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Respect: A high or special regard; to consider worthy of high regard. — Webster’s New Ninth Collegiate Dictionary.

By: Bob Robb

As this is written in mid-February, I am just off the trade show circuit. That means I am spending a lot of time in my office taking care of editing and writing tasks and also preparing new equipment. In so doing I often have the TV on.

Lately I have been watching a lot of the hunting shows on cable. Admittedly, I rarely watch them. Seems to me there’s little to be learned from them and in fact, it seems to me they often portray bowhunting as it really is not. Most shows follow a predictable pattern, the end result being that a magnificent game animal or two or three is killed.

Next comes what is, to me, the disturbing part — the celebration. You know, when a guy or gal turns to the cameraman and gives him a high five, fist pumps three times and his eyes bug out and the veins pop out of his neck as he begs the audience to give him a little time to compose himself before he says anything. Doesn’t matter if the animal is big or small, how difficult it was to get into position for the shot, whether the animal was taken on a tough public land hunt, shot over a feeder or killed inside a high fence, the celebration stuff is pretty predictable.

I don’t know about you but in more than four decades of seriously hunting upland birds, waterfowl, small game and big game around the world, I cannot remember ever dancing in an animal’s face after killing it. For one thing, my dad and granddad would have slapped me silly had I pulled something like that in their presence. But then, they were big on respect. They both worked very hard for the little they had in life and were grateful for it. They taught me to respect people, our country and the great gift of the outdoors and the freedom to both explore and learn from it we Americans are blessed with. Later, when I found some success in sports and as young men are wont to do early in life, got a little big for my britches, I remember dad quoting legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant” — “When you get to the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.” What Coach Bryant and my dad were saying was simply have some class; that in victory, one should show respect to both the game and your opponent.

Bowhunting success is something to be treasured among friends, no small part of which is showing respect to the animals we hunt and the sport of bowhunting itself.

I’ve been involved in the filming of hunting shows enough to know that they are, in essence and by necessity, for the most part Hollywood, not real hunting. That’s not all bad except that I wonder what people who are not as committed to hunting in general and bowhunting in particular, think of it when they watch most of the hundreds of outdoor shows on the air today. The same can be said of the novice bowhunter. There’s little entertainment value in showing what 95 percent of bowhunting is — a solitary endeavor that requires patience, persistence and a life-long commitment. The mature bowhunter has made a lifetime of mistakes and learned from them; it’s a process that never ends. He revels in solitude, the waking of a new day in the woods as the sun begins to rise, not some head-banging music blared over the TV to try and make the approach of an animal more exciting to a couch-bound audience. He spends a lot of time getting his equipment just so, then countless hours practicing his shooting so that if — not when but if — a shot at the animal he wants presents itself, he has done all he can do to place his arrow precisely. But that doesn’t make for entertaining TV.

One of the first fine books I ever read that concerned itself with the outdoors and hunting was “A Sand County Almanac,” by Aldo Leopold. Leopold, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, was an ecologist, forester, and early environmentalist as well as dedicated outdoorsman and hunter. “Almanac” was published in 1949, shortly after his death. One of the tenets about the nimrods found in its pages was that, even back then, Leopold saw that many of the outdoorsmen of the day were becoming what he called “gadgeteers,” relying upon technology at the expense of developing knowledge of the outdoors in general, the game they pursued in particular and woodsmanship skills. He saw the coming of a generation in which instant gratification and overnight success would replace hard work, commitment and learning. The latter are ideals that are the foundation of our outdoors traditions — but they sure don’t make for exciting television.

Recently I watched one of the more popular bowhunting shows in which the host was off chasing turkeys out West. It was early in the season and the weather was cold and wet, not the best conditions for calling in a gobbler but he set a pop-up blind and decoy and managed to entice a bird into range. At 20 steps the first shot took feathers off the turkey’s back and as the bird was running off he lobbed two more arrows in frustration which of course didn’t come close. The audience then had to listen to the reasons why the first shot was missed — we’ve all been there — then some sad dialog about the follow-up shots. Later in the show, when he did kill a bird, there were high five’s and backslapping and giggling. If the team felt any humility or regret at launching desperation arrows at a running gobbler that clearly wasn’t in any danger of dying from the first shot, I didn’t detect any.

