Social media is a sharp, double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can be a magnificent tool to connect with people you would otherwise have never met a couple short decades ago. On the other hand, it can be a post-apocalyptic, dystopian wasteland that sucks the joy out of everything in life. Okay, that might be putting it a bit harshly, but there have been enough studies done on the downsides of social media that I don’t need to dig into all of that here.
What I will say is that when it comes to the world of hunters, there are some heightened risks with social media. Again, there are some good things that can happen, and I’ve actually met some of my best hunting buddies through social media. But, there are a lot of ways that social media seems to be killing hunting. Below we’ll take a closer look at some of the most obvious ways that social media does so much damage.
Stealing Joy From Newbies
Everyone has to start somewhere in hunting, and I run into a shocking amount of adult-onset hunters these days. And while it may have been a few decades since you were new, you remember the sheer elation when you bagged that first buck, right? It didn’t matter that it was a small buck. You had scored on your first trophy.
Well, if you’re just getting started in the age of social media, there’s a digital wet blanket thrown all over your tiny trophy. New hunters have a feed full of trophy animals killed by much more experienced hunters, and if they choose to post the picture of their first (or third) small deer, they already know they’re libel to get a bunch of hate for it. Whether they post or not, the fact that there’s anything in their mind besides an immense sense of accomplishment is just sad.
Inviting Hate From Non-Hunters
Hunters have a fair amount of enemies in cyberspace, and social media is their playground. It’s easy to forget as hunters that most people are utterly disconnected from where meat comes from, and the sight of a dead animal is something they are completely unaccustomed to.
That’s not to say that our point of view is any less valid or that we don’t have every right to share that part of our lives with the digital public, but let’s do everything we can to show the dignity and respect we have for this way of life and help minimize the caricature of drunk rednecks driving around the woods and shooting everything that moves.
The couple minutes it takes to rub some dirt and water on a wound and tuck a tongue back into an animal’s mouth is well worth it to make the ol’ grip-n-grin just a bit more palatable to people who aren’t used to seeing that. We’ll rarely win over the anti-hunters, but we can sure make some progress with the ambivalent non-hunters.
Experts Who Aren’t Experts
Social media being the algorithm-driven game that it is, a person can be a terrific marketer and a terrible hunter and still find themselves with a fairly large platform. Obviously, this is the rare case and there are plenty of legendary hunters with well-deserved followings. But, every now and then you find the guy or girl who seems legit, but when you peel back the well-edited photos, has no clue what he or she is doing out there.
Frankly, good for them for figuring out the system and doing what they can to further the cause of hunting. But, it just means that the content consumer on social media needs to be a bit more discerning when it comes to applying the advice handed out by someone who may or may not actually know what they’re talking about.
Undue Pressure On Influencers
I’ve heard several big-name hunters with TV Shows say that the reality is they’ve shot a number of “decent” animals simply because the cameras were rolling and they needed the content. If they were just out there hunting on their own, they would have passed on that buck and waited for that truly special one.
That problem used to be limited to a handful of people with the money and influence to have their own show. With the advent of social media, that pool just got a whole lot bigger. There are more people than you’d believe who have income, influence, or endorsement deals tied up in being a successful hunter. You’ll never see them on one of the major networks, but they have significant reach in the social media world.
These guys enter every hunt with an unspoken pressure to “get it done.” And while that’s part of what they signed up for and simply the reality of making it in the hunting industry, there is a sadness to taking some of the joy and excitement of simply hunting how you want to hunt out of the equation just to keep your sponsors or followers happy.
Division In The Hunting Community
I don’t think it’s a controversial statement to say that social media has immense power to divide people (or at least to pour gasoline on an already burning fire). Unfortunately, we see this at play within the hunting community as well. While we should all be on the same team (due to our common enemies mentioned in point #2), sometimes we start picking tribes and fighting with each other.
Whether it’s style of hunting (tree stands vs. spot and stalk), methods (baiting vs. hounds vs. none of the above), or even gear (your preferred brand vs. everyone else), it’s amazing how quickly we choose a side and pick a fight with everyone else. Before social media, we had less of an idea of how people hunted in other parts of the country, so we didn’t really have an opinion.
Now we see people doing things differently from all over the place, and some of us can’t resist the urge to start proving how right we are and how wrong everyone else is. As far as I’m concerned, if Game & Fish in your state has determined that what you’re doing is legal and ethical, then I am on your side.
This is a downside of social media that goes way beyond the hunting community. The same reason all the experts say social media is bad for teenage girls, or you have vacation envy, or you’ve been asked to shiplap your entire house. Social media breeds comparison.
When it comes to hunting, we are more aware than ever of the gear we don’t have, the animals we haven’t killed, the adventures we can’t afford to go on, and the list goes on. This is certainly no way to live a happy and fulfilling life to begin with, and to have it invade the hallowed arena of hunting is simply tragic.
There is a rich history of hunting that goes back to our earliest ancestors, and that’s part of the appeal for most modern hunters. When you pick up that weapon and step into the field, the connection to the generations of hunters who came before you is almost palpable. There is something so raw and primal about the whole experience that it can feel like all the trappings of modern life are nonexistent.
And then modern life bulldozes its way right into the experience by way of the five-inch super computer in your pocket. Instead of simply enjoying the hunt, you’re snapping pictures, updating stories, or checking in to see how other people’s hunts are going.
The allure of social media – both consuming and producing content – pulls us from these beautiful primitive moments and forces us back into the high speed modern world. It’s not that hunting has changed in the grand scheme of things, it’s just that we become less present and therefore we as hunters change in the process.
So...Ditch the Phones?
I realize it’s possible I’ve come across as very anti-social media, and I’m truly not. At least not entirely. I have a social media presence that I put intentional work into, so it would be fairly self destructive for someone in the “hunting industry” to bash on social media entirely.
I simply want to call all hunters – myself included – to make the most of the positive aspects and to mitigate or remove altogether the negative as much as we’re able. Congratulate every hunter sitting proudly behind his or her little buck. Refuse to add fuel to the fire when keyboard warriors are going at it about some ridiculous difference of opinion.
And maybe pick a few hunts or moments where you make it just about you and nature. No phones, no pictures, no video. Find some time to connect with that truly primitive side of this endeavor we love so much, and if no one sees it on the internet, well, it’ll probably be that much more meaningful.