Media Misrepresentations of the Hunter, the Hunted, and Hunting

Keeping on top of the ways hunting is represented in the media is an ongoing effort. The immediacy with which information, and misinformation, spreads through social media can make it difficult to be aware of and respond to every conversation about hunting. On top of that, with attention spans becoming increasingly short, there is the danger that perceptions about facts will become a part of the public’s collective memory before inaccuracies can be addressed.

On Friday, February 10th, CBC’s episode of the fifth estate, “The Hunter and the Hunted”, examined the complex, sometimes contrasting, ways that humans interact with wildlife. The first of four profiles focused on Jacine Jadresko, a Canadian hunter. In the 15 minute segment, host Bob McKeown apparently expected to typify the vastly diverse identities of hunters through the experiences of one individual. For me, the segment was characterized by misrepresentations, oversimplifications, and missed opportunities to examine the nuances that define hunting.

Here are seven areas I’ve identified where the episode could have more meaningfully engaged in the conversation. To make something else clear from the outset, I think Jacine was a poor representative of hunting, and while she and I would undoubtedly share some ideas, I disagreed with many of the things she said and much of the underlying sentiment in her representations of hunting.

Even for those who might dislike hunting altogether, the fact that I easily identified seven problem areas with the segment should make it clear that the fifth estate bit off too large a chunk of this complex issue to hope to cover in 15 minutes.

Here’s the segment on Jacine. The rest of this post will make more sense after watching:

  1. An extreme case chosen to represent hunters and hunting

Hunting has been more than a significant factor in the history of human evolution and civilization. This is not to say that historical continuity justifies an activity, merely to point out that it is impossible to expect that a single person can encapsulate and represent such an historically and culturally diverse part of human culture.

I have to believe that in choosing Jacine to profile, CBC must have known that she is a minority among the hunting community in terms of the kind of hunting she does. The majority of us do not have thousands of dollars to spend on big game hunts around the world; social media followers numbering in the thousands (Jacine’s Instagram, inkedhuntress, currently has 9,031 followers); endorsements and sponsorships; professionally filmed hunts. So there’s just no way that CBC should have even implicitly suggested that Jacine’s experiences represent the broader hunting community.

I’ll also point out that Jacine’s views and representations of hunting do not reflect my own and I would not choose Jacine as my ambassador. I’ve heard people say that hunters need to stand together, but I don’t believe that’s true. The social media/celebrity hunters sometimes do more harm than good, with their “Unapologetic Hunter” attitudes and inflammatory phrases (e.g. Jacine’s “the more you hate the more I kill”) that do not reflect the attitudes that define the broader hunting community. The way we frame our messaging is important, and while I look to Jacine to rethink her approach, CBC could have chosen not to highlight things like this to their audience.

  1. Limited discussion of hunting as conservation and management

Regulated hunting has played a critical role in the history of wildlife management and conservation throughout the world. It’s a topic I have addressed in other posts and there are plenty of poignant and informative resources out there detailing this topic. Bob gave a passing remark about Jacine identifying as a conservationist, as if the mutual self-identification as both hunter and conservationist is questionable, but neglected to talk about the important role hunters have played throughout the history of the conservation movement on this continent.

From the creation of the first national parks, to species recovery movements, to providing funding for scientific research, monitoring, and enforcement, the profound financial and physical labour contributions of hunters is unequivocal. In North America, fish and wildlife management agencies generate around 80% of their operating budget from hunting related fees. Even if we isolate the more controversial aspect of Jacine’s hunting activities and focus on her big game hunting in Africa, the legal and economic picture is complex. Like it or not, the economic reality is that species conservation in many countries relies on the fees generated by hunting.

It’s also important to note that hunting is carefully and tightly regulated. Each year, jurisdictions release hunting regulations that stipulate precisely what hunters are allowed to kill, often specifying requirements for gender and physical traits intended to select for individuals of specific age classes. Highly trained individuals spend their entire careers refining the methods for studying population demographics so that wildlife can be managed effectively. For an example, the Ontario Hunting Regulations and Ontario’s Cervid Ecological Framework specify management objectives for all four deer species in the province.

  1. Simplification of the concept of “trophy hunting”

When the topic of “trophy hunting” flares up in the media every so often, I see two issues repeatedly emerge. First, the definitions of the term differ widely, so it becomes impossible to really engage in a discussion about this thing called trophy hunting. What one person sees as deplorable and wasteful, someone else sees as legal and conservation-minded. Second, there is a tendency to position “trophy hunting” and all other forms of hunting as mutually exclusive, as though someone is either a food hunter or a trophy hunter, and never both.

