April 12, 2022
Last summer, my friend Russ Mason from Michigan wrote a great article for Michigan Out-of-Doors. It was about “branding.” For hunters, branding means giving the nonhunting public a positive perception of hunting.
How does the nonhunting public see us? How do antihunters see us? How do we see ourselves? How are we “branded” by the public and by ourselves?
Hunters see themselves as conservationists when it comes to wildlife and their environment. While that is true, what is also true is that a lot of the general public doesn’t see hunters that way. If an industry is threatening a local wetland by some type of construction, and citizens come together to discuss how that negatively impacts that wetland, how many hunters are in that group? In most cases, not very many. To the general public, hunters are not branded as environmentalists.
The shame of that is that hunters sit in blinds hunting waterfowl and know the value of wetlands to ducks. Hunters can identify the species of waterfowl, and also know a lot about other wildlife using and benefiting from that wetland. They could influence their “brand” by attending such meetings in large numbers.
A lot of antihunter dialogue is focused on the idea that total preservation of wildlife is much better than conservation of wildlife. Total preservation means no killing involved, but hunters know that conservation includes harvest to achieve better wildlife management.
As Russ pointed out in his article on branding, “Hunting has an image problem and hunters haven’t done enough to correct it.” Russ also notes that even with this image problem, the nonhunting public still leans toward supporting hunting as a tool for wildlife management. They also view hunting in a positive light if the harvest is used for food. One great marketing tool that was started by my friend Bob Easterbrook was the idea that hunters could donate venison to the needy. The general public loves the idea that hunters donate venison, and it really improved the image of hunters and hunting.
So, what other things can be done to improve the hunter’s image with the public? There are already huge sections of the public who use the outdoors, and some are friends of hunting. Perhaps the biggest group is birdwatchers. They spend lots of money just to be able to see and identify birds. In fact, hunting and birdwatching have many of the same attributes, except for the harvest. Wildlife photographers do, too. Their “kill” is a quality photo. Obviously, the hunter image with the nonhunting public could be enhanced if there was more association with birdwatchers, photographers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. Hunters have lagged behind when it comes to getting their “brand” out via social media. More hunters now use social media, but they seem to do it to talk to each other rather than interact with nonhunters. Improving our brand must involve the media.
The Nimrod Society was created by a bowhunter named Alan Taylor from Michigan to facilitate programs to educate the general public on the positive role anglers and hunters play in society through accurate and factual education and media programs. In the 1990s, several antihunting referendum ballot issues were passed in Colorado in part because the general public did not understand the issues or the positive role hunters play in wildlife management. In a nutshell, a group of concerned sportsmen and women worked with Nimrod to develop a media-based program to educate the urban, nonhunting public about the scientific, economic, and conservation benefits of hunting and fishing.
Through perseverance and cooperation with many outdoor users, they succeeded in getting legislation passed whereby a Wildlife Council was formed that directed the funds from a small surcharge placed on licenses sold to hunters and fishermen to be used for a mass-media, public-education program. They called this the “Hug a Hunter” program.
Imagine what this could do in your state every time an antihunting issue arises. For example, if the antis attacked an existing black bear season, using misinformation to persuade nonhunters to vote their support. If your state had this Wildlife Council and the license surcharge, they could develop a huge mass-media campaign to present what would happen if bear hunting became illegal. I can think of several states that could use this Nimrod idea right now.
State wildlife agencies just don’t have the funds to run such education programs, but the license surcharge makes it work. All states may not follow the “Hug a Hunter” model that Colorado developed, but the concept can work everywhere. In recent years, Michigan got legislation passed for a license surcharge with the funds used to educate nonhunters about the values of hunting and fishing. Doing so improves the hunting brand with nonhunters.
The Nimrod Society’s goal is to promote similar education programs in all states. Note: Nimrod is not a member organization. You can’t join the Nimrod Society. But if you go to their website, you can learn how it worked in Colorado and how you and other sportsmen and outdoor users can work together to get such a program started in your state.
There are literally millions of outdoor users such as birdwatchers, hikers, and wildlife photographers, who would support these efforts if hunters would work with them in a cooperative manner to create this Nimrod model in your state. Doing so would improve the hunter’s image with them, but via the resulting multimedia campaign, it would also improve our image and brand with nonhunters. It’s time that we reached out to all segments of the public. As Russ Mason pointed out in his article, we need to build the trust of all nonhunters if hunting is to remain alive.
There is one more way you can learn about the Nimrod Society and how you can work with them to show the true relationship between sportsmen and conservation. Mr. Taylor has created an endowment to Hillsdale College in Michigan to create the Nimrod Education Center. This Center is dedicated to helping educate the public about the importance of sportsmen-funded wildlife management. To learn more about the Nimrod Education Center, visit here.
If you have questions about topics covered in this column or on any wildlife-management issues or wildlife species, contact Dr. Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org.