Tag Archives: big game hunting

The Rise of Identity Politics in Hunting

By Jack Kredell

Somewhere around the time of Larry the Cable Guy­ hunting became a lot more than a seasonal pursuit. There were hints of the progression in the 90s, but overall it was a decidedly post-9/11 shift. As hunter participation was actually decreasing (and continues to decline), the visibility and commercial viability of hunting suddenly exploded. Hunting was now something more than a lifestyle: It was a brand.

You began to see as much camouflage in the mall as you did in the field. Decals of bucks with double drop tines, a characteristic rare enough in the wild that most of us will never encounter one, became plastered on the windows of F-250s everywhere. Camouflage went from performing the task of making you unseen to making you seen. Sure enough, pink camouflage was quick to follow for female hunters to be seen and counted, too.

Hunter

Image: http://www.trbimg.com/

Larry the Cable Guy’s use of redneck blackface made him a millionaire by branding the “blue collar” identity that was also the source of his comedy. People felt represented by him because he fully identified with the thing being made fun of: them.

After 9/11, as a result of cultural forces that are probably still too new to understand fully (social media being one of them), hunting evolved into a fixed and marketable identity with a defined set of politics. Hunting became just another popular identity, one of many in the popular cultural landscape. A reality television show about duck hunters becomes one of the most watched in TV history. For the first time, you could identify as a hunter (even without actually being one) and it made sense. It came with a known set of cultural and political affiliations. All you had to do was wear a Mossy Oak hoodie and people understood who you were. In a way, wearing camo is no different than wearing a your favorite team’s jersey. But what exactly is team hunting, and what does it represent?

In a surplus economy, hunting-as-subsistence is not going to be part of your average hunter’s identity. Very few us can make enough money to live by hunting or trapping. The one way that all of us can identify as hunters is through consumption. Some very smart people figured out that if there’s one thing that hunters seem to enjoy as much as hunting, it’s shopping.

But not everybody was hip to it. Fudds were born. Fudds resisted the rising tide of the monoculture by embracing a more austere post-war approach to hunting. For a Fudd, hunting means fair chase and a pre-64 Winchester Model 70 in .270. The arrival of the controversial AR platform made hunting a contested second amendment issue. If you came out against so-called black rifles, you were not only anti-hunting, but indirectly, anti-second amendment as well. Because hunting is not a right, hunters realized they had to bow down to second amendment politics (and its marketplace). Then Jim Zumbo came out against the AR platform and became the sacrificial Fudd. He was struck down by the outdoor powers that be, which seemed at the mercy of the new market for the AR. 

This progression towards a popular hunting identity has lumped hunters into a monolithic group synonymous with powerful rights-based politics. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the more unified a group is, the more leverage it tends to have. However, unified and homogenous are not the same thing. Groups that are too homogenous are weak because they alienate members who disagree as well as those like-minded non-members who would help the cause. 

It’s at this moment when, consciously or subconsciously, hunting shows begin to appear that challenge the status quo. You can read the efforts of hunters like Steven Rinella, Randy Newberg, and Remi Warren as in no small part responding to those aspects of hunting that the post-9/11 landscape has downplayed, ignored, or even repressed. In Rinella, it’s the materiality of food consumption and its relationship to history and landscape; for Newberg it’s the egalitarian principles of public land hunting; in “Solo Hunter” Warren invokes a tradition of rugged self-reliance. Independent YouTube also contributed to the changing landscape of outdoor media.

These were not so much rebellions against the status quo of mainstream hunting media as proof that hunting is deeply varied in practice. Hunters do not all agree on what constitutes hunting, nor do we all agree on what the future of hunting should look like.

Which leads to the single biggest problem with hunting today: It is the culture itself that is prohibitive in the way we hunters get to decide how our economic and political power should be used. We can’t agree on the biggest threats to hunting because we’re not allowed to disagree.

Hunting is a deeply regional activity. A whitetail hunter in Iowa will face different roadblocks and conservation issues than an elk hunter in Idaho. This basic fact should invite differences of opinion, even irreconcilable ones, into the hunting discourse. Yet we’ve developed a climate where to disagree with one form of hunting is to disagree with the whole and be labeled an anti-hunter. This behavior is not what’s going to get us through the long nights ahead of us. 

