GUEST BLOG – Byron Pace. What it means to be a Modern Hunter and Conservationalist

A first for the UK, the Pace Brothers and The Northern Shooting Show presented the inaugural DNA Hunting Film Festival on the 11th May. It provided a platform for filmmakers to showcase the very best of what it means to be a hunter in the modern world and embraced the concept of conservation of wildlife and a sustainable harvest.

Byron Pace gave a passionate speech for the positive future for hunting, which he has given us (below) for those that were unable to be there, along with images from Sarah Farnsworth. You can also hear all the speeches from the night on the Into the Wilderness Podcast.

All profits from ticket sales and money raised on the night were generously donated to the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust for research into woodcock.

Photo: Hunting Photography by Sarah Farnsworth

What will be in store for the wider hunting community in the years to come is at best uncertain, and we will all play a role in shaping this story, either by our actions or inaction.

As a teenager, I lusted over the stories of old. The adventures of a time long passed and had somewhat resigned myself to seeking out the best of the hunting opportunities which remained. In fact, it was this very endeavour which made my path cross with my great friend Devan Delange, one of our later speaker, all the way from South Africa. Much has changed over the last one hundred years, and I looked upon the opportunities of the past with much envy. As far as I was concerned, the golden days of hunting were gone.

However, as I got older I realised just how wrong and defeatist I had been.  I realised, that in spite of what may have been. Right now. As we sit in this very room. Is one of the greatest eras in hunting’s history.

I say this because never before will the actions we take over such a confined period, define our future so drastically.

This places a great burden on all of us but gives unprecedented meaning and purpose to the legacy we leave. If you wanted to make a difference, now is the time to be living it. 

What we do as hunters today matters. How we are perceived matters. Doing nothing, hiding from the realities of a shifting society, is only an option if we are happy to drift and fade with the sands of time.

Who knows what is written on the side of a two pound coin?

“Standing on the shoulder of giants”

That quote was taken from the 12th century and repeated by Isaack Newton. We build on the progress of our forefathers.

Yet, within the hunting community, in many respects, we have allowed the foundations of ethics, conservation and sportsmanship etiquette slide in the wake of over commercialisation. We as individuals are not the most important aspect of hunting. What hunting means is.

Be in no doubt. We are not winning. As a community globally, we are losing our relevance in a society which has moved faster than we have evolved. A society disconnected and removed from the land we inhabit.

You don’t have to cast your mind back all that far, and hunters were the heroes of every story. They were revered and championed in life and as much as fiction. Hunters and naturalists were not distinguished from one another. They were one and the same. At some point, this diverged, and with it a great loss in our deeper connection to the land.

In the years which followed 1890’s, in face of great odds and the near-certain demise of much of the big game in Northern America, it was hunters which were at the forefront of the drive to save what was left. Humans had wiped out the passenger pigeon in the blink of an eye for greed and agricultural progression. The mighty bison stood at a mere few hundred individuals. Herds that would take many days to pass by, disappeared on the back of politics and market hunting. Name any of the big game now abundant in North America, and at that period in history, population recovery seemed almost a lost cause.

Despite what seemed an impossible task, a small number of people stood prepared to shoulder the future in defiance of an outcome they could not stand by and allow to happen. It was great people, hunters, conservationist, naturalists and visionaries such as Teddy Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold and George Bird Grinnell who worked tirelessly for the greater good. A future where hunting formed an integral tool to ensure the wildlife came first.

This is such an acknowledgement, and credit today must go to Shane Mahnoney, one of the great modern ambassadors, who continuously instil the virtues and importance of a future where the wildlife comes first.

But they didn’t do it alone. It required collaboration with people and organisations who didn’t necessarily see eye to eye. With this, they were able to forge a positive future towards a common end goal.  John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt disagreed on many things, but they found a way to come together.

This is something we could learn from today. Not just between the hunting community and non-hunting organisations who are often critical of us, but also within our own community. In a future where hunting survives, we have to unify far more. In thinking, in resources and direction. We must be bolder in what we expect from ourselves.

It was these great men who became the forefathers of conservation, and in this also laid down the foundations for an ethic of hunting which is every bit as relevant today as it was then. We may have failed to keep pace with shifting societal change, but the core of what it is to be a hunter has not altered.

Globally, we have fallen a very long way.  What used to be important was the experience and the custodianship of the wildlife and landscape. Where our interest and care extended beyond the species we pursued. Where the idea of honour to yourself, the wildlife and the environment lay at the very foundation of what it was to be a hunter.

As a community we allowed the end result to become the sole point of our endeavours. We stopped focusing on the experience, and the contributing role we played as hunters. Very often it became about the inches, and in this we allowed the concept of trophy hunting to be stolen and morphed into something it wasn’t.

Writers, editors, filmmakers, gun makers, scope manufactures, the industry as a whole were to blame.

We became happy and content with the notion that what we perused as hunters was only the moment. A moment of success measured by blood on the ground. We saw this in articles home and abroad, we saw it in advertisement and we saw it rampant during the rise of hunting videos, both before and after the wave of online content available today. Ask yourself honestly what a kill shot reel says about hunters? Available openly online for anyone to see. What message are you sending?

The recreational hunter does not escape without blame, who with the liberty of free thought bought into the over commercialisation of something so beautiful. We prostituted the most important thing we have. The very essence of who we are. Today we have over trivialised hunting for the benefit of a social media following. An often shallow veneer for popularity where it’s done for the story first.

Our ability as individuals to reach so many people is empowering for the hunting community, but in the same breath incredibly dangerous.

What do you think the greatest recruiting drive for PETA last year was…

The temporary facebook profile, shoot animals not selfies.

