Although many who enjoy the outdoors may have been among the last to climb onto the internet train, they seem to be making up for lost time. An ever-increasing number of digital services now allow hunters and anglers to upload a high-quality digital photo of their “hunt of a lifetime” within seconds of the event for, quite literally, the entire cyber-world to see.
Counter that with a far greater number of hunter/anglers who either by luck or by choice did not find themselves in possession of anything which seemed to be worthy of on-line distribution. Although many, or most, of these sportsmen may well have been content with their seasons, I suspect that equally as many are left with a case of “Antler Envy.” It seems to be getting to the point where it’s considered “loser speak” if you dare say you are more interested in the tradition, the outdoor experience, or a little venison for the freezer than you are in getting a trophy buck.
Further evidence of this trend is provided by the fact that you never seem to see photos of that 9½ year old doe, who may be three times older than the trophy buck and certainly left more behind to replenish the resource than did her “hunky” counterpart.
Okay, so here’s my hypothesis. The recent rise in interest in the development of special regulations with the goal of creating more trophy hunting and fishing opportunities seems to coincide with the explosion of electronic media platforms. It turns out that increasingly size does matter, and that we weren’t aware of our outdoor inadequacies until the megapixels were being thrown in our face.
I should emphasize that I am a supporter of many of the proposals which have been advanced relating to deer antler point restrictions (APR’s), special fishing regulations including no kill and increased size limits, all of which allow for the creation of more diversified hunting and fishing opportunities. I also happen to be an avid user of many of these same digital and electronic platforms which are referenced in this column, and subscribe to many of the news feeds which produce the seemingly endless stream of what Tom Rosenbauer refers to as “hero shots.” Since I’ve also done a little trophy photo posting, I, too, am guilty on all counts.
Although most of this shift in recreational priorities is harmless fun, it would appear to be a no-win situation for our public fishery and wildlife managers. By elevating expectations and raising the bar for hunter/angler satisfaction we may once again be setting up state and federal agencies for another round of publicly perceived failure. In other words, if “quality” wildlife and fisheries management becomes the basic expectation, only two outcomes are available – either meet these elevated expectations, or disappoint.
Alternatively, some may credibly contend that this increased interest in trophy-class management objectives is more attributable to the internet’s ability to communicate and demonstrate that such practices have been proven to be successful than it has to do with photo sharing.
An additional consideration has emerged as a part of the recent Michigan Wolf Management debate. Among the points of misinformation used by many who opposed any type of public wolf season here in Michigan was their use of the term “trophy hunting.” We can only imagine the types of images HSUS and others hoped to conjure up in the minds of those who had not yet formed an opinion of the issue.
The point is not that we should run in fear of these tactics, but merely recognize the reality of public perception; that being, the importance of maintaining a positive image of hunting among the 80-some percent of Michigan residents who neither hunt nor oppose hunting, and who will also likely decide its long term fate. Since this reality is well known among professional wildlife decision-makers, I remain supremely confident that a significant educational component will accompany this November’s wolf season. Even using our best efforts, there is little doubt that some hunting detractors will attempt to misrepresent imagery gleaned from the internet in an attempt to influence public opinion. We should, however, do what we can to make this job as difficult as possible.
The fact remains that all things are relative. If what was a “once in a lifetime” hunting and angling experience become the new normal, has there really been a net gain? By the way, did I show you the photos from our trip to Canada last year?