Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hunting television, modern cavemen and honest drama

Me, age 25
I was watching hunting TV the other night and becoming increasingly disgruntled.

The show - its name is irrelevant because it's one of many like this - had this incredibly artificial sense of drama. Every time the host opened his mouth, he sounded like he was in a life-or-death situation. This is ridiculous, because, let's face it: Hunting is life-or-death far more for the animals we hunt than it is for ourselves.

So, I grabbed the remote and started shopping around, and I soon found that the final installment of the Discovery Channel's "I, Caveman" was on. I'd never watched the show, but the promo said it involved the final hunt of a group of modern people living the Paleolithic life for 10 days, so I was on it.

My timing was impeccable - I got there just in time for the disclaimer: "This program contains scenes that may be disturbing to some people."

Phhddt. Grow up, people, I thought.

The group of made-for-TV cavepeople was hunting elk with atlatls - spear throwers - and they had just gotten close to the herd. The first one hurled his weapon and missed. Same for the second. The elk looked perplexed.

Then the third guy - an actual bowhunter back in real life - hurled his weapon and tagged a big bull in the neck.

And this is where the show won my respect.

I don't know how much time had elapsed, but the group of hunters approached the elk, which was on the ground, still alive, breathing with great labor. The hunters stood a few feet away and hurled their atlatls into his chest to finish him off. One of the hunters - a woman - sobbed as she did this. That, of course, brought me to tears. What an intense and terrible moment.

That's when it struck me: The hunting show I'd been watching had manufactured drama where there was little or none. But this non-hunting reality TV show had captured some of the most intense drama we encounter in hunting: that horrible moment where you come face-to-face with your prey before it's dead. It was deeply honest.

What's wrong with this picture?

Now, I can already anticipate the objection: We're all told to just let the animal die, to avoid approaching it while it's still alive. What these nouveau-paleos were doing broke that rule in a big way, and had that bull jumped up, they could've been killed. I'm hoping that the bowhunter helped call the shots on that off-camera.

Even taking that rule into account, though, you and I know damn well that the hunt-o-vision cameras capture some of these moments too. And just about all of them end up on the cutting room floor.

I think one reason for this is that we hunters are afraid to show the realities of hunting that cause our own hearts to skip a beat. If we say how awful these moments can be, aren't we just handing ammunition to the enemy?

The answer to that question, in my opinion, is no. The enemy already knows about these moments. Anti-hunters have already produced and distributed painful videos of not-quite-mortally-wounded animals. The fact that they will put that reality out there while we hide it actually hurts our cause. It makes us look dishonest.

Does this mean I want to turn on a hunting channel filled with these coup de grace moments? No, and frankly, I don't want my hunting to be filled with these moments either. They suck.

I just wish hunting TV would trade a little of its manufactured drama for a little of the reality we all know is out there.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


Al Cambronne said...

Great post. The TV hunting shows always show the "kill shot," but not what happens next.

(Personally, I think it might be time to kill the kill shot. It seems especially creepy when people want to capture their own with a little camera mounted on their rifle or bow. How many times are you going to watch that, and why? But that's another story altogether.)

The reality of what happens next, that seems like a moment even most hunters don't talk about much. Interesting indeed that the I, Caveman show included those scenes.

Usually "Reality TV" is an oxymoron. Not this time, apparently.

Brian said...

Most hunting TV shows I see are pure crap. However some are excellent. Same to be said for DVD's.

I can watch guys like Boddington, Rinella or Shockey with great interest but some (Buck Mcneely is it?) are so fake and manufactured they watch like high school video projects. I wonder how they get production funding. I can also live without the Duck Commander, Brittingham, Sullivan and few others as well.

jryoung said...

I really likes parts of the show, I also really disliked parts of the show.

It seemed as if they were trying to spin the message that Steve Rinella was portraying on The Wild Within in that we are losing our connection of where we came from. I think they should have ran with this a bit more than they did. There is a great message here and by the end of the show it was lost to me.

I can appreciate their effots in their hunt. However, the tactics post initial wound bothered me quite a bit. How could any legit bow hunter justify running after an animal like that, let alone approaching when it was down.

I became frustrated when they left two quarters behind, and then their experiment ended what appeared to be just three days later. The end of the show was so abrupt post hunt they didn't really conclude on how to process the meat or make it last or done things that would have occured in a true re-enactment.

I realize they couldn't really not hunt because there was only a couple of days left. But, it seemed like a waste to me.

What bothered me the most though, was the last attempt by Morgan to kill the muskrat. There was no need to kill it, and he openly admitted it was a vendetta. What a f@#$ing joke. This plays right in with the drama that is not needed, and left a really bad taste in my mouth.