My Thoughts on Hunters Criticizing Hunters: Do it

Image: http://www.prohuntersjournal.com/

Image: http://www.prohuntersjournal.com/

By Jack Kredell

When did hunters become so sensitive? Every other week some think piece comes out in one of the major outdoor publications warning hunters about the dangers of criticizing other hunters. In the big hunting forum I frequent, whenever somebody posts something critical of high fence operations or comes out in favor of wolves, they get called an anti-hunter. You’d think we were the most sensitive group in America. Most recently, “Outdoor Life” published an article by hunter and blogger Tyler Freel that faithfully repeats the dogma:

Worse than any anti-hunter’s criticism is friendly fire, attacks from within our community of hunters. The only thing anti-hunters would love more than to see us destroy hunting from within is to see all hunting gone. I don’t know if hunters attacking and belittling each other’s methods is more common now than in the past, but it is certainly more audible and visible. And it’s often reduced to a simple and damning phrase: “That’s not hunting.”

This appeal to self-censorship is a disturbing trend within the outdoor community. It’s disturbing for several reasons, the most obvious being the apparent inability of hunters to deal with criticism. Another disturbing pattern is the deep and self-righteous investment in what non-hunters think of their activities. So much so that hunting is often depicted for them as opposed to other hunters. This kind of extreme reactionary behavior is the real reason why hunters and anti-hunters have a problem with one another. It’s how we’ve arrived at the silliness of people posting bloody grip and grins on Facebook and then getting upset when they’re called a monster. The problem comes from within, not from without.

Within, not from without: Hunters are afraid to pass judgment on one another because the mainstream elements of our culture tend to promote the view that our way of life is under attack from the outside. The modern hunter lives more or less in a constant state of emergency. There isn’t a day that goes by where the modern hunter’s inbox isn’t bombarded with emails begging for attention and money about this or that politician and this or that company refusing to accommodate gun owners. It follows a logic that we should all be familiar with from this political cycle: Blame anything or anybody for our problems except ourselves. Not enough jobs? Build a wall. Elk are all gone? Kill the wolves.

The idea is that we have to band together to combat this external threat, a threat that never actually occurs (meanwhile the guns and ammo fly off the shelves, and it’s a victory for the NRA). It’s ironic how the prohibition on judgment reproduces the very political correctness that annoys conservatives.

Does PETA want to end hunting? Yes. Are there lots of groups that would like to see an end to hunting? Sure. Is the EPA part of a liberal conspiracy to weaken industry from within and close rivers and streams to fishing? No. Did the auto insurance industry, in cahoots with state fish and wildlife agencies, introduce wolf-hybrid coyotes to the eastern United States to reduce deer vehicle collisions (many hunters in my state believe this)? Doubtful. The only way we’re going to get out of this insane deadlock between hunter-conservationists and environmentalists and between hunters and anti-hunters is if we mutually disown the more irrational elements of our respective sides and really come to terms with what we both want. Because I really do believe that the majority of us want a similar thing: Land that belongs to everyone and no one simultaneously and that anybody can enjoy the way they see fit.

Are Deer Hunting Cartridges Arbitrary?

How many times has picking the wrong rifle cartridge ended a hunt prematurely versus being unfit to hunt due to cold or poor conditioning? Nobody has ever gone into the woods to hunt deer with a .243 only to give up after seeing a big buck because they didn’t have a .300 Win Mag. Almost ritualistically, we continue to rehash the same arguments over guns and ammo at the expense of other items that have more bearing on actual hunting.

Type of hunting cartridges.

Image: 1source.basspro.com/

My point isn’t that big game rounds aren’t different, but that most white-tailed deer hunters are unable to take advantage of their differences. The task of deer hunting west of the Mississippi doesn’t really discriminate between a .243 or a .300 Win Mag. Because of modern bullet construction and the fact that most white-tailed deer are taken under 200 yards, a deer shot in the vitals with a .243 is just as dead as a deer shot with a .300 Win Mag. Yet we keep asking ourselves the same stupid question: What is the most effective deer round? The only answer to that question is, how much recoil can you stand? Everything else is basically meaningless.

