At MeatEater, we’re launching a new online series of essays called Hunting Matters. The purpose is to cover–and comment on–the rapidly changing landscape of hunting, conservation, and cultural issues that affect hunters nationwide. The first installment is from MeatEater’s Social Media Community Manager, Nicole Qualtieri, and it has to do with the language that we choose when we discuss hunting and related controversies through social media. This essay is certain to rile some folks up, so keep the discourse civil. If you disagree, take the time to collect your thoughts and write your own installment of Hunting Matters. If it’s well executed, we’ll run it. For that matter, send us anything at all that might fit here. We will not discriminate against viewpoints. This is a place to share ideas and weight their merit. –Steven Rinella

Just recently, the very first post of my Instagram feed portrayed an image from a well-known and highly respected hunting personality. The post noted the $1.6 billion annual contribution that sportsmen and sportswomen make to conservation. Beneath the post was a prideful reminder of what hunters do for our wildlife and publics lands, and a hashtag that read #neverapologizeforbeingahunter.

I’ve spent the past year of my life ingrained in the world of hunting social media. I work each day in a sphere that is controversial and multifaceted, with deep traditional ties to our earthly heritage. And I feel both a personal and professional responsibility to create messages and manage conversations in a way that is ethical, concise, and fair to differing opinions.

So I find it especially disheartening when even the most respectable, honest, and generally badass hunters fall victim to what I believe is a false sense of hunters-under-attack.

This persecution complex is evident in so much of what I read and interact with on a daily basis as part of the MeatEater crew. I find that our online culture often adopts an unnecessarily dichotomous view of society. It’s us versus them, hunter vs. non-hunters, antis vs. pros. But real life contains much more grey than that. The conversation is a lot more nuanced.

As a newly-minted hunter, I’m intently aware of how serious hunting is. We as hunters have made the decision to participate in the process of life and death. This doesn’t mean that hunting can’t encompass feelings of joy, achievement, elation, or happiness, but it also isn’t an identity that is easily or immediately understood by someone who simply has no background or history with hunting or hunters.

To be fair, I don’t blame hunters and the hunting media for feeling the way that they do. The need to feel defensive comes from a valid place in our constantly connected world. There have been clear-cut moments over the past year in which I have felt completely defeated by the way hunting is unfairly portrayed on the broad national spectrum. But I can’t help but think that the idea of “never apologizing for being a hunter” sends a message to the public that is a harmful one. In almost any situation in which a person is being defensive, the general human assumption is that guilt or offense is implied. There are hunters right now using hashtags like #KillThemAll, #DontBeAPussy, and #WhackEmAndStackEm alongside pictures of legally harvested wildlife. Some might call this a lack of apology, but it looks more like ill-tempered hostility

I bristle at these hunters who consistently turn to their perceived state of persecution. I worry about the non-hunters who read these stories and misinterpret a message that could have informed not only their thoughts on hunting but their understanding of the unique opportunity that Americans have to hunt and be a part of the natural process.

I have faith in the positive nature of this community of which I now claim membership. I consider the messages that we all can send on a whole-scale level, which include the ones that hold wild places, incredible journeys, storied wildlife, athletic pursuits, and responsibly-sourced food on the table.

I’m also hesitant to think that there are many real life circumstances in which any hunter has been asked to apologize to another human being directly for hunting. Leaving out the extremists, I believe that the majority of the general public can and would connect to our stories.

That ability to connect universally is one of the most compelling aspects of social media. If we make the decision to have public accounts on social media, we have created a soapbox from which we can share anything we want. It’s a really incredible and powerful tool.

But this public soapbox is just that: public. And when we self-identify as hunters, we become a visible representative of our community, whether we have 20 followers or 200,000.

More than ever in our internet-dominated world, our personal stories carry weight, and the way that those stories are conveyed publicly matters deeply to the future of hunting as we know it. Let’s scratch the defensive nature for one that is offensive, proactive, and thoughtful.

Carry the torch wisely.

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If you’d like to send in a rebuttal or if you have a topic you think would be suitable for Hunting Matters, please send it in an email format to themeateater@zeropointzero.com with “Hunting Matters” in the title.