The Best Hunting Role Models are Close to Home

June 30, 2017 | by Nick Pinizzotto

We received an email this week wondering why we didn’t post a story and give our opinion about Wildgame Nation host, Bill Busbice’s, conviction in Wyoming for intentionally allowing an antlerless elk to go to waste, and for hunting without a proper license. By the time we learned of the incident, the story was already widely reported, and anything we would have written would have simply been piling on to what was already a disturbing and unfortunate story. There is plenty out there for people who want to read about the incident and the response by sportsmen, sponsors, and The Outdoor Channel, but what I prefer to focus on is the importance of good hunting role models and how they can prevent selfish acts against wildlife.

I was lucky growing up as a young hunter because my dad, uncle, and many of the people that we hunted with were law-abiding hunters. They were great role models that we looked up to. My brother and I were taught the importance of gun safety and following the rules as soon as we were old enough to comprehend it. As I think back, that’s a bit of an understatement. These things were drilled into our heads, and we never thought twice about doing something unsafe or illegal. But not everyone that lived nearby felt as strongly about the rules, or had the respect for wildlife that we were brought up with.

Unfortunately, there were many bad influences around us who seemed to break more game laws than they abided by. Ironically, the people who would routinely shoot more deer than they were allowed would also be the ones complaining about not having enough deer around. This made me sick to my stomach and I strongly considered wildlife conservation officer as a career. While that never happened, I developed a hatred for game law violators, particularly poachers, and that still burns in my gut today.

Throughout the hundreds of comments I read regarding the Busbice incident, I saw many references to the need to hold those on outdoor television to a higher standard. While I agree with the general sentiment, my bigger concern is that we’re looking to outdoor celebrities to serve as role models for our sport. As someone who monitors hunting news from across the country on an almost daily basis, I can tell you that this isn’t the first time that someone in outdoor television has run afoul of the law. For some, the pressure to routinely produce good content to keep their show alive gets the best of them, and they begin cutting corners. Some simply make honest mistakes that any of us could make, while others make the conscious decision to commit a selfish act. Unfortunately, I’m guessing only a tiny fraction are getting caught.

To be clear, this is not an attack on outdoor television or hunting celebrities. I know and have friendships with many of them, and I can tell you that the highest percentage take game laws seriously, and have nothing but the utmost respect for the game they pursue. Many are also superb role models, and they take that seriously as well. Having talked with a few of them since this recent incident, I can tell you that they despise it as much as, if not more than, the rest of us, and they hate the negative light that is shed on hunting and outdoor television.

All of us have a responsibility to represent our sport with dignity. Our future depends on it. While outdoor television personalities can certainly influence us, it pales in comparison to the impact we can make on each other, and most importantly, the young hunters around us. If you’re hunting with someone that is breaking the law or who has bragged about breaking the law, call them out on it, and refuse to hunt with them again if necessary. If you see something illegal or have information about a poaching incident in your area, report it to your state wildlife agency through their anonymous tip line. Finally, insist on holding yourself to the highest standard, understanding that most of the time nobody would ever know if you skirted the rules. It was legendary basketball coach John Wooden that said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

I don’t keep track of the number of major poaching cases that I see coming across the news alerts throughout the course of a year, but I can tell you that it’s a lot. Many of these cases involve numerous individuals, and the violations happen over the course of several years. It’s bad enough that one person commits a selfish act against wildlife, but when it involves several people all going along with the idea, it makes me shake my head in disbelief. Where were their role models? How does one end up taking that road? How could this be avoided? Are they capable of stopping?

The bottom line is, our sport has enough challenges as it is without having to hear and read about senseless poaching and other game law violations. When it’s done by outdoor television personalities, it only exacerbates the problem, especially in the eyes of non-hunters. We can all make a difference by being good role models to those around us, and even to ourselves. Even if you’re someone who has committed game law violations in the past, you can learn from your mistakes and vow to never do it again. Ultimately, we all share the responsibility to be good stewards of our sport. Our future depends on it.