Image: www.statesymbolsusa.org

Image: www.statesymbolsusa.org/

In my early 20s, I bought a 7mm Remington Magnum because I loved the look and feel of the gun, an older Sako Finnbear. It was an aesthetic choice. All I knew about the cartridge at the time was that it was plenty capable of taking a deer. Since then I’ve killed a couple deer with it, but never at distances greater than 100 yards. Where I hunt in Pennsylvania, it’s rare that you get a shot over 100 yards unless you want it that way or you’re hunting over an agricultural field. So what is a 7mm Remington Mag? At 50 yards, a 7mm Mag produces an obscene amount of energy—around 3,000 ft-lbf. What distinguishes a 7mm Mag from a .30-30 is that the 7mm Mag has the same energy at 500 yards that a .30-30 does at 50. They are vastly different cartridges. But again, I’ve never taken a shot over 200 yards, so I might as well be shooting a .30-30 (or any other deer cartridge for that matter) because I’m nowhere near being able to make use of its downrange energy. It’s not a problem, but it goes to show how arbitrary rifle calibre selection is when you’re shooting under 200–300 yards.

Most big game cartridges offer perfectly adequate performance under real-life hunting conditions. The constant hair-splitting over the ballistics of big game cartridges is mostly hypothetical nonsense that benefits gun makers but not hunters—it simply sells guns. To me, a discussion about the merits of different Vibram boot soles is more valuable and interesting than whether the .270 or .308 is a better deer round. We’ve somehow managed to equate hunting with shooting when, in many aspects, the shot is the least important component of the hunt. Guns don’t kill animals; smart hunters do.

New Year’s Hunting Resolutions

It’s time for the annual tradition of setting up unrealistic personal goals in order to thoroughly undermine them over the course of the new year. In terms of hunting, 2015 was a pretty good year for me. I gave myself ample time, hunted hard when the time came, and was fortunate enough to get a nice buck while still hunting (a first for me) during rifle season. But there is always room for improvement. Here are my five hunting resolutions for the 2016 season.

1. Go West

Image: hqworld.net

Image: hqworld.net

My grandfather was an Idaho elk hunter who died before I took up hunting. I can trace my interest in hunting and wild game to his stories of hunting the Idaho backcountry. Having hunted exclusively in the Northeast, I’ve always dreamed of going West for a backcountry elk or mule deer hunt. So this year I’m going to buy an Idaho mule deer tag and hunt the same mountains my grandfather hunted.

2. Farewell, Wood and Blued Steel

Tikka T3 Lite Stainless [Image: loomisadventures.com]

Tikka T3 Lite Stainless [Image: loomisadventures.com]

I love my pre-Garcia Sako Finnbear, but it’s nine pounds scoped and prone to surface rust during foul weather. It shoots cloverleafs all day long and has the smoothest action I’ve ever cycled. But it’s over nine pounds. One of the lightest rifles on the market, Kimber’s 84m, weighs just over five pounds. After a day of hunting with the Finnbear, I can barely lift my arms. It’s time to move on. Tikka T3 Lite Stainless, I see you.

3. Butchering

Image: guide.sportsmansguide.com

Image: guide.sportsmansguide.com

I’ve butchered deer and sent them to the butcher. The butcher charged me $70, which is very reasonable, but I didn’t get nearly as much meat as when I butchered the deer myself. While I appreciate the convenience of dropping a deer off at the butcher when you’re tired and beat up after hunting, doing it yourself yields more meat (usually) and gives you more control over how it’s processed. Butchering is also a great way to bring friends and family together. Sharpen the knives, invite some friends over, pour some drinks, and get cracking.

4. Take a Friend Hunting

Friends that hunt together stay together [Image: hdimagelib.com]

Friends that hunt together stay together. [Image: hdimagelib.com]

In 2015, I took my roommate (who had never fired a gun before) deer hunting, and he loved it. I truly enjoyed the process of sharing my knowledge with him, and in turn, was pushed to learn even more in order to better answer his questions. Maybe he’ll never hunt again, but at least now he has an understanding of the woods that he didn’t have before. My goal for 2016 is to take another friend hunting.

5. ALTADIFOY

Image: www.easttennesseewildflowers.com

Image: www.easttennesseewildflowers.com

ALTADIFOY stands for “Act Like There Are Deer In Front Of You.” I always seem to bump deer when I don’t think there are deer ahead. As everybody who hunts knows firsthand, just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there. So if you act like there are deer ahead of you (pausing every couple of feet, being alert, scanning ahead of you, etc.), even when they’re not, you’ll have a much better chance at finding them when they are there. What’s to lose? If you’re out hunting you might as well be the best hunter you can be.

