The recent controversy generated over a blog written by Matt Rinella titled, “The Case Against Hunter Recruitment” and published on the popular MeatEater website has turned into a widespread squabble that threatens to further divide hunters at a time when we all need to band together to save and grow the sport.
In case you’re not familiar with the controversy, Matt Rinella wrote, among other things: “Rather than seeing R3 as philanthropic, I see it as undemocratic and rude. No pro-R3 group has ever asked if you want to encounter more hunters when afield, despite that being the blatantly obvious consequence of R3. Instead, they either assume you’re OK with increased hunting pressure, or worse, they don’t care what you think. Either way, they’re fine letting their R3 compromise your hunting.”
He concluded the piece: “If you are not a member of a group like BHA, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership or Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, I urge you to join, contribute and help shape the priorities. Those priorities should be protecting wildlife habitat, increasing acreage available to hunters and countering threats to hunting rights. Let friends and family recruit the next generation of hunters. That model has worked since the beginning of time.”
Matt Rinella’s straightforward, pull-no-punches column struck a nerve with many hunters, hunting organizations, equipment manufacturers and writers. In fact, hunters and keyboard commandos around the country gave him a thorough thrashing.
“In my experience, prospective hunters aren’t rank strangers,” wrote Andrew McKean, hunting and conservation editor for Outdoor Life. “They’re our neighbors, the parents of our kids’ friends, and co-workers of our spouses who learn that we’re hunters through the original viral content: workplace chitchat.
“When they reach out to us to ask us about our experiences—those first timid questions about why we hunt, or what we do with the meat, or how hard is it to kill an animal—they’re not itching to get to our secret spots. They’re genuinely curious about the basics of what we do, cued by some genetic or social prompt to seek knowledge and information.”
Coming to his brother’s defense—and his own since he chose to post the column—well-known celebrity hunter and MeatEater Founder Steven Rinella posted a follow-up piece giving his thoughts on the earlier blog.
“When I chose to publish the piece, I knew that Matt’s frustrations with R3 are not widely shared at MeatEater,” he wrote. “We promote hunting tirelessly. We incentivize hunter mentorship within our ranks by rewarding mentor-employees with prizes such as new optics, free wild game processing and a day of fishing in a drift boat rowed by a colleague. In addition, MeatEater recently bought a farm in Michigan, fixed it all up, and then donated it to the National Deer Association to support their Field to Fork mentorship program. Multiple members of our staff sit on the board of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, which is an aggressive player in R3.”
He also said many responding to Matt Rinella’s original column have gotten the wrong picture of his brother, when it comes to his attitude about recruiting new hunters.
“Some have taken this blind spot in the argument to mean that Matt must be some selfish asshole who hates other hunters,” he wrote. “This is flat out wrong. Matt takes scores of friends and colleagues out hunting and fishing every year. Many of them are new hunters from non-traditional backgrounds. If someone doesn’t know where to go hunting or fishing, Matt tells them where to go. If they need gear, he gives it to them.”
While many are still seething over the original post, I’m more prone to cut Matt Rinella a little slack. Of course, anyone who cares about the future of hunting knows he erred in trying to make a case against organized hunter recruitment, as more hunters—no matter how we get them—equal more revenue for fish and game departments, thus more animals to hunt. More hunters also mean more gun and ammo buyers and, again, more dollars to conservation through federal funding apportioned to the states based on the number of licensed hunters in those states.
So no, I’m not cutting him some slack because I don’t think the R3 movement is critical to the future of hunting. Rather, I’m cutting him slack because I’ve seen hunters eat their own far too many times over the past several decades, and I hate to see it happening again.
I’m old enough to remember the days when archery hunters who were accustomed to using recurve bows did epic battle against those wanting to hunt with the “new-fangled” compound bows because it wasn’t “sporting” and made hunting “too easy.” Fast forward several decades, and many of those compound bow hunters vehemently attacked those wanting to use crossbows during archery season because they would “take the sport out of hunting.”
At the same time, some crossbow hunters think muzzleloader hunters are taking unfair advantage since they can kill game at 100 yards or more. And some primitive firearms hunters harbor a seething hatred for those with big-game rifles that can easily make a clean kill at several hundred yards!
All the while, those who are interested in seeing an end to all kinds of hunting—and make no mistake, they are out there—are likely laughing to see that, once again, hunters are their own worst enemy.
You see, there are not “factions” of anti-hunters—they want to see the end to all hunting. As we further divide ourselves, they unite even stronger. With today’s “cancel culture”—a newfangled name for “fascism”—coming hard and fast at gun owners and hunters from the political left, “canceling” our own simply works against the future of our beloved sport, which is a way of life for many of us.
Freelance writer and editor Mark Chesnut is the owner/editorial director at Red Setter Communications LLC in Jenks, Okla. An avid hunter, shooter and field trialer, he has been covering Second Amendment issues and politics on a near-daily basis for the past 20 years.