What is the public image of hunters?

Hunter taking aim.
Hunter taking aim.
iStockphoto/Ryan Howe

When som­eone asks you to visualize what a hunter looks like, what do you see? Chances are it's a little something like a dour-faced, burly, middle-aged man dressed in overalls and camouflage, holding a rifle in one hand and a dead animal -- or possibly a six-pack -- in the other.

Many people see this image or something like it, not realizing that hunting is actually a sport that is not limited to by age or gender. A survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Association found that 62 percent of participants have negative views towards hunters. They believe most hunters are willing, or do, break hunting laws such as drinking in excess while hunting [source: Rinella]. With a public image like this, it's impressive that hunting has continued to live on as lobbyist groups fight against what they see as an inhumane and unethical pastime.


What seems contradictory regarding the public image of hunters is that even though there is a less than positive association with the sport, 75 percent of Americans approve of "legal hunting" [source: Swan]. This makes it tricky for hunters, because even though there are strong numbers in polls, there's still a negative perception tied to the actual sport. This majority perception could be an indication that hunting may not have the support it needs to remain legal when the debate picks up.

­At this point, hunting doesn't seem to be at the top of any politician's platform, and that's not likely to change any time soon. But that doesn't mean that public image has no bearing on the sport itself, or that hunting is safe from any immediate legislation. There are quite a few reasons that hunters need to focus on building a positive public image.

If hunting has remained legal all this time, why do hunters have to worry about their image now? Read on to find out what's so important about the public image of hunters.


The Importance of the Public Image of Hunters

No matter what the terms, celebrities and their publicists are pleased when sta­rs make the magazines and tabloids. Any news that draws attention can make box office sales a little more lucrative. After all, all publicity is good publicity, right? ­Well, here in the real world, it's not always so easy.

­As a rule, most publicity that highlights hunting tends to be negative. If hunters want to protect their sport and pastime, an image overhaul might not be such a bad idea. A mere 5 percent of Americans hunt, making hunters a small minority. With such a small demographic, pro-hunting groups will be sorely outnumbered when the fight of hunters vs. lobbyists picks up.


Anti-hunting organizations are growing not only in number, but in funding as well. In 2004, these activist groups raised about $290 million [source: Swan]. They have many available resources and time to put together anti-hunting campaigns that hunters may not be able to counter. Don't count hunting advocates out though, as there are hunting/conservation groups working daily to defend and regulate their sport.

While the jury's still out across the nation regarding the ethics of hunting, it's clear there are practices that will continue to haunt hunters. The activities of hunters who participate in poaching, Internet hunting or heavy drinking while hunting bring negative attention to the already controversial sport. And anti-hunting organizations aren't going to let the actions of these less-than-angelic hunters go unnoticed.

PETA is probably the most widely known animal rights organization in action today. On the next page, find out how hunters face off against one of their biggest adversaries.



Hunters and PETA

When there's no clear majority, it's hard to see what side of a controversy is the "ri­ght" one. And when you're talking about hunters and PETA, the public is usually split. Both groups have plenty of press, positive and negative.

­PETA is an acronym for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. As the name suggests, this non-profit group works to protect animals from cruel or unnecessary treatment. They have strong opinions when it comes to hunting. Hunting was once a necessary means for gathering food. But, today it isn't necessary -- PETA believes hunting is purely a sport with no positive value. In fact, they say it's had negative effects, such as contributing to the extinction of some animal species. Members of PETA believe ecosystems will balance themselves and don't need regulation, especially if that regulation comes with the painful death of animals. In the end, they say hunting puts a strain on ecosystems that would otherwise balance themselves through natural selection.


Hunters obviously have very different views. They see the evolution of hunting as long and rich. To the sportsmen themselves, hunting is an experience that brings them into nature, testing their skills and instincts in way that nothing else could. They see their sport as a way of regulating populations in an easier manner for animals. Instead of starving to death, or dying of disease, as an animal would through natural selection, they're killed unexpectedly. Hunters aim for a quick, clean kill so animals don't suffer.

Both groups have their points and counterpoints and the debate is nowhere near ending.

Is that image of the hunter in your mind still an unpleasant one? Whether it is or not, there are plenty of ways for you to voice your opinion. Visit the links on the next page to get an even more detailed view of the modern hunter.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • Animal Liberation Front. "The Fallacy of Sport Hunting. (Accessed 12/07/2008).http://www.animalliberationfront.com/Practical/Fishing--Hunting/Hunting/FallacyofSportHunting.htm
  • Loughlin, Phillip. "Fighting the Anti-Hunters." Elwing. (Accessed 12/08/2008)http://www.elwing.com/hunting/prohunt_essay.html
  • National Rifle Association. "The Hunter's Image." (Acessed 12/08/2008)http://www.nrahq.org/hunting/hunterimage.asp
  • PETA. "PETA's History: Passion in Action." (Accessed 12/07/2008)http://www.peta.org/factsheet/files/FactsheetDisplay.asp?ID=107
  • Rinella, Steven. "Locavore, Get Your Gun." New York Times. December 2007. (Accessed 12/05/2008)http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/14/opinion/14rinella.html
  • Support Fox Hunting. "British Public Opinion On Hunting." (Accessed 12/05/2008).http://www.supportfoxhunting.co.uk/docs/ca_polls_2004.pdf
  • Swan, James A. "Just What is Hunting." ESPN.com (Accessed 12/05/2008).http://sports.espn.go.com/outdoors/hunting/columns/story?columnist=swan_james&page=g_col_swan_what-is-hunting