5 Perfect Deer Knives

A deer knife should be between three and four inches, comfortable in the hand, and capable of holding its edge for the duration of the task. Not all knives will hold an edge, so it’s important to consider the kind of steel being used (just because you can get a knife razor sharp doesn’t mean it will hold an edge). In general, thinner blades will sharpen better than thicker ones, but keep in mind a deer knife is not a shaving razor. You want to be able to cut through muscle, tendon, cartilage, skin, and even bone if need be. Does your knife need a gut hook? No. Why? Because on a good knife, a gut hook is redundant, ugly, and tends to get in the way. Cutting open your deer without puncturing the stomach or intestines is easy assuming you don’t have a Rambo knife. Here are what I consider five perfect deer knives.

EnZo Trapper

EnZo with curly birch handle [Image: www.casstrom.se]

EnZo with curly birch handle. [Image: www.casstrom.se]

The EnZo trapper combines Scandinavian looks and blade geometry with the strength of a full tang bushcrafting knife. It is widely thought to be one of the best hunting/outdoor knives on the market today. The 3-3/4 inch blade is ideal for dressing deer and serves as a general purpose field knife. If you find a new one for $100 (as you sometimes can), don’t hesitate to pick it up. EnZo Trappers are also available in kit form for those of you looking to build your own.

Buck 110

Buck 110 [Image: www.youtube.com]

Buck 110 [Image: www.youtube.com]

The popular Buck 110 folder has dressed more deer than all the knives on this page combined. But what led to its rise as an icon for American outdoorsmen? The answer is versatility. Because of its robust handle and safe locking mechanism, it is stout enough to use with a baton or even as a hammer (I’ve done it, and I’m not proud). Yet the blade is thin and nimble enough for precision tasks like skinning, deboning, and slicing. The Buck 110’s combination of finesse and power had never been available in a folding knife before, and it changed the knife-making landscape forever.

Bark River Gunny Hunter

Gunny Hunter [Image: www.knivesshipfree.com]

Gunny Hunter [Image: www.knivesshipfree.com]

What I love about Bark River’s Gunny Hunter is the design’s fine synthesis of robustness and ergonomic comfort. It feels like an extension of your fingers when you hold it. One of the important differences between the Gunny and the Gunny Hunter is that the latter’s tip has been slightly lowered to give it more belly. At 3.7″ it is perfectly capable of dressing anything from rabbit to elk. The version in A2 steel offers both ease of sharpening and excellent edge retention. This is your knife if you’re looking for something to take into the big woods that will also perform basic bushcrafting tasks.

Morakniv Clipper

Mora Clipper [image: www.ebay.com]

Mora Clipper [image: www.ebay.com]

The Clipper is that knife you buy thinking it will be your beater but you end up liking it more than your “preferred” knife. Mora knives offer pure utilitarian value at the lowest possible price—it almost doesn’t make sense to buy any knife other than a Mora. At only $15, the Mora Clipper or Companion will perform as well as a knife that costs ten times as much. I personally don’t like the rubber handles or plastic sheaths, though.

Helle Symfoni

Helle Symfoni [Image: www.workwearcanada.com]

Helle Symfoni [Image: www.workwearcanada.com]

Maybe you can tell by now I’m a bit partial to Scandi knives. I like the Scandi grind for two reasons: They’re incredibly easy to sharpen because the bevel acts an angle guide, and two, Helle knives are proof that you don’t need a big, heavy knife to dress large game. The Sami people of Scandinavia have been dressing reindeer and moose with traditional three and four inch puukko knives (what Helle knives are based on) for millennia. Helle knives are incredibly lightweight and easy to carry. The Symfoni is a sleek, triple laminated, stainless knife with a razor sharp 3-1/2 inch blade. The blade’s medium length and thinness make it ideal for dressing deer and other medium to large game.

There is simply no reason for your deer knife to be longer than four and a half inches. Don’t be the guy who shows up to deer camp with a Rambo knife—show up with something sensible and efficient.