The CBC episode unfortunately fell into both of these traps. Bob provided a cursory and somewhat arbitrary definition of trophy hunting as “hunting for recreation, not food”. Bob stated at one point that “a Canadian family hunting deer may not be cause for controversy, but Jacine’s big game trophy hunts around the world certainly are”, positioning different forms of hunting as mutually exclusive, binary, and in necessary contradiction.

Motivations to hunt are not mutually exclusive. I understand that when most people talk about trophy hunting, they’re talking about people who travel to Africa to hunt for wall decorations. However, all of the hunters I know hunt for food and many of them also retain some part of the animal as a “trophy”. So the concept is not so easily reduced to a binary classification. Furthermore, regardless of individual motivations to hunt, the laws are the same. So “trophy hunters” still operate within the tightly regulated system of hunting. This perceived dichotomy becomes almost completely unproductive in a conversation around hunting.

Where it is useful to attempt to distinguish “trophy hunting” from some other kind of hunting is in a discussion purely about personal ethics. Based on my own highly specific personal ethics, I really have no interest in hunting purely for the pursuit of a skull or hide. However, my more complex understanding of the reality of wildlife conservation in many countries means that I understand it has a role in global nature conservation.

In striving for an easily digestible definition of a complicated issue, we often risk simplifying it so much that we end up judging and appraising an incomplete picture of the issue, and this does nothing for moving our collective understanding forward. I feel no internal intellectual conflict saying that I disagree with both Jacine’s and Bob’s analyses of trophy hunting.

  1. Reducing the complexity of hunting to being “definitively about” killing

Hunting is about many things and these things are about as varied as the places and species people hunt. What hunting is “about” can not be neatly packaged into a straight forward definition.

At one point during the segment, Jacine says that hunting, to her, is not about killing. Though Bob had just acknowledged that he has no personal experience hunting and stated clearly that he would not hunt, his reply is simply to argue that hunting is “definitively about killing”. Without any personal experience, one is quite simply not qualified to state what hunting is “definitively about”.

I understand what Bob thought he meant with this statement. Unfortunately, in his effort to be provocative, he missed an important opportunity to try to understand how hunters understand the activity on a more emotional level. As a hunter, I can understand what Jacine meant when she said hunting is not about killing, and on multiple levels, Bob was wrong.

If hunting is definitively about killing, then a hunt without a kill is by definition a failed or unsuccessful hunt. Plenty of hunts go by without a kill and are by many criteria successful – they involve learning, time with friends and family, and so on. So while hunting involves killing, and even by definition involves the pursuit of killing, presenting hunting as some simplistic hierarchy of goals, with killing as the penultimate factor of success upon which all other components of a hunt depend is a disservice to the deep cultural and widely varied motivations to hunt.

  1. Misguided fixation on the words “harvest” and “kill”

The discussion around terminology is one I’ve been interested in for quite some time, and a topic I’ve covered more thoroughly in another post. Unfortunately, the discussion was missed because Bob appeared more interested in making statements disguised as questions than meaningfully engaging in the topic.

Differences over the use of the words “harvest” and “kill” are interesting and in some cases can reflect culturally-specific worldviews related to wildlife. Bob (and most of the online comments on the episode) apparently only saw the use of the word harvest as somehow trying to water down the act of killing. The suggestion that the use of the word harvest is a way to hide the killing that is involved in hunting presupposes a moral framing on hunters’ understanding of the act that is inaccurate. On the contrary, I would hazard to say that most thoughtful hunters have devoted some time to reflecting on their role as a hunter and the moral weight involved in killing. There are a great deal of complex considerations that determine how hunters understand the morality in killing, and this conversation is far more interesting than the foregone conclusion that hunters are simply searching for euphemisms.

I’ll also point out that the use of the word harvest has a much deeper history in North American wildlife management than the idea that hunters are simply trying to hide what they do. When Aldo Leopold wrote Game Management in 1933, widely regarded as the first codification of the system of scientific wildlife management in North America, he used the word harvest as part of a wider conceptualization of the act of managing wildlife.

  1. Real gender issues in hunting trivialized

Though this is changing, there’s no question that there are still gender inequities in the hunting world. Product development, marketing, and ingrained attitudes and vernacular continue to reinforce the male-dominated nature of hunting. I’ve declined the opportunity to hunt with hunt camps who have told me that they do not allow women to join. On the other hand, I’ve chosen to be part of hunt camps that denounce this kind of exclusion and make efforts to include women. The hunting partner I work with better than anyone and enjoying hunting with more than anyone else is a woman. I’ve watched her work hard to negotiate the line between advocating for herself as both a “woman hunter” and simply a hunter, whose identify as a hunter does not have to be defined by her gender.

