Hunting Big Game Hunting

The Problem with Those Somber Hero-Shot Hunting Photos Everyone’s Been Taking

Be genuine, and don't be afraid to show how happy hunting makes you
Tyler Freel Avatar
A satirical photo of a hunter with a dead grouse.
Somber hunting photos are sending the wrong message about hunting. Tyler Freel

With hunting season in full swing, our social media pages are packed full of fresh trophy photos from around the country and world. I love to see friends with their hard-won animals. It’s a chance to live vicariously, to see the wild world through someone else’s eyes, and share a little bit of their successful hunt.

But for every happy, grinning, appreciative “hero shot” I see, I also spot a photo that looks like the hunter wants to apologize for killing the animal they’re posing with. They may even be throwing up in their mouths out of despair for their actions.

I’m not sure what’s behind this trend, but I’m seeing more of these pensive pictures, best defined by me as “somber, reflective, paying-respect-to-the-animal” photography, and the more I see of them, the more off-putting they are to me.

I’m not sure when I saw the first one of these, and I do not doubt that the trend began from a candid, in-the-moment picture or two that truly captured the moment of awe and reflection that every hunter knows and experiences. I don’t want to imply that I’m the photo police, and I really do enjoy seeing people’s accomplishment and genuine emotion in the moment. That being said, copycatting of the abject-apology photo is getting old, and fast.

At its essence, hunting is a deep and intensely personal experience, but it is also supposed to be fun. Seriously, lighten up. Yes, we need to have respect for the animals we hunt, but we also need be conscious of the message we are putting out through our social-media sharing. I can only imagine what goes through the heads of non-hunters and beginning hunters when they’re bombarded with these apology photos. Trying to put myself into their shoes, I might range anywhere from “Why do they look so sad? Shouldn’t he/she be happy they just got that animal?” to “Why does that guy look like he wants to make love to that elk?”

The harvest, the climax of all your time and effort, should be a happy occasion, and if I were a non-hunter interested in hunting, and this was what I saw, I wouldn’t understand the appeal. If I were a young or beginning hunter, I would get the impression that I’m not supposed be happy when I take an animal. I would feel like I need to be ashamed of the surge of adrenaline and the smile that comes to my face when I finally loose an arrow or pull the trigger and the animal I’ve been hunting falls. Seeing all these photos would make me feel like I couldn’t be a real hunter until I no longer felt like grinning ear to ear.

Whether you’re just getting your feet wet, or you’re an experienced hunter, you don’t need to buy into the trend. Just be yourself and don’t be afraid to show how happy you are. By following suit with the crowd of the “hangdog hipsters,” you are doing one of two things.

One: You are pausing the high fives and ear-to-ear grins to put on the somber face for the camera for a few minutes before they resume. Your feelings of awe and respect may very well be real, but you are posing and hiding your excitement for the purpose of impressing the world with that perfectly composed photo of you locked in a stoic gaze with the animal.

Two: Your primary concern is to show everyone that you are respectful to the animal, thinking that if you don’t show your deep emotions, you will be branded as one who isn’t truly respectful of the animal or in touch with the spirit of the hunt, or however you want to put it.

We all have somber moments. This year, after taking my tenth Dall ram, I spent a solid ten minutes just sitting there looking at him. But that moment was for me, not for the rest of the world. The photo I captured for public consumption shows me grinning like a lunatic, so happy with my accomplishment.

When your trophy is on the ground, whether it’s your first fork-horn buck or a giant ram, respect and gratitude are much more indelible than a photo. I do believe that excessive celebration disrespects the animal you just killed, but I also believe that putting on a face of respect for the purpose of chasing the almighty “Like” and approval of others is even more irreverent. Respect for the animal is shown both by the effort and sweat you put in, and how you handle and utilize the animal after you take it. Along with that, simply smiling like a fool and basking in those happy moments in your genuine happiness shows no less respect or appreciation of the animal and what you have earned. Enjoy yourself, and don’t be afraid to hide it under some other emotion. After all, isn’t that what hunting is about?