Tag Archives: hunting season

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. 

The Evolution of American Hunting Attire

How has hunting attire changed over the last 300 years? Let’s take a look.

The Longhunters

Contemporary longhunter displaying some fine early 18th-century threads [Image: warriorstrail.com]

Contemporary longhunter displaying some fine early 18th-century threads. [Image: warriorstrail.com]

Longhunters were 18th century hunters and trappers who pushed into the Appalachian frontier in search of fur and game. By dress alone, they probably weren’t too different from ordinary settlers or pioneers. They wore a kind of knee-length linen overshirt, moccasins, leather leggings, and woolen garters in thick brush or snow. Since they operated for months at a time, longhunters carried a wool blanket for sleeping and an oilcloth that functioned like a modern tarp. They carried their items in a leather bag known as a haversack that was carried over the shoulder like a messenger bag. A smaller leather bag, known as a shooting bag, contained everything needed to prep, load, and maintain a flintlock rifle. As longhunters worked their way West, their style of dress became heavily influenced by encounters with Native Americans. They basically looked like A$AP Rocky.

Mountain Men

Image: en.wikipedia.org

[Image: en.wikipedia.org]

The mountain men were the peak of frontier fashion and the first true masters of cultural appropriation. The reached a fabulousness rivaled only by today’s tactical paramilitary soybean field hunters. Adopting the style of Native American hunters, they dressed head to toe in buckskins and wore either moccasins or heavy boots depending on the terrain. Coonskin hats were in the mix but probably not as often as people think. Unlike today’s ScentLok man, the mountain man was not afraid of a little odor. In fact, he probably reeked. But that really didn’t matter because he also probably understood the wind in a way that less than 1% of today’s hunters do.

Grandfather and the Golden Age

Image: www.wedoitoutside.com

[Image: www.wedoitoutside.com]

Ah, the era when brands like Filson, Sears, Ted Williams, L.L. Bean, and Woolrich were kings. When I think of my grandfather’s generation, I think of waxed canvas and ruby-colored Woolrich plaid. Since deer are colorblind, plaid will break up your outline as effectively as camouflage. But not too long after WWII, synthetics came along and changed the game. The result was cheaper and lighter, but it wasn’t always warmer.

The Baby Boomer

Image: www.deeranddeerhunting.com

[Image: www.deeranddeerhunting.com]

What exactly does dad wear when he hunts? It’s hard to say. It pretty much depends on whatever size XXL camo was on sale that week at Cabela’s. If he’s hip and takes after his son or daughter, maybe he’ll forego the baggy look in favor of some Under Armour. If he’s fancy and hip, he may lean toward Sitka’s style. If your dad’s a real badass, then he’s rocking Herman Survivors. If he wanted to look good and waste $250, then he’s lacing up a pair of boots from Danner.

Millennials

What are the kids wearing these days? [mage: jezebel.com]

What are the kids wearing these days? [Image: jezebel.com]

I once went rabbit hunting in skinny jeans. On the one hand, I was able to thread myself through the briars like a needle, but on the other hand, I had to stop and dig thorns out of my legs every five minutes. It wasn’t really worth repeating. So what does today’s generation wear on the hunt? Because nice hunting clothes are expensive and my generation is broke, I’ve seen an uptick in second hand and Salvation Army camo. In general, hunting clothing is getting smarter and lighter.

Tag Soup and Lessons Learned

I hunt public land in the ridge and valley province of Central Pennsylvania. Mistakes made on public land tend to be amplified given the amount of hunting pressure, annual variance in food sources, and difficulty of terrain. Success here is the result of being either very astute or very lucky (or both).

Pennsylvania public forest land during hunting season

Hunting Territory [Image: Jack Kredell]

This year I got to dine on a big hearty bowl of tag soup. Coming up empty-handed after putting in 60 – 70 hours of hunting time in six days is enough to make you doubt your ability – and your sanity. Here are a few lessons learned from this year’s hunt.

Feed Yourself

If you hunt from dark to dark, as I often do, pack enough food and water to keep you energized and alert throughout the day. The best way to achieve this is by eating in small quantities continuously. When you don’t eat and drink enough, you lose focus and start thinking about that nice, warm meal at home (seriously, you waited an entire year for this moment and now you want to go home and eat spaghetti?). As a result of your mental fatigue, your steps become careless and loud because you’re not committed. Next thing you know you’re watching a buck’s rear-end disappear into the thick stuff.

They’re There… Somewhere

There are deer everywhere. Even if this isn’t true, you should act like there are deer everywhere. How many improbably placed deer have you carelessly bumped while hunting and scouting? Like a million. The hardest thing is to be ready all the time.

Measuring big buck print in the mud

Never did catch up with this guy. [Image: Jack Kredell]

Stay Put

The grass is always greener. What usually happens is that I’ll settle into a spot only to see another spot over the way that looks even better. So, I put my backpack on (noise), stand up (more noise and just about the worst thing to do in the woods), and move (more noise) to the spot that looks even better. And, of course, from this new spot I see a spot I like even more. Just stay where you are and have confidence in your decisions. If the deer are moving in your area, you’ll know it.

Prep Your Scope

Your scope is going to fog up in bad weather. Modern scopes are filled with nitrogen, which makes the inside fog-proof but not the outside. At a critical moment in the hunt you don’t want to be looking through a foggy scope. I recommend installing Butler Creek flip-open scope covers. If you’re sitting down, hold the rifle away from your body so that your body heat doesn’t fog up the scope. Your body’s warmth, not the rain, is the enemy of your scope.

A series of tree scrapes in Pennsylvania; two are buck rubs, one is from a porcupine feasting on the bark

Two buck scrapes & leftovers from a porcupine feast [Image: Jack Kredell]

Adapt

From a tactical perspective, a hunter should find that sweet spot between patience and adaptation. That spot you scouted earlier in the season might be perfect… for a cold, sunny day. But now the wind is blowing and rain is coming down in sheets. What then? It’s time to adapt. Patience can be overrated. Some of the best fishermen I know are the most impatient people in the world. They don’t waste their time on something they know won’t work well. Anybody can get lucky in unfavorable conditions, but more often than not you need to take luck into your own hands.

I got skunked this year. I saw plenty of deer, perhaps more than ever, but nothing that I could legally shoot. The good thing is that I put in over 60 hours the first week of rifle season, so I have no regret – or excuses. The only bad hunting is not getting out to hunt.

Happy holidays and happy hunting!