercial game farms.
Ditto for big game hunting programs. Producers film way too many of them on game farms or canned hunt operations, the worst being those featuring “hunts” for nilgai, Barbary sheep, gemsbok, oryx, and many other exotic species that shouldn’t even be allowed in the United States. Does a television program showing somebody killing a zebra on a Texas game farm really help the image of the sport of hunting?
So what to do about it? I had a couple of ideas. How about major conservation organizations and cable channels collaborating to create an oversight board to review programs before they’re aired and decline to air offensive programs – or at least force them to use a statement like this in the opening:
“This program contains scenes that display poor taste, are filmed on canned hunt operations, use questionable practices such as baiting, or otherwise inappropriately depict the sport of hunting as a unethical pursuit of game.”
So, of course, real hunters could quickly switch channels.
Or, perhaps cable channels could skip the thorny process of review and simply require producers to use this statement in the opening of every hunting show:
“This program strictly adheres to the Principles of Fair Chase, which is the ethical, sportsmanlike and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild, native North American big game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals.”
In case you don’t recognize the wording, that’s the Fair Chase mission statement for all hunters written by the Boone and Crockett Club, the oldest and perhaps most prestigious conservation organization in this country. Would the inclusion of this statement on all programs be that much to ask? Would you want to be the producer who refused to use it?
Even though, regrettably, baiting bears and other game chumming is legal in some states and provinces, ethics should trump those statutes. We don’t need a law to fix this problem; we hunters just need to take control of our own future.
P.S. If so inclined, you can write a polite, constructive e-mail to the cable channels at these links: ESPN Outdoors, The Outdoor Channel, The Sportsman’s Channel and Versus.
Bill Schneider is the outdoor editor and columnist for the e-zine NewWest.net, where this article first appeared.