Hunting in the Public Eye
Jonathan Scarth, Senior Vice President of Policy on 12/11/2013
THE UNEXPECTED SWATCH of camouflage caught my eye, standing out as it did from its corrugated display board at the end of the salad dressing aisle in my neighborhood grocery store. The pitch, of course, was for “Duck Dynasty” schwag — T-shirts, DVDs, braided bracelets, beer coozies, iced-tea cups. You know the deal. Your non-duck hunting friends have asked you about it.
The astonishing, omnipresent popularity of “Duck Dynasty” has been a frequent topic of conversation within the waterfowl hunting community, normally a reserved, low-profile bunch who prefer the quiet of marshes to the bluster of red-carpet celebrity.
Duck hunters can be forgiven for uneasiness about the show’s treatment of duck hunting. Understandably, some hunters have voiced concerns about the trivialization of the duck hunting experience and its association with certain stereotypes. But with all due respect, this is nitpicking. We should be encouraged to see duck hunting gaining such attention, particularly associated with such a harmless brand.
By contrast, consider public campaigns attacking duck hunting. In 2001, the Humane Society of the United States funded a “study” that was used to mount a campaign against duck hunting patterned on similar campaigns that successfully curtailed duck hunting in some Australian states. With a relatively small constituency, duck hunting is seen amongst animal-rights advocates as a vulnerable activity amongst the spectrum of hunting and trapping activities.
The presentation of duck hunting in “Duck Dynasty” will not be to every duck hunter’s liking, but as an unintentional public relations campaign, it is pretty darned good.
Viewed through the shallow lens and short attention span of the mass media viewers, the reality show contains many of duck hunting’s most cogent sales pitches to the general public: food, family and friends. Duck hunting is presented as part of a lifestyle connecting the close-knit Robertson family to the woods. All are good messages to be associated with duck hunting.
Duck hunters who live and breathe duck hunting will wince at certain details of “Duck Dynasty,” but hard-core waterfowlers are not the intended audience. The portrayal of duck hunting to the general public as a quirky, but essentially harmless activity is not the image that duck hunters aspire to associate with their passion — perhaps it is a bit too reminiscent of Elmer Fudd chasing Daffy Duck. However, the “Duck Dynasty” image of duck hunters is certainly better than many of the alternatives. In recent debates on the abolition of the long-gun registry in Canada, duck hunters and farmers were the often-cited poster children symbolizing ordinary citizens who were inconvenienced or traumatized by gun control.
On the heels of the “Duck Dynasty” phenomenon comes the release of “Savannah,” a feature-length movie that portrays duck hunting in a manner evocative of the treatment of fly-fishing in “A River Runs Through It.” Duck hunters might frown on the romanticization of market hunting, but the general public will likely be more inclined to see a more simplistic portrayal of duck hunting as a colorful part of North American heritage. On the whole, the movie provides more positives for duck hunters.
All in all, these public depictions of duck hunting serve as an important reminder: Duck hunting ultimately depends on the tolerance of the middle majority of society who do not duck hunt, but who do vote on laws and regulations that govern duck hunters. The words used and the images shown about duck hunting to the larger community are important to foster that tolerance for duck hunting, even though they are often not the same words and images we favor within the duck hunting family.
Pass the iced tea, Uncle Si.