I think the episode could have made an important statement by selecting a woman to profile in their segment on hunting. Both Jacine and Bob chose to highlight aspects of this story that were bound to elicit emotional responses from the both the hunting and non-hunting public. Perhaps it was never the intention, but if Jacine or Bob had truly wanted to present this story as an example of a strong woman hunter and role model, they both could have taken a better approach. Jacine suggested that she experiences more shock and opposition to her photos because she is a woman, but I think this minimizes the impacts of the other ways she chooses to market herself – the nature of the photos she posts, the hashtags she uses, and her shock-based slogans on social media.

Bob stated at one point that “marketers are anxious to prove that even blood sport could use a little glamour”. These kind of statements perpetuate the sexualization of women hunters and simplify women’s involvement in hunting to simply new marketing opportunities. This kind of discussion also diminishes appreciation for the dedication anyone must show to become a skilled hunter. I don’t doubt that sexism affects how people react to Jacine, but I think there were better ways to examine and challenge those attitudes that did not leave the conversation open to such quick dismissal.

In giving a superficial nod to issues around gender and wrapping these up in other emotionally charged issues, Jacine and Bob trivialized the real gendered power dynamics in hunting. The effect was to provide people with the opportunity to dismiss not only Jacine’s suggestion that her gender plays a part in people’s attitudes towards her, but also the existence of gender issues in hunting altogether.

Here’s the kind of discussion I think is productive and powerful with regards to women and hunting (as a side note, this post was published on March 8, 2017, International Women’s Day):

  1. Little discussion of hunting as gathering

The focus on Jacine’s trophy hunting left very little time or space to discuss the role of hunting as a means of gathering food. Toward the end of the segment, the conversation shifted to Jacine hunting in Canada for food. If the intention of the episode had been to focus on trophy hunting as Bob conceives of it, that might be understandable. However, the episode was purportedly about people’s varied relationships with wildlife, with hunting representing one of those relationships. For many hunters, hunting is about gathering food and filling freezers (in fact, it is illegal to waste meat from a hunted animal). The focus on Jacine’s trophy hunting trips and her social media activities obscured this prominent motivation for hunting.


I was disappointed at the missed opportunities in this episode. I think it could have been a valuable window into the unique relationship hunters form with wildlife. The problems I discussed here are of course not limited to this particular episode of the fifth estate. They are part of a broader issue with discussions of hunting in the media. I can only encourage both hunters and non-hunters alike – don’t take the bait. Avoid the temptation to allow discussions like the one presented by the fifth estate to perpetuate stereotypes and divisions. Ask more questions and find common ground.

I’d be real interested to hear other people’s thoughts on the episode and my take on it.


Cecil: Part 1: Let’s talk about what we’re talking about

One of my hesitations with social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, even blogging) is the inherent difficulty in using these tools to discuss issues that are located in a large and complex grey area of social opinion and politics. However, increasingly, news websites seem to be showing Twitter responses as part of their coverage, so there’s no denying that these are important platforms for engaging with current issues. This does not mean that we need to simplify our discussions to a watered down understanding of an issue to make it more readable. Given that, my approach to this topic takes place in a number of parts, each focusing on a different facet of the story.

By now, most people have probably heard about the hunter who killed a lion in Zimbabwe named Cecil, resulting in extensive news coverage and an outpouring of social media attention. One of the problems I see happening with this story is that many people are approaching it from different angles and experiences, but they’re all trying to have the same conversation. This is very difficult to do, because when we think we’re talking about the same thing, but aren’t, or are talking about the same thing, but don’t think we are, it leads to misunderstanding and conflict.

We need to know what we’re talking about.

I want to be upfront about how my personal baggage informs my mental organization of this issue. To do this, I’ll outline the range of more nuanced issues that I think are at play here so that I can discuss them individually and with specificity. For me, here are the things I’m thinking about in relation to this story:

  1. The effect of media representation and language on public perceptions;
  2. The decision about whether, as hunters, to defend or ostracize;
  3. The concern among hunters that stories like this puts all hunters in the same category;
  4. The importance of knowing the scientific facts about the animal and its ecology;
  5. The need to understand the politics and economics of conservation.

So these five sub-topics are really the ones that are the most important for me in this issue, and indeed in many other stories in the media involving hunting. I think it’s hard for me to talk about this without partially compartmentalizing each of these considerations and focusing on them somewhat individually. This is not to say that there aren’t other important issues, or even that these points are arranged in a hierarchy of importance. My opinion on this story is also informed by a combination of each of these more specific issues; this is just how I organize my thoughts.

One of the most important things for me in discussing an issue like this one is having the willingness and ability to embrace what people might perceive as paradox: to be able to say that I think what Walter Palmer and his hunting guides did was wrong, but that I still defend hunting; that I really have no personal interest in hunting a lion, but that I do not disagree with lion hunting; that killing this individual lion might have been wrong for sociocultural reasons, but that I understand the ecology of the species enough to know that it wasn’t necessarily wrong on a biological level; and that even if I disagree with the way certain people hunts, I am ok with it as long as it is legal. In other words, it’s possible to have multiple opinions about different aspects of an issue.