Producers are not worried about impressing an Old Guy like me. Most of them come from a younger generation, and that’s the crowd they are primarily catering to. I get it. But I fear they are missing the big picture. Hunters are a minority in our society; as a percentage of our growing population, our numbers are actually shrinking. Polls show that most Americans — who know virtually nothing about Mother Nature in general, the game we hunt in particular and how difficult it is to get a quality bow shot at an animal — support or at least tolerate, regulated hunting and that support is critical to our survival. What would they think if they saw bandy roosters on hunting TV doing an end zone dance after killing a magnificent deer, or elk, or bear? What do such shenanigans teach young people just learning to hunt? If all you knew about bowhunting was what you saw on TV you’d think it was a fast-paced action movie with a high probability of success when in truth, just the opposite is true.

This year, if things come together and I or one of my hunting buddies is lucky enough to kill an animal, for certain there will be congratulations, perhaps even a handshake, as we share in our good fortune. Later that night we’ll most definitely toast the gods. But you can rest assured that when we recover the animal there will be a moment of silence and prayer, not a chest bump. For us, bowhunting is not a reality show. It’s all about respect.

5 Responses to "Respect"

  1. Rick Philippi   2012/02/26 at 3:23 pm

    I agree with Bob. I started bowhunting back in the 1960’s. In fact it took me 15 years until I bagged my first deer. I think those early years made me always appreciate and respect the animals that I take. I watch some of the hunting shows and they do not show reality in a lot of instances. I think it’s cool to be excited when you take an animal, but some of these TV people are overboard! In fact, I think they are really missing out on what our sport is all about.

  2. Roy Keefer   2012/02/27 at 11:16 am

    Couldn’t agree more. Some of the reactions are so exaggerated it’s obvious they’re not real, “give me a minute”. The whooping and hollering just drives me crazy. You would think that other viewers would feel the same way and this insane behavior would stop but that doesn’t seem to be the case. In the meantime, I’ll just keep smiling when I’m fortunate to harvest an animal and appreciate the opportunity I’ve been given.

  3. Zan Christensen   2012/02/27 at 1:34 pm

    Well said Bob, I couldn’t agree more. It’s for that reason, among others, that I don’t watch those shows…. it actually embarrasses me. ~Zano

  4. Jim Miller   2012/03/13 at 10:49 am

    Just a few moments of your time, to let you know that I think this is the best article that I have read in years and it’s right on. Today, TV Stars want to show instant gratification with no civility or humility for the animals they take with a bow and arrow. It’s great to show pleasure with your success but you don’t have to go”Crow hopping” and screaming like a mad man when you kill an animal with your bow. It also shows you have no respect for yourself or the animal you hunt. Bob, Thank you for bringing this to the attention of all members of Bowhunting.Net. Good Hunting: Jim Miller

  5. Rich Walton   2012/03/13 at 11:36 am

    I think this is one of the best, most timely articles we’ve posted on bhn. Bob and I have been in the industry for longer than we would like to admit and have watched it progress from editorial, through VHS into DVD and TV. We are trying, as an industry, to gain younger people into the sport and I think with that and the fact we are getting more and more younger hosts of TV shows that the accent has been more on rock n roll, be loud or go home aspect. While this is good in a way I think we also have to understand the gravity of our sport. We also have to understand the mentality of those who are actively trying to ban it. Bowhunting isn’t a 30 minute success story any more than the shows that go from a murder to a conviction in a police drama. What we are in danger of doing is trivializing the effort that goes into a kill and we have to be careful of not going over the top with the celebration aspect after the game is down. Bob hit it on the head. Respect. Respect for the game we hunt and importantly, the sport we love. Thanks Bob.