Though, it's the Discovery channel and more and more they are putting out shows that are trying to rival the Bravo channel in terms of fake drama.

Holly Heyser said...

Al: One thing I like about the kill shot is the ability to see exactly where you hit. I'm not interested in filming all my kill shots, but can provide helpful information.

What's ridiculous about some kill shots is that you can sometimes see they're really bad shots, and the shows then totally gloss over that most of the time.

Brian: Agreed. Shockey is one of my favorites, and not just because he's the hottest guy in hunting TV. The rest I just watch hoping to find something of value.

JR: Definitely good points, and I wish I'd seen the whole series. The muskrat thing pissed me off too, and I was relieved when he backed off.

And of course you're right: All the channels are doing way more "reality" TV, and it can be incredibly contrived.

I almost took this post down that road. Yes, I have been interviewed by reality TV producers, and I have been deemed not extreme enough to satisfy the ridiculous demands of reality TV. It's just as well, though, because if they took the added step of meeting me in person, they'd deem me not hot enough, too. :-(

Hil said...

haha I was not going to comment on this until you said Shockey was the hottest guy on hunting TV. Gotta raise my hand in agreement on that one!

Shannon said...

I appreciate you bringing this topic up for discussion. On the surface, we all can agree that outdoor television is lacking.

The basic formula for (nearly) any Outdoor programming is whispering + heavy rock + kill shot + high fives = TV Show

We roll our eyes and gag when we see this. I even was guilty of this, until I asked myself WHY. Why do TV shows do this if we all dislike it?

I did some digging and asked a couple of outdoor TV hosts for some answers. I was surprised when I read the Outdoor Channel's Production Guidelines. This is the most current one I found on their website:

It's pretty long, but the interesting information is on pages 5-7. Here are a few points I interpreted reading it:

- Can't show wounding an animal or a bad shot
- Can only shoot a bedded animal with a bow
- Can't show an animal fall or roll (well, only 1-2 seconds and one time only)
- Skinning, butchering & field dressing is prohibited at all times

We all want to see that "what happens next" moment. We want to see the reality of hunting. Unfortunately, those outdoor TV shows aren't allowed to show those moments because of rules set by the network.

I now understand why outdoor TV is lacking. If you have time, read through the entire production guidelines (there are also a lot of contradicting/grey areas). I feel kinda bad for the TV shows, the network in a way forces their shortcomings.

Just my 2-cents. I agree with you, outdoor TV lacks reality, however I wanted to bring the WHY perspective to this discussion. I am interested in you and your reader's thoughts.

Holly Heyser said...

Hil, glad you're with me! I always use Shockey when I'm trying to explain to men what women find attractive - that persona counts for WAY more than literal physical hotness.

Shannon: Wow, very enlightening, and not the direction I thought your comment was going to go. Hil has previously commented on why hunting magazine covers always have big racks and the same ole same ole "tips and tactics" stuff: It's because marketing shows that sells magazines. I thought you were going to say the same about TV shows.

I think the rules you cited do a HUGE disservice to hunting, and they're utterly absurd given that channels like Discovery and the Travel Channel routinely show all of this stuff.

To say you can't show it is to say it's bad, it's wrong, it's something dirty, something to be ashamed of. What kind of message is that?

I still think that hunting TV show producers make their fair share of stupid decisions, but it's really enlightening to know that some of the stupidity is forced on them.

I think the hunting networks need to take a cue from the non-hunting networks and update their guidelines. I suspect I would be a lot more proud of hunting television if they did.

Holly Heyser said...

Duh, not "marketing shows," but "research shows." With three cups of coffee in my gut, you'd think I could do better, lol.

Brian said...

Just FYI, Shockey used to be an underwear model (Google Images?). Is it wierd that I know that? His daughter is good looking! So is Boddingtons! What's up with that? ;-)

Holly Heyser said...

Well, Shockey's wife is hot too, so they'd actually be remiss if the DIDN'T have a gorgeous daughter.

But I'm going to refrain from looking for pictures of Shockey in his underwear. I don't want visions of tightie whities interrupting him stalking a moose or something.

Hil said...

Yeah thanks for the tip, now I know to avoid Google Images! I just got back from a hunting trip with Boddington's daughter, Brittany, and she is indeed lovely with a personality to match. Delightful girl.

I can sort of agree that wounding and bad shots shouldn't be shown on TV, or at least shown very seldom. I just don't think they're following their own rules, though. I see terrible shots on hunting shows ALL THE TIME!

BTW my captcha verification is "nondove." How crazy is that?

Holly Heyser said...

