A deer hunter’s psyche: What really makes them tick

By Bill Cooper
    The annual Missouri bowhunting season is less than 45 days away, and the rifle season only two months after that. Once again tens of thousands of Missouri deer hunters will be taking to the woods. And the attacks of anti-hunters against law-abiding hunters will refresh as well. As deer hunters we are very much misunderstood in today’s world. What really makes us tick?

    About 98 percent of Americans eat meat. Our ancestors have been meat eaters since the dawn of time. Additionally, even in our modern society, roughly 80 percent of Americans approve of legal, ethical hunting. So why do we hear so much from so few claiming that hunters’ psyches are those of demented, sadistic killers?
    Anti-hunters often oppose hunting because they say it is cruel to animals, therefore, hunters must be mentally disturbed sadists. The truth of the matter is that sadists would not want to kill an animal quickly, as ethical hunters desire to do. Sadists want animals to suffer.
    Anyone who says that hunters are mentally ill is talking psychology. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but few are trained psychologists. Very few published articles that claim hunters are sadistic, or psychopathic, are written by behavioral scientists who study humans.
    Too, very few hunters are mentally ill. Most are screened out of the mix via background checks prior to purchasing a gun, while others are sorted out by hunter education instructors. Most states now require individuals to pass a hunter education course before buying a hunting license. Those who are deemed unstable do not receive hunter certification training.
    The majority of psychologists of the 20th century agreed that hunting is motivated by a natural instinct, and that participation in hunting is beneficial to mental health. In his studies of human aggression, psychologist Erich Fromm said: “In the act of hunting, the hunter returns to their natural state, becomes one with the animals, and is freed from the burden of his existential split: to be part of nature and to transcend it by virtue of his consciousness. In stalking the animal he and the animal become equals, even though man eventually shows his superiority by use of weapons.”
    Others, including Dr. Steven Kellers, of Yale, and Amherst College professor Jan Dizard found the reasons why people hunt are to: experience nature as a participant; to feel an intimate, serous connection to place; to take responsibility for one’s food; and to acknowledge kinship with wildlife.
    One of the few studies that portrays hunters in a negative light, published in the 2003 Journal of Visual Studies, claimed that photos of hunters with trophies in 14 popular hunting magazines indicated that, “instead of love and respect for nature and wildlife, we found extreme objectification and marginalization of animal bodies.”
    That so called research, is only about the authors subjective personal opinions of art. Anyone else who had done the same study would have concluded that the hunters were simply proud and wanted to show off their harvests.
    It’s an established fact in the United States that when hunting license sales go up, violent crime goes down. Another study out of Emory University established that denial of the hunting instinct can lead to psychopathology. The research team stated: “Our ‘hunting instinct’ has gone awry in ‘civilized’ society, where the thrill of the chase and the kill are no longer part of our experience and there are no clear avenues of expression except, perhaps to our peril, in the streets and subways of today’s urban jungles.”
    Interestingly enough, Dr. Hal Herzog, of Western Carolina University reported in 2014 that 84 percent of vegetarians and 70 percent of vegans return to eating at least some meat. Thirty-five percent of the vegetarians said they did so for declining health reasons. Of course, as hunters we have always recognized that we have incisors for a reason.
    A German study found that vegetarians displayed elevated prevalence rates for depressive disorders, anxiety disorders and somatoform disorders. A similar study in Australia found vegetarians were 18 percent more likely to report depression and 28 percent more likely to suffer panic attacks and anxiety.
    Hunters have long been in the forefront of protecting wildlife and providing funding for the protection and propagation of such. Billions have been spent on fish and wildlife habitat, research and education. Non-hunters and anti-hunters alike have benefited from these appropriations through the purchasing of wild lands and refuges which everyone is allowed to enjoy.
    Hopefully, before this article goes to print, President Trump will have signed into law the greatest piece of conservation legislation in the history of mankind. The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) will provide funding for the increased expansion of outdoor recreation opportunities including hunting, fishing, boating, camping, hiking, and more. The bill includes permanent funding for the tremendously successful Land and Water Conservation Fund to the tune of $900 million per year. The LWCA has completed projects in every county in the U.S. The GAOA is expected to provide $12.5 billion dollars over the next five years.
    Hunters played a tremendous role in the establishment of the GAOA, clearly demonstrating their continued love and support for wildlife, wild places, and access to both for all citizens.
    The next time you are approached by anti-hunters, quote these facts and ask them what they are doing to reduce the horrible condition of humanity in our urban jungles. Our very participation in deer hunting makes us tick, makes us better people, and certainly makes our world a better place for everyone.
     EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Cooper is an award-winning outdoor writer and member of the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and lives in rural St. James. He is host of “Outside Again Adventures TV-Online” and “Wild at Heart” on ESPN 107.3FM in Rolla. You can follow Cooper at www.facebook.com/OutsideAlways, www.aoutdoorstv.com and www.espn1073.com.