I’m not sure who came up with it first, but I first heard of “Trailhead Diplomacy” on a MeatEater podcast. The idea is that hunters should engage in a kind and civil conversation with other folks we see out in the woods, be it hikers, photographers or any other non-consumptive user. Anyone, in my opinion, of sane mind should support this idea but it brings up two questions for me. First of all, in the best-case scenario, what does this look like? And two, in 2018, is it even possible?
I think it’s possible. Maybe. If we’re willing to do the work.
If you’re thinking about online, then no, it’s absolutely not possible. Any post by the Department of the Interior or other government agency regarding the outdoors, even if it’s announcing something good, is met with vitriol and hate for Sec. Zinke and President Trump. Even if it’s something as mundane as celebrating Public Lands Day, which neither of those men have anything directly to do with (this example I saw but a few minutes ago). People hole up in their echo chambers online and talk much tougher than they would in real life. I’m not saying don’t keep fighting the good fight online, but you’re gonna have to get off your ass and do it face to face because, in person, I know it’s possible.
If it’s possible to go from vegan to hunter, then anything is possible. From Field to Plate recently posted they took a vegan hunting and Tovar Cerulli is another great example of a vegan turned hunter. I have to admit that these cases are outliers and trying to go about converting vegans is probably not the best use of our time or sanity.
So, this begs the first question, what does this look like? In 2018, we often don’t engage any strangers, let alone when we’re carrying firearms in the woods. A lot of us, myself included, like to talk to as few people as possible when we get out into the mountains. Are we actually going to do this at the trailhead?
I think we have to do this whenever the opportunity presents itself, whether it’s at the trailhead, the bar, church or your local PTA meeting. Any chance you have to engage someone in speaking about the outdoors, do it. Most non-consumptive users are still omnivores and can still be won over but it might take a little time and effort. We just have to reach them on a common level and this is probably the biggest struggle hunters have had historically in communicating our passion. As Brad Luttrell of the Restless Native podcast is fond of saying, these people don’t understand legacy or heritage, you have to give them something they understand.
There’s two excellent ways to reach these folks: through their hearts and through their bellies.
Reaching folks through their hearts can be difficult, but it’s what I’m trying to do here at Mountain Climer. Folks have to have open minds and open hearts in order to be reached. They have to be seeking a spiritual connection to the land and to their ancestors. They have to be interested not in the American legacy that Brad is talking about, but their human legacy as a hunter. They have to know that most of the things in our culture don’t fill their God-shaped hole. These people, when reached however, are the ones who have turned around and asked me to take them hunting. These people will then turn around and be ambassadors themselves. Once these people connect on this level, there’s no turning back for them. I know, because I am one of them.
Food, on the other hand, is the much more accessible route. I see this every day in my work in the restaurant business selling wine. People want all those buzzwords I talked about before: local, organic, free-range, hormone free, etc. More than that, people want to know where their food came from and they’re taking great strides to get involved in the process themselves by gardening, learning to butcher and seeking out co-ops where they can buy food directly from local farmers. These people may or may not decide they want to hunt for themselves, but they will respect hunting and support it because they now understand it and appreciate our connection to the land and our food.
However you decide to do it, just be yourself and don’t be afraid to reach out to someone new. If you speak from the heart and share your stories, you will connect with people, even in this age of divisiveness.