LOL, they never ACKNOWLEDGE that they're bad shots, though. The only clue we get is going from a morning hunting scene to a midnight carcass scene.

Isn't it just hilarious, though, that we can't show bad shots, or field dressing, but that we glorify the macabre, like people lugging heads into position so the camera can catch the beautiful rack? Or my favorite yet, Steve from Steve's Outdoor Adventures STRADDLING DEAD ANIMALS??? That in particular is FAR more offensive to me than pulling intestines out of a dead animal. Misplaced sensitivities, bigtime.

Kirk Mantay said...

Holly, sometimes I can't tell if I agree or disagree with you. It's like things are just a shade off.

I watched this show (flipping channels during football or baseball commercials, I think). Mehhh. I could take it or leave it.

The elk kill scene - showing that intimate, sad moment - was very real, just like you said. The real, emotional cost of taking moral accountability for our food.

In 20 years of hunting, I've had many sad, similar moments. You say "as hunters we're taught to not approach," and that's just not the case.

We dispatch animals at the soonest moment possible. We club. We slit throats. We shoot, and shoot again .

Occasionally, with big game, we wait to make sure it won't pop up and kill us or run away at full speed. Or kill us and then run away.

But expedience is important. Game laws in most states say that once you mortally wound an animal, it has been "reduced to possession." That being the case, kill the damn thing. And if it moves, kill it again.

Kirk Mantay said...

About 18 months ago, I saw an episode of "Sucks of Tecomate" where the idiots shot the knee off a giant, fenced-in buck. With a 300 magnum. At about 60 yards. From a sniper pose. The deer runs off with its remaining 3.5 legs and Jeff Foxworthy was like, "Hey no big deal, the dogs found it 2 nights later!"

Freaking ridiculous.

Holly Heyser said...

Re Foxworthy, love his comedy, but his was one of the aforementioned bad shots I had in mind. It was on a sheep hunt.

As for approaching the wounded-but-not-dead animal: I'm really glad to hear you say that because all I've ever heard is that you should wait to avoid driving it further out. That's been every hunter's answer on this blog and others whenever one of our resident vegans chimes in to complain about hunters just letting wounded animals die a slow death instead of tracking them and killing them immediately.

Personally, my instinct would be to find it and kill it asap. But I have been told the contrary every time it's come up in my short time hunting big game.

Hil said...

Only once have I had to chase an animal and finish it off. It was a red hartebeest shot a little too far back at 320 yards. Would have died within the hour, but that's not good enough. I followed him and put a bullet in his shoulder so he wouldn't suffer. I am NOT a fan of the "come back later after they've had a chance to die slowly" philosophy (for gun hunters; archery's a little different) but sometimes it is the right thing to do. Not all the time, though, and knowing the difference is just one of those things that comes with experience.

What burns me up is when a TV hunter neglects to follow up for no good reason I can think of other than the light is fading and it won't be good for film. That's disgusting.

Phillip said...

In which we ponder the question, "How to package an intensely personal experience for mass consumption?"

At any rate, and just because I have little else of value to add to the primary discussion (I find some television entertaining, some infuriating, and most simply bores me... but I am in control of what I watch at all times, and I prefer it that way.), I'll tackle a topic about which I do have strong feelings (and some knowledge).

When it comes to pursuing a wounded animal, it's largely a question of what you're hunting and what you're hunting with.

I can speak from experience that if you take off immediately after every big game animal that bolts at the shot, you'll find your recovery rate drops significantly. Even a fatally wounded animal can go a long ways when pushed, and they know the woods a lot better than you do. They can hide a lot better than our piss-poor senses can detect them too.

I'll add that pushing a wounded animal will often add more to its suffering than simply letting it lie down and "get sick". I've seen some pretty heart-rending escape efforts that would never have happened if someone had just waited a bit before going after the critter.

Unless you saw the animal go down, the best bet for recovery is to wait. It is that simple.

How long to wait can be disputed, and there are a ton of factors to consider that I won't go into here and now... but a couple of key things are where you hit it and what you hit it with.

For a gun hunter, the wait may not be as long. If you jump the animal, you have a reasonable chance of killing it quickly at a distance, but that's not a given either. A lot of "marksmen" tend to fall apart when shooting at a running animal, especially with the added element of surprise when it bursts out of the brush.

Not so with archery tackle or spears (in the case of your Discovery program). This has been one of the long-standing arguments for allowing bowhunters to carry a sidearm. If you track too soon and jump the animal, you're probably in for a really long tracking job... and every yard you have to trail reduces your odds of recovery.

Of course, if you can see the animal, then kill it. That should be bloody obvious. But if you can't see it, then wait a bit. That is not cruel or inhuman(e). It's just the right thing to do.