I’ll discuss this issue in three parts: Part 1 will focus on the first point; Part 2 will address points 2 & 3; and Part 3 will address points 4 & 5.

Part 1:
The way media and language frame this issue has a profound effect on how people perceive and talk about it.

Subconscious perceptions informed by value-laden language ultimately have tremendous consequences for how meaningfully I can have discussions with people about my other four points.

I’ll say that so far, I have mixed feelings about the way media has covered the story. I’m not a media analyst; I have no professional training in this, only my own perceptions and reactions to the language used in the media. This is also not a systematic selection of media, just a couple examples to illustrate my point.

The first coverage I saw about this was a CBC article that covered Jimmy Kimmel’s reaction to the killing of ‘Cecil the lion’. Now,  right up front, we need to recognize that the very fact that this lion had a name imbues the whole story with a sociocultural importance that would likely not be present if the lion were presented as a nameless, wild, apex predator, living in a wild habitat, doing wild things. A discussion of the effects of anthropomorphizing animals is out of my scope here, but these analyses exist, and suffice to say that giving the lion a name changes its significance for the general public. I’m not commenting on whether this is right or wrong; I’m only recognizing that it changes the nature of the issue. Would we still care about lions as a species? Yes. Would we feel the same personal attachment to the individual lion? Probably not.

Framing of Hunters as People:
Right from the outset, CBC describes the hunter as someone “who hunts big game for sport”. This is a loaded statement. I hunt big game, and consider myself engaged in athletic endeavours when doing so. The use of the term “trophy hunter” has also been prevalent. Describing any hunter in this way leaves out a whole range of important points about, for example, what the person does with the meat, their financial contribution and dedication to conservation (granted, we know what Palmer did with the meat, but I’m speaking generally about the use of this language), and the ecological effects of removing certain individuals from wildlife populations. Both Jimmy Kimmel and Johnny Rodrigues, chairmen of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, make comments about hunters being sexually inadequate or simply as people “who’ve got an ego. They’re bored with their lives“. I can tell you, with complete certainty, that neither of these two things are issues for me. In any case, this kind of language presents such a strong value judgment on the motivations of hunters as a whole, not only Walter Palmer, that is simply not true or encompassing of the activity.

Perceptions of Hunting Ethics:
There also seems to be a large focus on the fact that Palmer used a crossbow to shoot the lion, as if that somehow makes it inherently unethical. Let’s remember that bows are capable of delivery tremendous amounts of energy to kill animals by hemorrhaging. This does not make them less effective than guns. Perhaps the particular shot that Palmer took was unsafe, unethical, and ineffective, but the language focusing on the fact that he used a crossbow is dangerous and misrepresentative of the effectiveness of bowhunting.

Simplifications of the Conservation Issue:
Multiple articles also highlight the fact that Palmer paid around $54 000 to kill the lion. This particular issue is more related to my fifth point above about the politics of conservation, and I’ll address this more comprehensively in another post; however, noting only the amount of money Palmer paid does not appropriately represent the full issue of paying large amounts of money for hunting opportunities. It’s an important point and has much more relevance than simply showing that he is an arrogant rich man, but this kind of language evokes emotional responses from people that are inevitably antagonistic to the idea of paying for killing, rather than the actual long-term effects of this system.

The Use of Euphemisms:
On the other side of the discussion, Kimmel tells Palmer to “Stop saying you took the Lion. You take Aspirin. You killed the lion”. I agree. He killed the lion. I always use the word kill, because I think we need to give things a name, not a euphemism. I also don’t think that what we do when we kill an animal is wrong, so I don’t mind using the word kill. I would rather honestly embrace the emotional response from the reality of what we do than try to shield others from it. I tend to agree with Kimmel here that if Palmer is attempting to soften the language he is using, it isn’t working. However, I would also caution against the association of killing with wrong that can sometimes be implied with statements like this.

Now, I’m not disputing the facts presented by these articles, and this particular post is not about my personal opinion on the story (I’ll get to that in the other posts about this). I only want to draw attention to the point that our choice of language has dramatic implications for how people react to and think about issues. When we discuss issues as controversial and far-reaching as this, and share strong opinions about them, we need to remember what we’re talking about and choose our words carefully. I think we need to be careful to speak only about the particular case we want to be talking about, and not imply truths about the broader issues involved.  If we’re not talking about hunters or hunting or lion conservation in general, then let’s not use language that conveys value judgments about those topics. Let’s present facts unencumbered by personal feelings about them and at the same time be aware of how our feelings and perceptions are informed by the language used to discuss an issue.