When it comes to the outdoors, I am ridiculously privileged. I come from a family that put a premium on outdoor experiences.
I was only a few months old when my parents drilled a makeshift crib (aka hole) into lake ice so I could be propped up and wrapped in my baby blankets, while they tended to the ice fishing rods being set off by walleye pickerel.
My dad is capable of catching fish in puddles formed in parking lots by passing rainstorms and finding wild game in a forest made of a single tree. Allegedly. For those who have witnessed my seemingly larger-than-life modern day Daniel Boone of a father pursue wild meat, it’s not that far from the truth. I’ve seen the man do things with a rod and gun that border on the mystical—and I begrudgingly felt that way even when we didn’t get along.
But, behind the privileges are practical, real-world life experiences. Before being allowed to hunt, my folks spent countless hours teaching me how to shoot my bow in our backyard. They taught me how to take every morsel of meat off a deer, grouse, squirrel, muskrat, beaver, walleye, pike, lake trout, and pan-fish. Not to mention, how to take care of the meat.
I can still remember learning how to cook wild game while standing on a chair next to my mom at the stove in our kitchen. In fact, eating something other than wild game was very rare in our household.
By the age of 10, I had been taught how to:
- Reload rifle and shotgun ammunition (aka recycle the spent ammunition).
- Make fishing poles, tie basic flies, cast lead sinkers and jigs and carve and wire tackle.
- Identify and track animals on bare ground.
- Survive nights alone in the woods without a tent, including fire building without matches or a lighter.
- Find my way out to safety in almost any terrain or weather.
- Identify wild and edible (or toxic) plants and mushrooms – even in winter.
- Hunt, kill, break down and eat almost anything.
Though I work hard to hide my upbringing from an—at times—toxic online hunting culture, I am the exact representation of the kind of person that gives new or aspiring hunters a bad case of impostor syndrome.
I want to be clear, I am NOT bragging about these skills. I’m really friggin’ lucky. The skills we each possess come in part from the lives we’ve been either lucky or unlucky to be born into. With a roll of the dice, I could just as easily have skills built around skateboarding, video games… or more statistically likely, tucking a drunk parent into bed at night.
I’m a married-white-hetero-cisgender dude living in Montana with a house full of antlers and hides and a freezer full of meat from animals that I killed. I do not see this as a sin against humanity or questionable morality, but as a physical representation of the privileges of an upbringing that many people cannot relate to.
I’m embarrassed it took me so long to realize the cushy position I sat in as it relates to outdoor experiences. It wasn’t until I started teaching outdoor education in the Midwest in my early 20s that it hit home.
We had a school group come from downtown Milwaukee, a mere half-hour away from our location, for a few days of outdoor classes. The first night, I took that very socially and racially diverse group of teens and adults to the lake to go through our constellation identification class. As soon as the flashlights went off, several began to laugh loudly and holler, completely out of control. I, a young guy who thought leadership came from being the loudest and most machismo, wanted to get a handle on my group. I yelled for them to be quiet and threatened cancelling the class if they didn’t.
They went silent immediately. And then I heard the sniffles. They were coming from the adults as much as the kids. Only one person, in that group of 200 or so human beings standing on that beach, had ever seen the stars before. Me.
And then I was sniffling, as my cultural paradigm and world view fell apart. Privileged indeed.
Again, I want to be clear, I’m not talking about social or financial privilege. I don’t come from money, nor am I made from it. I grew up very poor in fact. Now, I run a wildlife conservation group that focuses on inspiring people and organizations to give both their time and dollars to wildlife. We’re not talking Wall Street here folks. But I’ve had the opportunity to choose my life path and wouldn’t trade it for the world. I also acknowledge that most people of the world do not get that choice.
