Hunting is Not About Left or Right. Stop Politicizing it, Please.

Recently, Frank Miniter wrote an opinion piece on Fox News called, “What the Left Doesn’t Understand About Hunters”. In reading his article, I felt for him and his frustration, but I think it is misdirected.  His new neighbors, who have moved to the country from Brooklyn, may indeed be left-wing, but I think the trouble with their lack of understanding is that they’re urban, not that they’re lefties.  They didn’t grow up around hunting and their only experiences with hunters are through negative media portrayals.  This is understandable, but I hope that his new neighbors are open-minded enough to learn about hunting and conservation.

Our nation is becoming more and more urbanized, if for no other reason, than that is where the jobs are.  Farming is increasingly becoming a corporate affair and other rural jobs are drying up faster than ever.  For those of us who love rural life and activities, this is the true cultural divide in this country.  Many of us don’t understand why someone would want to live in Manhattan and many Manhattanites wonder why anyone would want to live in the middle of nowhere.  It’s understandable, but the real problem are the people making enemies out of the folks they don’t understand.  

Hunters, historically at least, may lean to the right, but to tell you the truth, most of us would rather talk about hunting.  For the sake of transparency, I will tell you I’m a pro-public lands libertarian.  However, one of my favorite places to hunt and quite frankly, just one of my favorite places to hang out, is my buddy’s farm and winery in Henry County, Kentucky. My buddy was kind enough to let me come hunt his farm many times when I lived in Kentucky.  I would drive up to his place with Rand Paul and Ron Paul bumper stickers on my truck and he’s not only a registered Democrat, but he’s currently running for office as one.  He and I have a lot in common, politics isn’t one of them, but he definitely understands hunting and hunters.

Within hunting, there are several political issues such as environmental policies and gun rights and increasingly, such as in New Jersey, some are attacking hunting straight on.  In the case of New Jersey, I don’t believe this is a left vs. right thing as much as it’s an urban vs. rural thing.  The population centers in New Jersey are making decisions for the rural areas without the benefit of experience or knowledge in these matters.  Furthermore, they’re making these decisions on an emotional level rather than as a result of scientific data.  As hunters, I think we should be united on these issues.  I have written before about, especially in the West, the difficulties of being a hunter when it comes to voting.  Democrats are often trying to strip you of your gun rights and Republicans are often trying to lease our public lands to energy development.  Only having two choices doesn’t bode well for anyone, especially the hunter.  We may be small, but if the Democrat hunters stand up for gun rights and the Republican hunters stand up for our environment, I believe we can have an influence.

As one of my favorite music sites recently wrote, “if we can’t all agree on Dolly Parton then we’re never going to agree on anything ever again.”  While I believe that to be true, I also believe that if we all can’t unite around hunting, if we can’t put our other differences aside to focus on protecting this one, non-political thing that means the world to us, are we ever going to have peace in this country again?  If hunting is as big of a part of our identity as most of us claim that it is, can we not be hunters first and conservatives or liberals second (or later)?

The Politics of a Western Hunter

According to Fox News, Sen. Jon Tester (D) of Montana is campaigning as a hunter but hasn’t held a hunting license for six years. Once upon a time this was a common story, both Republicans and Democrats touted their outdoor skills, well maybe not Dick Cheney, but most politicians did.  Nowadays, hunters are not a big enough demographic to kiss up to in most parts of the country.  

Sen. Tester is a perfect case study for the politics of the western hunter. He is known for being very pro-public land, however, he’s also known for supporting gun control. Western hunters and fishermen depend on public lands, but western hunters also depend on their rifles, shotguns and muzzleloaders, as well as large handguns while in grizzly country. As is too often the case, Democrats support public lands, but not gun rights. While Republicans, at least most of them, support gun rights, but want the federal government to lease every acre for mining or energy development. The Western hunter does not have many politicians, if any, who truly represent him in Congress.  

This is not a new problem but there are still no easy solutions in the current political climate.  

Organizations like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers have been successful, particularly in the west, in bringing together conservatives and liberals on the issue of public lands. However, there is still a great divide even within that organization on many other issues, including guns. Many outdoor enthusiasts will say they don’t believe in doing away with the Second Amendment, but you will hear things like, “but you don’t hunt with an AR-15.” These people obviously have never hunted feral hogs or coyotes.  

Other times you have hunters themselves contributing to the problem. Whether it is a group like Hunters Against Gun Violence who believe in gun control, or the hunters who show up at protests with signs like, “All you need to hunt is a shotgun,” hunters are undermining other hunters. A waterfowl hunter who hunts on private land in the Midwest is thinking only of himself if he is not actively engaged in both of these issues on behalf of his fellow hunter. Different animals and different terrain require different tools for the job. If the Midwestern hunter doesn’t protect the rifle of the western hunter, then the western hunter will not stand up for the Midwesterner when they come for his shotgun next.  

Politically, what has changed? Where have the Blue Dog Democrats gone? Where have the Teddy Roosevelt Republicans gone? Perhaps the solution is to go backwards, to a time when there were issues that would cause rural Democrats to cross the aisle to work with rural Republicans. The 2016 election showed that rural America is still a political force to be reckoned with, but it also showed that the partisan divide has never been wider.   

That divide extends to Western hunters. Some, who either are bow hunters or support some form of gun control, will vote Democrat. Others, who love public land but love their Constitutional rights more, will vote Republican. This is par for the course for hunters who love to pit themselves against their fellow hunters: traditional bow vs. compound; bow vs. gun; one caliber vs. another; or Western vs. Eastern. Hunters have needlessly attacked each other for generations.

However, if hunters do not find a way to unify on many of these issues, they may find themselves in a position of having guns and no place to hunt or having plenty of places to hunt but no guns to hunt with.