Holly Heyser said...

Thanks for weighing in, Phillip. I've killed a total of four big game animals, only one of which made it more than 15 yards from where it was shot, so I have zero experience with this. And I'm sure it will happen to me some day, so these are all things I need to take into consideration.

Holly Heyser said...

OK, I have a parallel thread going along on Facebook, and I said something there that really belongs here because of what Shannon brought to the discussion:

(This is) what kills me about the hunting shows - they're cutting out precisely the moments that show who we really are as hunters, leaving us with high fives and hero shots - the emptiest gestures of the hunt.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Didn't someone once say that once the animal is down, the work begins?

Year ago a friend of mine were on a backpack deer hunt in Colorado. We needed two trips each to get the meat down (yeah, could have done a better job of boning it out, but we were young), plus another trip for our stuff.

Partway through the second trip, he looks back at me up and trail and said something like, "This is how primitive people spent their time--carrying meat around."

Holly Heyser said...

I don't know, Chas, sounds good to me!

Anonymous said...

It's funny the timing of this post, since it relates to an experience recently. Hell, this is long, but I've typed it now, so here goes:

I'm going to preface this with a disclaimer. I try to be careful. I'm not what I consider a great shot. In my scant two years of hunting I've been fortunate, mostly because I'm pretty conservative. Out of 6 pigs and two deer, I had never had one go more than 20 yards, like Holly, unless they were rolling downhill. Never hit any but one more than once. All heart, head or neck shots. I was grateful for that.

So then I get to this year's deer. I had a good sense that a buck was working this burn, and I did a high loop to come in good to the wind. From five canyons over. I walked in the dark for half the time. I snuck in, over a rise to a burn with an old fire break running through it. I found my deer, got within 20 or 25 yards, basically crawling for the last 10. Only the top half if him was visible, with his head down, but I just had to wait for him to raise his head. It was perfect; a kneeling shot over a low bush. Boom, done, and he'd fold. Until a little fawn stepped from behind a bush 10 yards away and all hell broke loose. The whole group of them, including my buck, bolted down and out the other side of the canyon. I ran around the the thick burnt out live oak on the knob I was on, and having no rest above the brush, shot offhand at 150 yards. Buck fever? I was on one of my last days to hunt and hadn't seen very many bucks. I should have let him go. I stopped him, but now he was faced up hill and back to me. My next shot looked like it hit. I fired a third- Damn, I'd never fired a third shot- and threw him off his feet. He went down hard, was still, and I broke my rule of at least 15 minutes and went over. In hindsight I'm glad I did. He got up, ran 10 yards and crashed. I looped around from underneath him so I could see if he flushed out the bottom. He was lying down, looking at me. I put one more round- four - into his neck and his head fell. I sighed relief and walked down to him. He was there, with his head down, looking at me with a what I could only see as resignation, slowly blinking. I looked at him and him at me, and I put one more shot under his ear, and his eyes closed and then slowly opened. "I'm sorry buddy, I didn't do right by you', I said to him, and sat awhile. I had managed to shoot that deer in just about every non-vital area I could have with the first three shots, so I'm glad I went in to finish within a couple minutes. It was humbling and thought provoking.

Most people I've spoken to have had things come off the rails at some point. As a kid I'd helped find poorly hit deer. So while I know that's something that can and does happen, I can't imagine it being television. It was probably one of the most poignant things that I've experienced hunting, and maybe one of the most important so far. Is thing really something that a viewer wants to see? Or rather that they'd show? This seems like a basic limitation of turning something that is a powerful and personal experience into a neatly packaged televised fantasy. Perhaps because the caveman show had no allegiance to some ideal they were able to show such a realistic moment. I don't know if there's really a solution to that if hunting is treated like a spectator sport. I'm not sure it is.

Sorry for the long post.

Neil H.

Holly Heyser said...

Neil, don't apologize at all! That's a hell of a story. Thank you for telling it.

And I think you're right on when you say the caveman show didn't have any allegiance to the ideal. Excellent point.

Is it something the viewer wants to see? I can only speak for myself: Yes.

Hunting is an important part of my life and it constantly presents challenges and difficult decisions. I want to know how my peers handle the heartbreaking situations. Television doesn't do justice to my needs when it shows only the happy-ending challenges - the kill, or the wise shot not taken. It's even more frustrating when it's easy to read between the lines - the shot you can tell hit too far back - and everyone pretends it didn't happen.

I know I'm asking a lot. It takes courage to say, "Wow, I made a shitty decision," or "Wow, I made a plain bad shot, and this is how it came out." But you just did it right here, tonight. And I've done it here too. My boyfriend has done it. My other blogger friends have done it.