From Bushwick to Appalachia: On the Hunt with ParksByNature Blogger Jack Kredell

Since I live and work in New York City, I have to commute to hunt. In May of this year I traveled with photographer Megan Mack to my hometown in Central Pennsylvania for spring turkey season. In addition to photographing the hunt, she conducted the following interview in which we discussed how I got into hunting and the culture of hunting in general.

Click on the image for full resolution.

Photo by Megan Mack

Photo by Megan Mack

Q: When did you first start hunting? How were you introduced to hunting?

A: I started from scratch my senior year in college. My grandfather was a seasoned hunter living in Idaho, but growing up in the San Fernando Valley I had little contact with the outdoors. Yet I knew from childhood visits to the Idaho backcountry that part of me belonged outdoors. When I was 16 my family relocated to central Pennsylvania and I began spending a lot of time fishing and hiking. From there it’s hard to say exactly how I came into hunting or why the interest took so long to develop. It began as a kind of joint venture with a friend I met in college (in a science fiction class of all places) who also wanted to have a more direct relationship with the landscape. This meant finding morels or wild blueberries for a pie as much as it did shooting a deer. We wanted to go as local and immediate as possible and see where it led (it led to the bizarre world of snapping turtle fishing and Lyme disease among other things). If this sounds crazy and theoretical it was: It took us years to acquire the skills to actually eat from scratch—to become hunters.

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Photo by Megan Mack

Q: Do you think people who have never hunted misunderstand your purpose or experiences as a hunter? Why is that?

A: I think hunters like to assume that non-hunters misunderstand them and I’m not sure that’s the case. In response to this general feeling of being misunderstood, a lot of hunters go on the defensive by claiming to have a more authentic relationship to the food they eat. The problem with this representation is that it makes hunting seem like a duty—a duty to be more authentic or less of a hypocrite than the average person who gets their meat from the supermarket. Let’s be clear: most who get their meat from the supermarket, including myself, are generally aware of being complicit in the slaughter. So if I’m ever misunderstood it’s because people think I hunt out of principle, which is not the case. I hunt because I enjoy it as a way of getting high quality meat. I don’t know why hunters have trouble admitting that pleasure is a huge part of it. Hunting is very sensual. You need to be in touch with your senses to be good at it.

Beyond pleasure, I think there can even be something like love in taking an animal’s life. Think about what it means to eat for a second. You are taking a piece of the outside world and swallowing it so that it becomes part of you until something new replaces it. Your body is the site where outside is turned inside. What’s more intimate than that? Shouldn’t we be vigilant about the things we put inside our bodies? I think you can extend the idea of well-being beyond discrete substances that are good for you to include experiences that are good for you. In that way, hunting is a kind of edible experience. For people who find hunting repulsive I would say that very few people hunt “for fun.” I don’t think I’ve ever had fun while hunting. Hunting is an activity of extremes. Successful or not, it will often break your heart and your body.

Photo by Megan Mack

Photo by Megan Mack

Q: I understand that wild turkey hunting can be very challenging. Why is that?

A: Turkey hunting is like building a house of cards: the slightest breeze or movement, and it all comes crashing down. All of it. Always. In addition to the notoriously keen eyesight, turkeys are very moody creatures. They can behave differently day to day. It takes a lot of time in the woods to become familiar with all the variations in behavior, and not just knowing the different behaviors, but also knowing how to counter them. Basically it takes a long time to get good at and I’m still a novice. Then you have the contradiction at the heart of turkey calling of trying to make a bird come to you who’s used to birds coming to him. So when that tom committed to the call I thought for sure I had him. But then something spooked him and that was that. It was probably my fault but I’m not sure yet what I did wrong. This is fairly common in turkey hunting.

Q: How did you feel being documented while hunting?

A: Prior to the shoot, I told myself I would hunt as though I were alone. But it wasn’t the case at all. It was no longer I but we who were hunting. And not only we were hunting, but we were hunting for the first time. Even though we weren’t successful, I’m still impressed by how close we got.

Photo by Megan Mack

Photo by Megan Mack

Q: Although hunting brings a lot of adrenaline, it also provides an opportunity for quiet meditation. What is your take on the experience of hunting?