What I am talking about, is the privilege that someone like me, raised in the outdoors, often takes for granted. The privilege of experience. Of mentorship. And a fundamental—some might call it spiritual—connection to the outdoors that can be difficult to explain, especially to those who have yet to receive the opportunities I have. So…
• If you feel like an outdoors outsider…
• If you empathize with that group of star-gazing students and adults…
• If you have yet to see a sunrise explode in a palette of colors you didn’t even know was possible…
• If you feel like an imposter for even considering becoming a hunter…
I want to welcome you.
As a hunting culture, we have utterly sucked at inviting aspiringly curious or new hunters into the fold. I mean, really, really, REALLY sucked at it.
This last year, I gave a talk to a group of about 500 hunting business leaders at a summit. Prior to going up, I found out that my assigned table companions were employees and owners from a couple successful outdoor gear companies. As someone who works to encourage individuals and businesses to give back to the future of hunting and angling by giving to fish and wildlife conservation, this seemed ideal.
I gave my conservation and inclusivity sermon, encouraging these business leaders to bring new hunters into fold, then went back to my seat.
“Why the f*** should I take someone out?!” one of the business owners bellowed at me.
Taken a bit off guard, and still trying to figure out which fork I was supposed to start with, I mustered a robust and well-thought-out response of, “Huh?”
“Why should I take someone out to MY spots with MY gear to hunt MY animals that I have worked hard to get for ME and MY FAMILY?” he salvoed.
“Because it’s the right thing to do for the future of hunting and wildlife conservation?” my savage whit retorted at roughly the same volume as a moth landing on a cotton ball.
He stood up, shook his head and left the table – dropping his napkin on his chair with a surprising level of pomp for a guy with BBQ sauce on his chin.
One of his employees leaned over and whispered, “Sorry, guys like him just don’t get it.”
And herein lies the failure of the hunting community. We tend to deal with our own culture problems with the same intensity as a passive parent. Historically, we have not done a good job handling the bullies or the loud-mouthed blockheads that won’t accept the changes happening around them. The ones who want everything for themselves and could care less how their actions impact anyone outside of their immediate circle. Next generation be damned.
This is changing. People are banding together to combat the issue. Entire organizations are stepping up to be beacons of inclusivity in the hunting world. One example is Artemis Sportswomen, a project launched by the nearly century-old National Wildlife Federation. They are focused entirely on getting women out hunting and fishing and engaged in conservation work. It’s ran by women, for women.
Local archery clubs are starting separate youth and adult novice training courses and many rod & gun clubs have started free training days. Judgmental looks not included.
Our (2% for Conservation’s) role in the industry has allowed us to step into meetings with outdoor businesses to talk about new customer demographics and recruitment. Hunting gear companies have nothing to sell if no one hunts… and old white dudes can’t carry them through the next 20 years, much less the next 50 because, you guessed it, they’re too damn old.
In the last 200 years, there has never been a better time to dip your toe into the hunting world:
- Local archery and shooting clubs are recruiting and training new hunters.
- Organizations are starting “new hunter” initiatives to help people harvest their own wild meat.
- Businesses are starting to sell “entry-level” hunting and fishing gear again… not just the high-end stuff for the most extreme conditions.
- People like Hank Shaw are producing media about hunting and gathering for every skill level.
- Perhaps most importantly, the abusive and exclusionary elements of the old guard of hunting are being kicked out and replaced with inclusive ideals. They are finally being treated as they should have always been: a minority of the hunting and angling community acting poorly with no right to represent the rest of us.
I want to welcome you to all that a hunting-life can offer. Although you may not understand it—yet—it is the most natural thing you can do. Your entire being is built for it and without it, you are missing something.
Ever wonder why so many humans can throw a ball so accurately at a moving object? We didn’t evolve those skills for sport. It was to hunt. Please join us. You belong “out here” too.
About Jared Fraiser
Jared is the Executive Director of 2% for Conservation, a non-profit organization that certifies businesses and individuals committed to giving at least 1% of their time and at least 1% of their money to conservation efforts that ensure the future existence of fish and wildlife.