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 with Rob Miskosky

Portraying hunting's image

The image of hunters and hunting has been under attack for at least the better part of two decades now. The majority of this attack has come from animal-rights groups who believe that animals should have the same inherent rights as humans do, that animals are equal to humans and should never be harmed. And while animal-rights groups may be a very small minority considering the magnitude of the world we live in, they tend to have a very powerful presence due to their ability to sway the general public. And let’s face it, hunters are an easy target due to the fact that we carry guns and killing is one of the final acts we carry out while hunting. Those two words, guns and killing, are abhorred by the general public, so it is easy to surmise that if forced to cast a vote for either the hunting community or the anti-hunting community, the general public would more than likely put the death knell on our hunting activities, regardless of the asinine beliefs of groups such as PETA. With fewer than 100,000 hunters in Alberta, there are more than 3 million people in this province that could be swayed either way, and swaying those non-hunting folk is a battle we have been losing to the antis for a long time now.

For this reason, groups like the Alberta Fish and Game Association and the Hunting For Tomorrow Foundation among others, fight for our hunting heritage.

Honest hunters are quite often portrayed as poachers and outlaws within the mainstream media.
But I have to wonder if we are doing enough to educate the uneducated. And I mean those who most influence the general public whose support we so badly require—those who write for our daily papers clear across this country. A message conveyed by the media is usually accepted by the reader as valid, regardless of whether or not it is.

In mid-July I ventured a sojourn into the heart of British Columbia on a fishing holiday with family members. While I never managed that 25-pound Kootenay Lake Gerrard rainbow I so desired, I still managed to catch a few smaller ones and the trip was a success. From the small hamlet of Kaslo, B.C.—the nearest town from where we stayed on the windiest road I’ve ever traveled—we returned to the Okanagan Valley for the last couple of days of our holiday. It was there, in Vernon, where I picked up a copy of the Vancouver Sun. A chance to see what was happening out on the Westcoast.

Perusing the paper a sudden headline caught my eye: “Residents on lookout for bear cubs.” Accompanying the article was the photo of a man standing over a dead mule deer doe. Instantly I was drawn to the story.

Then I read the byline that screamed, “Body of female bear found shot by hunter believed to be mother of two spotted in Coquitlam.”

The story then went on to say: “Coquitlam residents have been asked to be on the watch for two bear cubs believed to have been orphaned this month when their mother was shot by a hunter.”

I read the story and was then disgusted, not only because of the act committed by some deranged individual who also in the same area had killed the mule deer doe in the photo, but also a raccoon, or so the story proclaimed. What got me so angry was the fact that it was reported that a “hunter” was the culprit. Last time I checked, hunters hunted during regulated seasons, bought licences and tags, and most purposely would not shoot a sow with cubs in July.

I had read headlines similar to this one before, in fact, too many times before; hunters being blamed for the renegade acts of poachers or outlaws who take some strange pleasure in killing without reason. Bothered by this, I just had to contact the editor of the Vancouver Sun to voice my displeasure with her poor decision in allowing such unfair use of the word “hunter”. Unfortunately, Patricia Graham was on holiday and unable to be reached, but the writer of the article was available and I soon had Heather Travis on the phone. Travis admitted to me that I wasn’t the first one to contact her regarding her unfair portrayal of hunters. However, she sounded unfazed and even annoyed that I had called her. After explaining the difference between hunters, poachers and outlaws to what appeared to be uninterested ears, I was given a sarcastic, “I understand the difference.” We can only hope Heather Travis really, truly does understand the difference, because that one article tarnished the image of hunters everywhere the instant it hit the stands. And writing such as Heather’s can be disastrous to hunting. Why? Because the public quite often unfairly judges all hunters by the inexcusable conduct of the poachers and outlaws in our midst. It is this unfair judgement that would see the demise of hunting.

Still bothered by the article and the lack of interest shown by Travis, I contacted Wilf Pfleiderer, president of the British Columbia Wildlife Federation (BCWF). I wanted to know if the BCWF had a system in place in which to respond to such poor journalism, and if in fact, they had. Pfleiderer had just returned from a trip and was unaware of the article but assured me that the BCWF doesn’t take unfair press lightly.
“It’s not fair to our image when this is done,” stated Pfleiderer. “We do respond to those types of articles.” Pfleiderer promised he would make a few phone calls and get back to me with the BCWF response. At deadline I had yet to hear back.

Wondering what type of response system our own Alberta Fish and Game Association (AFGA) had in place, I contacted Randy Collins, AFGA president. Randy assured me that AFGA and its members also respond to erroneous reporting, but also admitted that it probably wasn’t enough.

“They paint us all with the same brush when they print that crap,” snarled Collins. “These are not hunters, that is completely, utterly wrong.”

But what do we do? How do we educate the media to understand the difference between hunters, poachers and outlaws?

“That is the $64,000 question,” sighed Collins. “You just hope they have enough due diligence to write the truth. We never get a sniff when we do something good for conservation... just this.”

Collins admitted “we are the worst salespeople in the world when it comes to promoting ourselves.” And I have to agree. When was the last time you saw a headline proclaiming the hard work that hunters give back for the benefit of wildlife and wildlife habitat in the mainstream media?

In further conversation with Collins we discussed possible ways of educating the media in the use of the word “hunter”. We agreed an information circular of some sort should be sent to editors across the country explaining our position. From there it would be hoped that poorly worded articles such as Heather Travis’ would never cross an editor’s desk again without change.

Randy suggested he would bring it up with the AFGA board.

Personally I hope they adopt a simple education program focusing on the use of the word “hunter” that editor’s across Alberta and other provinces would receive. Whether or not they read it and take heed, well, we can only hope. But for now it would be a start, and a chance for hunters to do a little bit of that self-promotion we so dearly lack. ■

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