Literally, figuratively and statistically, hunting is a dying sport—it just hasn’t accepted that fact yet. Over the centuries, hunting in this country has been on a slippery, downward slope. It’s gone from being an almost universally practiced, year-round method of meat-gittin’ and “varmint” eradicatin’ (during the pioneering, God-given “Manifest Destiny” days that near-completely brought an end to the continent’s biodiversity) to the desperate, “sportsmen are the best environmentalists” perjury of present day—a laughable last-ditch attempt to stay afloat if you ever saw one.
Whether consciously aware of it or not, hunters, individually and as a well-funded whole, are in the process of grieving the impending demise of their favorite pastime. The question is, which stage of grief are they currently in, and more importantly, when will they finally give up the ghost and leave the animals alone?
If we apply the Kübler-Ross model (a hypothesis introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, commonly referred to as the “five stages of grief” including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) to the death of hunting, it would appear that hunters are somewhere between the first and the middle stage in their emotional journey toward acceptance. Kübler-Ross originally applied these stages to people suffering from terminal illness, later expanded this theoretical model to apply to any form of catastrophic personal loss, which could include job, income, freedom or some other significant life event. To a dyed-in-the-wool nimrod, the death of hunting definitely qualifies.
Known by the acronym DABDA, the five stages of the Kübler-Ross model include:
1) Denial — “I feel fine.” “This can’t be happening, not to me.”
Denial can be a conscious or unconscious defense mechanism; a refusal to accept facts or the reality of the situation. This feeling is generally replaced with a heightened awareness of possessions that will be left behind after the death—in this case, after the death of their blood sport. For hunters, these possessions might be their beloved weapons, which they covetously cling to with Gollum-like obsession and zeal. Whenever the specter of gun control rears up after a mass school shooting, you can hear them breathlessly whispering, “My precious, my precious.” Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual, but some can become locked into this stage…
2) Anger — “Why me? It’s not fair!” “How can this happen to me?” ‘”Who is to blame?”
Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to be around due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. Anger can manifest itself in different ways. For hunters, it’s usually directed toward non-hunters, especially environmentalists or animal advocates, but is often also directed against species they view as competition, such as coyotes or wolves. It is important to remain detached when dealing with a person experiencing anger from grief.
3) Bargaining — “I’ll do anything for a few more years.” “I will give my life savings if only…”
The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death (or the death of their favorite lethal hobby). Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, “I understand I will die, but if I could just do something to buy more time…” In the case of hunting, this negotiation is with the non-hunting majority and includes reinventing their persona, trying to sell themselves as “the best environmentalists;” pitching hunting as an admirable part of our heritage and trying to get laws passed to enshrine it; or recruiting women and young children into the fold.
4) Depression — “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?” “I’m going to die soon so what’s the point?” or in the case of the hunter, “If I can’t have my beloved blood sport, why go on?”
It’s natural for the hunter to feel sadness, regret, fear and uncertainty when going through this stage. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual (or a hunting organization, such as the NRA or the Safari Club) who is in this stage, as these emotions indicate their acceptance of the situation.
5) Acceptance — “It’s going to be okay.” “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”
In this last stage, individuals begin to come to terms with their mortality or another tragic event, such as the loss of a loved one…or, for the hunter, the long-dreaded ceasefire in the war waged against the animals.
One of the most popular arguments for hunting is, “But humans are carnivores, we’ve always been hunters.” The fact is, human predatory behavior is killing the planet. The only way any of us are going to survive is if we lay down our weapons and return to our plant-eating origins.
Sound radical? Arthur Schopenhauer spelled out his own set of stages that undeniably applies here: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”