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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Hunting for TV Hunting Shows

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., March 31, 2007.)
Somehow I can't imagine a Native American
dancing a jig around the carcass of
a deer shouting, "I smoked him!"
If you're searching for good outdoor television programming, you probably realize it's hard to find. It seems that all it takes to produce a TV show is a good old boy with a video camera, access to some good hunting land, a few willing sponsors, and a story line that's stale.

Don't get me wrong. It's great to film your hunts, to share your videos with friends, even to sell them. But when I look at what's made for TV, I see an overload of same-old-same-old. Not much is unique.

Some programs merely entertain, and nothing is wrong with that. We each have our personal taste in entertainment. A few are instructional, and offer some good information. Other than that, it's hard to find an excuse to watch the repetitive clones. Even if the hunter and the location are different, so many programs look like reruns. Did I mention that they're repetitive? And that they look like reruns?

Sometimes the personalities of the hunters (and huntresses) make a show interesting. A practical joke, a little husband and wife bantering, or a few credible experts might make them stand apart from the crowd.

But too many feature an elevated deer condo where a hunter and cameraman sit and whisper to one another while waiting for a big buck to arrive at a mineral lick. These depict only a very narrow aspect of hunting.

Filmed hunts usually do not put the viewer in touch with the realities of the challenge, and they make hunting look far easier than it really is. They'll convince any non-hunting John or Jane Doe -- if they pause while flipping channels -- that any dimwit can be highly successful on turkeys, deer, bears, caribou and ducks.

In the interest of filling an on-air time slot, some well-known hunters happily display their ignorance. I recently saw one program where a famous host (who shall remain nameless) called a gobbler to the shotgun. The young bird's tailfan was stepped in the middle, he had a 4-inch beard and nubs on his legs for spurs. The host told everyone it was a nice two-year-old. Baloney.

He should have known better. That bird was a one-year-old peep, a juvenile. That celebrity hunter, knowing only that viewers wanted to see turkey hunting, arranged to kill a turkey. Then he broadcast his ignorance to the world.

The truth is that most half-hour television shows are formulaic. They consist of ten minutes of introduction and conclusion, ten minutes of commercials, and hours upon hours of filming boiled down to ten minutes that include a celebratory kill scene.

Although the moment of the kill can be full of emotion, the fist pumping and dancing get tiresome. I have no problem with a successful hunter having a sense of satisfaction, or even enjoying the kill. But too often, merrymaking over the kill comes across as glee at the death of the animal. We don't need that. Nothing is wrong with showing honest emotion associated with the kill. It's an exciting moment. Unfortunately, television requires performers to dramatize that moment. When the subject matter is hunting, that's not so good.

I think of it the way one legendary local football coach taught his players about the theatrics of chest thumping and dancing when they made a tackle. It's your job, for crying out loud. Just do it. And when you do it, don't act like you've never done it before.

Somehow I can't imagine a Native American dancing a jig around the carcass of a deer shouting, "I smoked him!" It's easier to picture him kneeling beside the animal, recognizing it as a sacred gift.

Yes, hunting is partly about personal achievement. We do have some truly uncommon experiences in the woods, and accomplish some pretty special things. Those are some of the reasons we hunt. But my opinion is that right now we're witnessing an imbalance. When people produce hunting shows for our boob tubes, I'd like to see them strive to teach more about human responsibility and hunting techniques, and focus less on personal achievement and an overemphasis on the kill.


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