If TV doesn't want to show that painfully intimate moment when the hunter looks the animal in the eye, could the hunter at least talk about it on camera, rather than pretending it didn't happen?

I know it's ironic that I'm turning to reality TV for a role model here, given the obvious fact that much of reality TV is contrived, and/or occurs with prodding, manipulation and editing. But it's undeniable that reality TV also catches some naked truths. I'm a big fan of naked truth.

Brian said...

I like Phillips opening question. Trying to package the visceral experience is the challenge. It is also why I despise most hunting videos on YouTube.

I hope I am not 'comment poaching' Holly, but I wrote some thoughts about hunting and open source media a while ago, here

Anonymous said...

Brian, I think Phillip's question is really the heart of the whole thing and what prompted me to post. Is the actual reality of hunting something that translates when not experienced in the first person?

Holly: Thanks. I related my story not because I feel I did something wrong, though maybe not ideal- a shot at an animal trotting on the level broadside is standard for folks doing drives or hunting with dogs- but more because I think that in a real life and death situation, thing don't always turn out the way we planned. Here's a situation where every shot connected, off by no more than 8", and the deer was dead within a few minutes 30 yards from where it was hit. I have venison for another year.

But it still didn't sit well with me. I think it's better to be more conservative, but at any time a string of small misjudgements or happenstance can add up and that's just all there is to it. I can understand this myself, as can maybe others that really hunt, but in the black and white world of moral judgment in TVland, such grey areas don't translate well. Can they?

I don't think there is anythign wrong with entertainment centered around an activity you enjoy. I read magazines, BLOGS(!) and the occasion video. But there's a reason I hate Bear Grylls but like Survivorman. Don't have any use for Ted Nugent but like NorCal Cazadora. 'On your own adventures' seems pretty good too (but I've only seen a few because I don't have TV). Unfortunately Survivorman was so real he couldn't keep doing that to his body and quit, and I notice 'On You Own' is cancelled now.

Neil H.

Holly Heyser said...

On Your Own is canceled??? Crap.

I think you make fair points, and this is probably just a matter of personal preference, which is fine. No one will be surprised that I - the blogger who willingly wallows in angst - want to see stuff like that on TV.

My one botched big game shot was also repaired (for lack of a better term) within minutes, and not too far from where I shot the pig, but it sat with me much like your experience did with you. Except this pig was pissed and looked like he wanted to eat me when I put one in his head. (Here's the story, in case you want to see my extended self-flagellation on the topic.)

And Brian, no worries! I'm always happy to link back to other relevant discussions. Uh, like I just did for myself :-)

Anonymous said...

Holly: Good news and sorry for the bad reporting: On Your Own was only dropped by the Outdoor Channel, and is still on the Sportsman Channel. I don't actually have either, so I have to live on scraps I find on the internet.

Just to be clear: The reason I don't like Bear Grylls is because it's more hype than substance, he takes risks you never should in a survival situation, and he's been caught red handed taking breaks in luxury resorts. I also want to see the outtakes when someone's doing an imperfect endeavor. One of the things I like about your blog is that you put out some interesting experiences, warts and all. Same with Phillip. I like Tovar's blog since for him even hunting at all is an existential journey.

~Neil H

Holly Heyser said...

Still bad news: I don't get the Sportsman Chanel :-(

Peebs said...

I think that if we hunt enough we all get those shots, mine was a small buck that jumped up 20 yds away and then just stood there with ah s... look on him. One shot and down he went walked to him he then pulled up on his front legs and started to go down hill faster than I could run after him. I finally sat down chambered a round and shot him in the back of the head which caused me a lot of trouble and a lot of time as the head blew up, ever try to find a horn that flew no idea how far in heavy grass. Point is that I have shot a lot of deer over the years and that one bad shot is as clear as if I had done it yesterday. I had hit him to far back probably jerked the trigger, after that I have never shot at a large game animal that I couldn't take the time to insure that I would get a clean kill and knock on wood haven't had one yet.

Holly Heyser said...

That's what I did with my pig. It was my first shot at big game, and I pulled left (I shoot left-handed). That was on top of aiming too far left because I aimed at the broadside entry wound, neglecting to consider the effect of the pig quartering forward.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I can't add to the discussion about outdoor TV (we gave up television a long time ago because we can't watch responsibly), but I want to thank all the people (like Neil) who share the stories of their kills gone wrong. As a novice hunter, it's very good for me to hear them, and to learn.

Pete said...

The caveman "hunt" was clearly staged. There's no way real wild elk or deer will stand and stare at you from 30 yards while you throw stick at them. That was stupid and shameful.