A 360+ bull, a personal best bass (or trout), or a limit of ducks… Whether big game hunting, waterfowling, or angling, documenting our successes is essential to many outdoorsmen. Today, technology has made it easier than ever to share these memories with friends and family. However, as ethical outdoorsmen, HOW we document these moments can be critical to the longevity of the pastimes we love.
Hunting “trophy pics” have been part of human tradition for as long as humans have existed. From the earliest of times, cave drawings depicted stories of brave hunters pursuing elusive animals. As centuries passed, we turned to other means of sharing our trophies. The advent of photography has allowed us to look back on our great-great-grandparents with animals the likes of which we’ll never see. To this day, you can find anglers talking up a sun-faded polaroid in the local bait and tackle shop, sharing exaggerated stories with anyone who will listen.
Looking at our not-so-recent history, we can see that access to hunting and fishing media was much more limited. You would have to seek out magazines such as Outdoor Life or Field & Stream or send away (and wait anxiously) for your copy of Realtree’s Monster Bucks on VHS. The reality is, if you wanted to see a trophy photo or kill shot, you’d likely have to go looking for it.
WHAT’S THE ISSUE?
Technology, particularly social media, allows us to instantly share our most important moments with family and friends worldwide. However, the dilemma is that social media has also opened up hunting and fishing to increased scrutiny. Despite our intentions, pictures and videos are often pushed directly in the path of those who may not have a full understanding of the tradition. As the audience for much of our media has changed, it’s crucial that we carefully control the narrative and examine everything we post with a critical eye.
But why? Why does our presentation to a bunch of non-hunters or non-anglers matter? In the United States, only about 5% of the population, or less, are hunters, with about 15% of the population being anglers. In the inverse, only about 5% of the people vehemently oppose hunting. That leaves anywhere between 70-90% of the population undecided in the middle. That’s a rather large pendulum that can either swing to the benefit or detriment of our outdoor passions. As hunters and anglers, we rely on this middle ground of the population for the continuation of our lifestyle. Hunters will vote for hunting, anglers will vote for fishing, and the anti-hunters will vote for whatever misinformed foolishness seems to go against those. In most cases, the opinions of those people can’t and won’t ever be changed. But how will those in the middle vote when new legislation rears its head?
The antis do an incredible job of using emotion and our own media to portray us as a cruel, bloodthirsty, trashy group of people. What’s worse is that we so often play right into their hands. Take, for example, the “Shoot Selfies Not Animals” Facebook frame campaign run by PETA. By the hundreds, if not thousands, hunters posted their most gruesome hunting selfies using the frame. As a community, we flooded public social media with kill shots in an unfortunate attempt to troll the organization. I’ll admit that I got caught up in the hype myself, initially thinking the trend was hilarious. That was until I came to realize that, outside our community, all anyone could see was a bunch of bloodthirsty killers who think the death of an animal is a joke.
In another case, a well-known hunting personality was visiting Scotland for an international hunt. This hunter posed for a photo with a blood-covered sex toy next to a recently killed animal. Combined with this hunter’s other trophy photos, this incident spurred the Scottish government to reevaluate its hunting laws. A quick scroll through some hashtags on Instagram will show countless other tasteless and tactless trends, such as the fish-bra, duckbill biting, straddling animals and many other inappropriate photos. These leave a bad taste in most hunters’ mouths, and I can only imagine how it appears to the non-hunters, who we should always be working to win over.
So, What’s the Solution?
Some have proposed that it’s time to do away entirely with the standard trophy photo, a.k.a. the “grip n’ grin.” They’ve suggested that it’s a self-glorifying relic and should be eliminated for the greater good of hunting and fishing. I, for one, completely disagree with this perspective. However, I feel that, as we share our passions for hunting and fishing, we must be careful of the line we walk. We can most certainly find a balance between posting anything and everything, damn the consequences and caving to the antis’ misinformed, emotional sentiments.
Enter the Grip n’ Grin 2.0, a new evolution to the tradition. Instead of the standard “hold the antlers and smile,” the hunter takes a picture with the quartered-out backstraps. The question is, is this a suitable substitute? That’s a debate that has been ongoing for some time now. This whole topic has, in fact, spurred significant amounts of very intense discussion and debate in our communities.
From my perspective, the Grip n’ Grin 2.0 will never fully replace a trophy photo showing you with the animal you’ve just harvested. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve taken several 2.0 pics and shared those along with my standard grip n’ grin. However, again, I think there’s a solid middle ground we can find to share these memories but do so in a respectful uplifting way. Take, for example, the Instagram account @honorthehunt. This account is a compilation page that depicts and celebrates the harvest of animals in a fashion that shows reverence for the animals but doesn’t compromise our traditions.
Ultimately, it all comes down to a personal choice and what, in your best judgment, correctly portrays the full narrative in a way that is uplifting to our hunting and fishing pastimes. Is there a perfect answer or way to post a grip n’ grin? No. But here are a few tips and things to consider as you’re out in the field getting ready to snap that photo…
If you take one thing from this entire article, it’s that you should look at everything you do through the lens of showing respect for this animal and its sacrifice. What is the focus of the photo? Is it meant to bring honor to the animal or attention to you?
Tell the Whole Story
Is the grip n’ grin all that you’re posting? Or have you been sharing your entire adventure? Will someone looking at your photos understand the hours of hard work you’ve put in to harvest that animal? Do they recognize that you’re not just there for the antlers or self-glorification? Have you shared the joy that comes from sharing a wild game meal with friends and family?
Hunting, quartering and processing an animal can be a messy ordeal. There will always be some, as a good friend of mine put it once, necessary gore. However, when taking your trophy photo, please don’t overdo it. There’s no need to cover your hands and arms in blood. Do your best to pose the animal naturally. Make sure the tongue is placed back in the mouth or removed. Either wash off or rub in some dirt to cover the excess blood around the wound.
Reduce the Stress
If you are practicing catch-and-release fishing, it’s good to keep in mind that the fish can become very stressed. Unless you’re planning on cooking it up later, you want to be as low-impact on the animal as possible. In general, keep ’em wet! Keep the fish in the water as much as possible, try not to handle them dry-handed, be gentle and take your photo as quickly as possible so you can return them to their habitat.
Change Your Perspective
Remember that our audiences, both intended and unintended, have significantly expanded. In truth, we don’t know who will access our hunting and fishing media. As such, we need to acknowledge a fundamental truth: perception is everything. Before you post that photo, take a moment to step out of yourself and consider how someone without your context may perceive this image.
A Final Thought
You may find the concept distasteful, but we’re all marketers. Our client? Hunting, fishing and the outdoor lifestyle for which we all live. Whether a social media celebrity, hunting show personality or weekend warrior, it is our responsibility to promote hunting and fishing in a truthful, ethical and responsible light. It doesn’t matter if your audience is in the tens or tens of thousands. In the words of the immortal Fred Bear, “If you are not working to protect hunting, then you are working to destroy it.”
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments.