If the annual whitetail rut isn’t in full swing yet, it will be soon.
So, for the next few weeks, hunters throughout West Virginia will be spending lots of time in the woods, each hoping to put an arrow or a bullet into a buck that’s truly Instagram-worthy.
Hey, isn’t the object of deer hunting to create a sensation on social media? That’s certainly how it seems nowadays, at least to me.
It wasn’t always this way. As little as four decades ago, deer hunters’ primary goal was to bring home some meat for the freezer and — if fate smiled on them — a keepsake set of antlers to hang over the mantelpiece.
When someone killed a particularly big buck, the story sometimes made the local paper. A really exceptional kill with a compelling background story might even make a regional sportsman’s magazine, or even one of the “big three” national mags — Field & Stream, Outdoor Life or Sports Afield.
Televised hunting shows and prepackaged hunting videos changed all that.
Hunters featured in shows and videos became celebrities. Advertisers, eager to capitalize on that celebrity, paid big-name hunters to pitch their products.
With status came pressure. No advertiser wants to shell out big bucks to hunters who don’t kill big bucks. Hunters eager to demonstrate their prowess — and their shows’ producers, eager to keep the ad money flowing in — couldn’t afford to leave their pursuit of big bucks (animal and monetary) to chance.
Some resorted to subterfuge. They hunted on private high-fence preserves, where they could hand-pick the deer they wished to shoot. They hunted over bait. A handful even resorted to killing deer illegally, either out of season or on land they didn’t have permission to hunt.
The tactics paid off, so much so that the marketplace eventually became jammed with wannabes eager to score a time slot on a burgeoning number of hunting-related cable television networks.
Those not talented enough to grab the big brass ring were willing to settle for the next best thing: being named to an equipment manufacturer’s pro staff, where they could swap their not-ready-for-prime-time talents for free gear and receive pseudo-celebrity treatment at outdoor consumer expos.
The rise of social media only made things worse. Far too many of today’s hunters base their perception of success on how many likes and followers they can accumulate on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and scores of online hunting forums.
What started as a contemplative, solitary pastime has become a never-ending competition for other people’s attention and adulation.
My fear is that anti-hunting activists will use some hunters’ crass attempts to monetize hunting to paint the entire pastime in a bad light. Goodness knows they’d love to do so.
My hope is that, somewhere in this great wide world, there remains a cadre of hunters who kill big bucks and don’t brag about it — whose sole rewards are a trophy on the living-room wall and a sense of gratitude for having been in the right place at the right time.
Those folks, I believe, put hunting in a more proper perspective than those who pursue fame. I applaud them.