Chumming TV No Friend of Hunting

By Beacon Staff

I confess to occasionally spending a little time on weekend mornings watching hunting shows on the cable channels, but I’ll be doing a lot less of it going forward unless somebody kills these “Chumming TV” programs that give hunting a bad image, even among hunters.

Anti-hunting groups must love watching these distasteful programs and see hunters desecrate their own image. It makes their job easier.

By “Chumming TV,” I’m referring to the outrageous, unethical and often illegal practice of luring big game into shooting range with bait, artificial scent or other unnatural means. I’ve seen many incredible hunting shows, true tests between man and beast without technical or artificial advantages, but I’ve also seen too much of the dark side, which I choose to call “chumming,” where producers show images or allow narration about the game being brought into shooting range with bait or other artificial, unethical means.

We have four major outdoor channels – ESPN Outdoors, Versus, The Outdoor Channel and The Sportsman Channel. Most programming broadcasts a positive image of hunting and hunters, but sadly, some of it is like shooting ourselves in the foot during efforts to preserve our hunting tradition. I’m not sure I really blame the channels for airing chumming TV. It’s more like our fault for watching it, right? Without viewers, these programs would quickly disappear.

The sport of hunting has enough problems – a broken mentorship chain, declining numbers, reduced or unaffordable access, development of prime habitat, and an already-tarnished image, to name a few. Do we need to make it worse ourselves? It’s almost like we’re trying to hand over a victory to the animal rights groups who would like nothing better than the end of all hunting.

The worst of the worst are black bear hunting programs, which shamefully show “hunters” waiting over garbage cans filled with strong-smelling food attractants or carrion hung from trees below permanent tree stands. I realize prohibiting baiting would greatly reduce success rates, but what’s more important? A higher kill ratio up on the Precambrian Shield or the future of hunting?

As bad – if not worse – are shows with “hunters” sitting in permanent structures with gravity feeders clearly visible, programmed to release deer food at a certain time of the day so hunters don’t have to waste more than an hour or two getting their monster buck.

I sure hope I’m not the only hunter appalled by these productions. To me, they’re embarrassing and self-defeating – sort of our attempt to make the end of hunting a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I realize it’s hard to draw the line, but chumming is definitely on the wrong side of it, as is clearly displaying and discussing hunting over manicured food plots or hanging scent leaves below the tree stand.

On the technological front, well, it gets dicey deciding how much is too much – better optics and GPS units are clearly OK, but what about “scouting cameras” sending digital images to the owner’s breakfast table and hand-held radios used by many big-game hunters nowadays. To me, this is over the line.

Television producers are convinced they need a kill to make a successful show and can’t afford to wait for nature to do it right. But I question that philosophy. Some of the best programs I’ve seen show the quarry winning. That’s certainly the way it works most of the time when I go hunting. As most hunters realize, the experience is what counts, not the kill.

Also, producers film way too many programs on game farms or canned-hunt operations, the worst being those featuring “hunts” for nilgai, Barbary sheep, gemsbok, oryx and other exotic species that shouldn’t even be allowed in the United States.

So what to do about it? I had a couple of ideas. How about major conservation organizations and cable channels collaborate to create an oversight board to review programs before they’re aired and decline to air offensive programs? Or at least force them to use a statement like this in the opening:

This program contains scenes that display poor taste, are filmed on canned hunt operations, use questionable practices such as baiting, or otherwise inappropriately depict the sport of hunting as a unethical pursuit of game.

So real hunters could quickly switch channels.

Or cable channels could skip the thorny process of review and simply require producers to display this statement on the opening of every hunting show:

This program strictly adheres to the Principles of Fair Chase, which is the ethical, sportsmanlike and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild, native North American big game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals.

In case you don’t recognize the wording, that’s the Fair Chase mission statement for all hunters written by the Boone and Crockett Club, the oldest and perhaps most prestigious conservation organization in this country.

Even though, regrettably, baiting bears and other game chumming is legal in some states and provinces, ethics and image should be our priorities. We don’t need a law to fix this problem; we hunters just need to take control of our own future.