A: Hunting is mostly quiet and meditative. I’ve missed many animals, especially birds, because I wasn’t present enough. There’s a huge difference between walking around the woods hoping something will happen versus feeling dialed in or present. Good things happen when you’re dialed in. The more present I am, the more I become like the thing that I’m hunting—quiet, deliberate, decisive, alert. An animal can read the signs of the natural world much better than you. For a hunter, the goal of meditation is to become more receptive to a world in which you spend little time and where animals spend all their time. Their lives are writ everywhere when you look close enough. Hunting is about learning to read that writing.

Q: As a society we’re becoming aware that we have lost the connection between our food and its source. Hunting definitely revives our awareness and creates an appreciation of what we eat. As an ex-vegetarian, I struggled with hunting and the killing of animals, but this project has brought me closer to accepting that if one can actually hunt and understand the sacrifice of an animal’s life to feed a human being, hunting becomes a more humane concept. How do you feel when killing an animal?

A: The first time I shot a deer I felt like I had done something very wrong. I felt incredible sorrow but also elation. As you walk up to the animal on the ground you become aware of the huge responsibility contained in its lifelessness. The animal belongs to you now and you’d better take care of it. I was aware of that responsibility going it into the woods but it doesn’t feel real until you’re pinching the hide to make that first cut and then dragging it two miles back to the car. By taking its life, I assumed a responsibility to see the hunt all the way through, literally down to the last bite. You are both executor and inheritor of its flesh. As you skin and butcher, it transforms from an animal into the bits of abstract flesh that most of us know meat by. The difference with this meat, aside from it’s amazing deliciousness, is that it will forever be associated with the living animal through your memory of the hunt. The process of butchering a deer is hard work. But yes, taking an animal from the wild and preparing it to eat was an incredible and, in a way, devastating experience that I’ll never forget.

Photo by Megan Mack

Photo by Megan Mack

Q: Many people believe that big game hunting is cruel and inhumane. Do you agree or disagree? Would you personally hunt the big five or other animals besides those you would eat and utilize?

A: I’ll answer this question in relation to the big five of Africa. Hunters are afraid to pass judgment on one another because we have this notion that the integrity of the hunting community is worth preserving over the ideological differences of its members. Big lobbyist groups like the NRA have a vested financial interest in making the hunting community think that Obama or PETA or Environmentalists or the EPA want to destroy its way of life. So we put our differences aside to combat this ever-present external threat that never actually occurs (meanwhile the guns and ammo fly off the shelves, and it’s a victory for the NRA). It’s ironic how the prohibition on judgment reproduces the very political correctness that annoys conservatives. But I enjoy passing judgment so I’ll say this about African hunting: It’s a waste of money, and contrary to myth of the Great Whiter Hunter, it takes less grit and skill to the hunt the big five than it does money. Anytime a hunter comes out against African hunting they wave the green flag of envy at you. I have no desire to hunt Africa whatsoever. I have no desire to hunt Africa for the same reason I have no desire to go on a cruise to a island resort in the Bahamas: both were curated for people like me to enjoy and enjoy a certain way. African hunting preserves and island resorts are alike in that they’re built to keep the outside world out. I like when a place feels indifferent or even hostile to my presence. The woods near my mom’s house where I go deer hunting are like that. They don’t give a fuck about me. They don’t welcome me, expertly guide me to the place where I’m supposed to hunt, skin my animal, and then cook dinner for me. Even a very mediocre hunter can go to Africa and kill a lion or buffalo. It’s set up that way. Put that same hunter on public land in America and they’ll have little success. I don’t want to be mediocre and I don’t want my money to do my hunting for me.

Q: What is your opinion of those who hunt only for sport?

A: Pure sport hunting, at least in the United States, is uncommon. American hunting traditions are pretty good about not being wasteful. However, I have more respect for poachers than I do for sport hunters who don’t eat what they kill. At least the poacher does it out of need, even if it’s financial.

I’m thinking specifically about Africa again. Like the majority of African poaching, African trophy hunting is a commercial form of hunting. The only real difference is that the latter is legal and steeped in colonial romance. Imagine a place with high fences where wealthy trophy hunters come and go while the actual residents outside the fence go hungry or remain in poverty. I’m going to be in favor of the people on the outside doing what they need to do to survive. Most African game can be shot in Texas anyways for a fraction of the African cost. So why even go to Africa? I say go local and save big on airfare.

Photo by Megan Mack

Photo by Megan Mack