If you have a TV, radio or social media account, chances are you’ve heard about Cecil the lion by now.  

The story centers around the killing of an African lion that seemingly changes by the day, and has potentially positioned the hunting community at a crossroads. 

If not handled properly, it could be detrimental to a sport that so many in the Sportsman’s Paradise hold dear. 

I am in no way defending or judging Dr. Walter Palmer — the man who shot the lion — but I am asking a simple question: Is the way of the outdoorsman teetering on the edge of extinction? 

I’ve often heard that negativity breeds more negativity, and today’s world seems to make that a factual statement with the mere click of a mouse.  The ease with which one person can voice his opinion creates a platform where cries of foul can spill forth, and often take the road most traveled.

Like lemmings heading for a cliff, people bash each other, use vulgar language and cut down the opposition with something much mightier than the proverbial sword. Like sharks in a feeding frenzy with blood in the water, more and more pile on the verbal assault until the subject has been beaten to the point of being unidentifiable — and all it took was one click to get it all started.

Heading into this hunting season, all hunters should be aware that all it takes is one — one deer, one bad picture or one inappropriate post. 

But in an age that proves how fast information can spread, the good news is we hunters do have some control over it.

I’ve made a list of some of the things that we should all strive to do when going after our prized trophies this fall, and I hope you heed my advice.  I understand that you might be thinking, “If my deer or my hunting offends someone, then to heck with them.”

But if that’s what you’re thinking right now, for the love of our sport please keep reading.

Trash

If you travel any of the rural roads in our state then you know just how much trash litters the ditches.  Hunters should remember this, and do their part to keep the roadsides clean.  Corn bags, rice bran sacks, and fast food wrappers along with all kinds of debris that can be linked to hunting could turn someone against our community in a minute.  

Always remember to make sure that you aren’t the one whose trash gets it started.  

Tie or weigh down the corn and rice bran sacks in your vehicle until you can dispose of them properly, and make sure you dispose of all trash in a proper container.  

Think about this: Suppose you’re driving to Sunday school behind a truck pulling a 4-wheeler with a driver decked out in camo.  

Out of nowhere, a few corn sacks fly out all over your car while the truck continues on like nothing happened.  I’m sure you’d probably be asking for forgiveness within the hour for saying poor things about the hunter who just pelted your car.  

So don’t be the rule — be the exception.  If you do have trash that accidentally spills onto the roadside, please stop and pick it up.

Trust me, the vision of you being responsible will be commented on by any passersby.     

Traveling With Your Trophy

When I was a young man, my uncle gave me a piece of advice that I’ll never forget.  

I had just killed a nice buck and my mother was at her sister’s house visiting that afternoon.  I called and told them of my success and how I’d like to show it to them, when my uncle piped up, “Don’t go through town with that tailgate down, son.  Act like you’ve done it before.”  

When he said that I was rather taken aback and offended, but as I got older I understood exactly what he meant.  

People who don’t hunt do not want to see your bloody deer hanging out of the back of your truck — period.  Remember that. 

Imagine you’re heading to dinner with your family and you get stopped at a red light behind a truck with a spike on the tailgate whose head had nearly been removed, when your 4-year-old daughter asks what happened to the deer?  

How does a non-hunter parent answer that question?

The once “on-the-fence-about-hunting” family has now potentially been pushed to the other side all because someone had to show the world what they killed.  Don’t be that person.  Don’t be the ignition source for something that was completely avoidable.  Keep your business to yourself until someone asks to see it.  

And the key word in this equation is ‘asks.’  Sure, in the 1970s it was perfectly ok to ride around town with a deer on the hood of your truck — but you know what?  This isn’t 1970 and society is much, much different today.  

Being mindful of the impression you make on non-hunters will help them see some of the good that comes from our sport.  

Social Media Sharing

I’ve come to realize that posting on social media is like wiring a house with the power still on: If you pay attention you’ll probably be ok, but one mistake could cost you a lot.  

Your friends on Facebook may know you hunt, and most likely 75 percent of them do the same. But always remember that there are people out there who’d rather not see your prized half-horned buck with covered in blood with his tongue hanging out.  

My advice is short and simple: Clean it up.  

Last year I killed a doe with my great-grandfather’s old Winchester single-shot 16 gauge shotgun, and the buckshot did a number on the deer.  I really wanted a good picture of the doe and the gun together, but the amount of blood and the size of the wound made it nearly impossible to do.  

So that’s when I did some thinking, and I ended up covering the wound with a holly bush and cleaning the deer up with some dead leaves that were lying around.  

The picture turned out great, and it was all because I took the time to make it right.  

I’ve written stories about impressive bucks for years, and I can’t tell you how many hunters wished that they’d have taken the time to take a quality picture.  

On social media, it can be the difference in keeping a friend, or creating an anti-hunting monster.

If I’ve ruffled your feathers, I apologize. But hunting has been leaning on the ‘politically-correct side’ for several years now.  

Back in the 1980s, if you heard a hunter use the word “harvest,” then you probably thought he was a farmer. Or if someone said they “took” a deer, you most likely suspected they stole it. 

But terms like this are used now because words like ‘kill’ or ‘shot’ are deemed too harsh and aren’t socially acceptable in certain circles.  

So this hunting season, let’s raise the bar on our ‘PC awareness,’ and try to do something that Dr. Palmer didn’t do with Cecil:  Let’s quiet the crowds one click at a time.