Who thought that was a good idea. Just pause for a moment and reflect on how that looked to someone who didn’t hunt. Not a hater. Not an anti-hunter. Just an average urban dwelling person who knows little of hunting. It looked bad. It was an easy trap to get carried away with, but it was naive and arrogant and encapsulate in a single action just how deep our lack of understanding goes when it comes to how we shape a positive future for hunting.

I don’t like to dwell on the negatives or the failures of the past, but I do believe we should learn from our mistakes. I see chinks of light in the dark clouds which sit firmly over hunting. A rewriting of the narrative we tell, where once again the journey takes priory, and the wildlife comes first. I see a shift in the nature of articles in our press. Editors sitting in the audience tonight…the arrival of the Modern Huntsman magazine under the custodianship of Tyler Sharp. The continued work of our own team at Fieldsports Channel with their series “A year in the life of red deer” is all positive.

The last two years have also seen the much newer medium of podcasting forge a powerful and important voice for the thoughtful hunter. We know from our own show just how this can inform and educate, and crucially, reach people outside of what we may have seen traditionally as part of our community.

Here in lies one of our great failures. Our ability to recognise the simple fact that in order for hunting to continue to play a role in the management of our landscape, it has to be both relatable and relevant in today’s world. In a modern society. This is no easy task, but we first have to acknowledge it.

We spend far too much time preaching to the converted.

We need people to stand up and drive forward change. Sometimes change won’t be popular, but the time for such concerns are long passed.

We need to push ourselves to a situation where we are proactive and not reactive. Continually we find ourselves on the back foot, often defending aspects of hunting we should have for-seen coming.

I believe part of the issue lies in the incredibly short horizon we seem to have. Who is sitting down and formulating a strategy for the next hundred? A strategy to ensure we pull through the shift in how society views hunting?

I hope someone is because we should be.

A longer horizon, viewed by people with the right skill set, would have foreseen the oversupply of reared game long before it happened.

The greatest concern with that issue. The fact we have all been so consumed with a problem entirely self-produced, and fixable with restraint and the right leadership. Meanwhile, we ignore the pressing global presidents which are being set. We are so blinkered inside our own little island, refusing to comment or be counted on international events.

In the last 6 months, British Columbia has shut down Grizzly Bear hunting. Poland has laid down crippling restrictions on their own hunting culture. Tanzania is busy imploding as one concession after the next is handed back to the government.

We need to be more engaged on an international stage. At the very least it allows us to learn and prepare ourselves better. At best, we contribute and help towards the greater challenge of safeguarding hunting and the sustainable harvest of game around the world.

Photo: Hunting Photography by Sarah Farnsworth

What it shows us now is that the science is no longer enough. If it was, many of the confrontations we have on moorland management would disappear. If science was enough Grizzly bears would still be hunted in BC, regulated elephant hunting would be widely accepted, and Cecil the lion would be a name no one knew.

The fact is, in the modern society we are all part of, the moral reasons we do what we do matter. This is the reality. It is a reality we will not change, but we need to understand.

There must, and there has to be a morally acceptable justification for our actions. Without this, any expectation we will convince a dis-interested, discounted urban majority is destined to fail.

It would be very neat to conclude a positive outcome for the future with a single line or euphony, but I can’t. It is far too complex for that.

I do however believe that we would be facing a very different proposition if we all expected more from ourselves.

What many of the great hunters and naturalists had in common was a deep-seated connection with the wilderness. More often than not this is lost today. We are not honest with ourselves or our motivations enough. We fail to appreciate the small things with enough gravity.

We are increasing surrounded by taglines and straplines like huntervationist. Many of us, embrace it and proudly. But are we being honest?

Ask yourself the question, what do you really do? What makes you a conservationist. If you are going to say it. Own it. If you can’t give your time, give your money, but be invested in more than what you can get out of it. What made the great hunter conservationists was love and dedication to the natural world. A desire to understand and learn.

Just because you do, doesn’t mean you are.

We must realise that it’s no longer an argument that our actions are sustainable.

They should be.

Why would we be doing something which isn’t sustainable? Our aim should be enhancement.

We must take greater personal responsibility, and our organisations should be brave enough to lay down an ethic which challenges us.

Every time you hunt, be that a driven day or stalking on the hill, the expectation should be that you will take home what you kill. If you share a few hundred birds between a group of friends, you should be prepared to take them home and process them. You may be told that this comes at extra cost. Market prices may be good and demand abundant. Then the choice becomes yours. However, the expectation should we are responsible for the lives we take.

This has to be the case, and often it’s not. We need to rebuild this connection.

From here we must grow. We have to grow. We must re-shape and re-write the hunting narrative to be relevant today. It can be done, and it will work if the wildlife comes first.

Realise that all the people and agendas which would like to wipe hunting from our future have as many hours in the days as we do. So what does this tell us?

It tells us we must be smarter. We must work harder. Be more dedicated and resolute. It may be politically correct to tell the kids of today that it’s the taking part that counts, but we all know that’s a lie. There will be no taking part medal for the hunting community if we fail to find a foothold in the future. And we must. As our population climbs from 7 to 8 billion people, and will probably reach 9 in the future, it will be the value given to wildlife and wild places which allows us to safeguard the soul of our planet.

It’s said that one person can change the world. We don’t have one. We have a whole community. If one person can change the world, imagine what we can do together.

Let the emotion of what we could loose drive you. Feel in the pit of your stomach and take ownership of the future.

We must find our voice. The voice of the modern hunter. Because it is the modern hunter we must become to service. This is our time.

Photo: Hunting Photography by Sarah Farnsworth