Hunting TV needs work.
We call it horn porn for a reason: low production values, cheesy music, but we can't stop ourselves from watching it because we're desperate.
But that doesn't mean we don't want better.
What's wrong with it?
- Too much damn hootin' and hollerin' on the kill. Yes, I know we're excited when we hit our target. I've been known to make all sorts of exclamations myself.
But we've got to think about how it looks to people who don't know every thought that's going through our heads - like, you know, sadness. And appreciation.
Steven Wells, a British blogger for the Guardian based in Philadelphia, describes American hunting TV like this in his blog: "It's all about the killing. And it seems staggeringly obvious that the killing is all about sex. I'm not saying that all hunters get sexually aroused by killing animals, I'm just saying all the ones on US TV do. All of them, all the time, without exception."
I disagree with him, but I bet he's not the only one who thinks this.
(And I have to add, my criticism goes quintuple for duck hunting shows, which are usually 30 minutes of non-stop kill shots, so grotesque I can barely stand to look at them.)
- Total lack of intellectual stimulation. In my travels on the Internet, I see anti-hunters claiming all the time that hunters are stupid. Horse apples. I know education is only a proxy for intelligence, not a match, but let's look at the stats from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Percentage of high school dropouts in the U.S. population: 15. Percentage of high school dropouts among hunters: 14. Point is, our educational numbers are pretty close to that of the general population.
Based on what you see on TV, though, you'd think half of us hunters skipped class on the day God handed out brains. I'm lucky to learn even a single hunting tip in a whole night of viewing, much less learn anything about wildlife or the environment. I don't know a single hunter of any educational level - and my friends come from every part of the educational spectrum - who's satisfied with that.
- Obsession with racks and records. Shut up already about points. People like me spend a lot of time telling the whole world it's about the hunt, and that we can be happy as hell even when we come home empty-handed, and hunters out there agree with me all the time, so I know I'm not alone. But TV keeps obsessing on the racks.
Why is that bad? One, it's the image of ourselves that we present to the outside world, even if we know we're something different. And two, it's what our children see, and what they see becomes their reality. Keep this up and before long, we won't be different from the trophy obsession we see on TV.
Who cares? Well, let's just review the data from page 165 of "The Future of Hunting and Shooting Sports," a report produced last summer by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and Responsive Management.
Duh. The public thinks trophy hunters are Class A morons. Part of the problem is misperception: Non-hunters don't understand that just because you hunt for a trophy doesn't mean you toss the meat. But part of it is a legit concern that wanting to hang a head on your wall isn't a good reason for taking a life.
See what gets the highest support? Hunting for meat.
OK, so what do we need in hunting TV?
- Meat. We need to show the connection between the animal we kill and the meals we put on our tables. One show that does a great job of this is American Gun Dog on the Outdoor Channel. No matter where the host Harley Jackson hunts, the episode always ends back home with a chef preparing the game he brought home. Jackson's not the only one who does this, but his show does it best.
Why do this? One, it shows the non-hunter that yeah, meat matters. Eating the game we've killed completes the circle.
And two, hunters could use a little inspiration. I think too many hunters are stuck in ruts, and much of their game ends up as jerky, which is probably not the highest and best use of some of the magnificent animals we hunt.
I know, with Hunter Angler Gardener Cook as my boyfriend, I'm biased. But if hunters were able to transform their game into more amazing meals, they'd be talking about that in their daily lives ... and reminding the public that the meal that comes from the hunt matters.
- Information. Galen Geer over at The Thinking Hunter thinks we need to push for a hunting news program, and I think that's a great idea. How about professional journalists gathering news that matters to us: What's really going on in the Obama administration with guns? What anti-gun bills have a chance and what don't? What's the latest news on the push to ban lead ammunition? Who are some of the people setting great examples of conservation and hunting ethics in our community?
Of course, my fear is that a news program would become yet another thinly veiled infomercial, like a good two-thirds of shows I see now. And I don't know if the hunting channels are ready to invest in news gathering, which is an expensive operation, when their business model is often based on sticking a camera in one hunter's hand so he can film his hunting partner for the TV show.
But right now, most of our hunting "news" comes in the form of press releases from organizations that have a vested interest in fanning flames, so almost any effort would probably contribute a little enlightenment.
- Quality entertainment. There are three people in the illustration at the top of this blog post: American Gun Dog host Harley Jackson; the Travel Channel's Anthony Bourdain, host of No Reservations, a food-travel show; and Bethenny Frankel, cast member of Bravo's The Real Housewives of New York City.
It should be obvious why Jackson is there, but what about the other two? Bourdain is ruthlessly honest, literate and hilarious. When he eats something that sucks, you know it - he leans into the camera and tells it like it is. Oh, what I would do to see his wit and perception in a hunting show.
And Frankel? Yes, I confess, the "Real Housewives" series on Bravo is one of my faves. I loved the original OC version because I used to work for the Orange County Register, and it was entertaining seeing Bravo's take on what was ever so briefly my stomping grounds. But I really love the NYC version, because the cast appears to have lives that are more than 3 mm deep.
It's not that I'd like to see a show of hunters' wives (though, cable channels, if you're listening, Jody's your gal). It's that most hunting TV these days is "reality TV," and I'd like to see the high production values that Bravo brings to the table. That and I'd kill to see a show about Ricardo the Fabulously Gay Elk Hunter (a line I've stolen shamelessly from Chas Clifton in his comment on another post I wrote about hunting TV).
Also, I've watched as the Food Network - food's equivalent of hunting TV - has degenerated into more and more mindless crap as Bravo and the Travel Channel have claimed the high road and done some really good food programming, and I'm thinking maybe they're the channels that can rescue hunting shows as well.
That's my prescription.
I'm sure I'll keep watching crappy shows for a while, because I'm still learning a lot about hunting, and I'm desperate for even the minuscule scraps that television throws my way.
But it won't keep my attention forever. The only question is, will some innovator steal it away? Or will I just keep turning off the TV and heading to bed with a good book about hunting? Which is what I'm about to do right now.
© Holly A. Heyser 2009