Finally! A Hunter Hero on The Big Screen

Aug 28, 2018

There is a big push on right now to promote “The Three R’s” for hunting -- Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation – as since the l980’s the number of hunters in the US has been on the decline, and this is cutting into budgets for state fish and game agencies, the hunting industry, and the enjoyment of the outdoors by millions. 

Limited access to hunting lands is definitely part of the reason why hunting is on the decline. But, anti-hunter domination of the media targeting hunters as unethical bad guys sure doesn’t help.

We live in the Information Age when electronic devices projected onto screens have become a major part of how we perceive the world. There are a lot of hunting shows on TV, but compared to the audiences of shows like “NCIS” or “Walking Dead,” hunting TV shows don’t reach that many people, and those that are reached are primarily those who already hunt. 

In the past, feature films and mainstream TV shows often featured hunters as heroes.  Just how mainstream films and TV shows influence the numbers of hunters is not always clear, but when Fess Parker was starring as “Davy Crockett,” raccoon caps were best-sellers world-wide.  

When Robert Redford’s fly fishing film, “A River Runs Through It,” hit the screens in 1992, two years later there were 100,000 more fly fishermen in the water, twice as many hours were spent on fly fishing, and business in the fly fishing industry also doubled.  And, if you ask the Archery Trade Association if feature films have influenced participation in archery, they definitely say that interest in archery from women skyrocketed when Geena Davis almost made the Olympic Archery Team  and Jennifer Lawrence was shooting a bow in “Hunger Games.” 

In the last few years, the number of mainstream TV shows and feature films about hunting have declined.  That in itself isn’t good for the Three R’s, but look at the stories that have been told. 

“Hunt for the Wilderpeople,”  (2016) is a heart-warming movie about an adopted father and son in New Zealand who hunt. In the film the boy accidentally shoots and wounds his adopted father, but not badly and the film ends as they walk off into the wilds with their guns. (The film can now be seen on Hulu. )

Then in 2017 came “Walking Out,”   another story about a father and son going hunting. The father and the boy’s mother have divorced, but the father talks his son into coming along with him on a moose hunt in Montana. The boy comes, reluctantly. They venture off into the woods. When they come to the place where the moose has been seen, it’s been poached and left behind to spoil. Worse yet, a grizzly bear has taken up residence on the dead moose, and when father and son arrive the bear charges. The boy climbs a tree and then his rifle goes off, accidentally shooting his father. The rest of the film is about the boy carrying his badly wounded father out of the woods. This film got some good reviews, , but at the box office, the film flopped.

Most recently, Josh Brolin starred in “The Legacy of the Whitetail Deer Hunter.”  Again, father and mother spilt up. Father wants the boy to come along on a hunt. Reluctantly, the boy comes along. The father has his own hunting TV show, and so he starts making a show about his son’s first hunt, with help from a cameraman. The boy spends more time on his cell phone talking to his girlfriend, but finally he does get a lesson of target shooting  from his father that they enjoy. They end up chasing a huge buck. Finally, they come on the buck. The boy has his gun, but is really struggling with buck fever. Finally, he does get the gun in position and he shoots, however, the buck jumps and the cameraman gets wounded. The rest of the film is devoted to father and son getting the wounded cameraman back to a hospital. At times this is a comedy, but the story again is a tragedy of a father taking his son out on his first hunt.

In all three cases, there is no indication that the boys took a Hunter Education class..

In reality, hunting is as safe as ping pong – more hunters are hurt by falling from tree stands than gun accidents -- and in all 50 states kids must take and pass a Hunter Education Class to get a license. These films definitely did not help with the Three R’s.

Incidentally, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” was a box office success, but “Walking Out” only drew $101,000 at the box office, and “The Legacy of the Whitetail Deer Hunter” is only available on Netflix. 

However, all is not lost. Right now in the theaters there is a brand new feature film, “Alpha,” about a boy’s first hunt. The story is set in Europe 20,000 years ago when a tribe must hunt to survive. The boy reluctantly comes along on his first hunt for bison. The herd of bison stampede and run over a cliff, taking the young boy with them down into a deep ravine. The hunters assume the boy is dead, but they boy survives and he’s now on his own. He learns to survive and encounters a wounded wolf. He could have killed the wolf with his bow, but he befriends it and the two become a partners – perhaps the first man’s best friend.  The boy and his wolf then must work together to reconnect with the boy’s family before winter sets in.

“Alpha” isn’t a cheap film. The production is by Sony Pictures. The visuals are spectacular and the production cost was $51 million. The film opened on July 17. The box office for the first week was $20 million domestic and another $7.6 million aboard so far, and reviews are very positive.  

So, if you want to help the Three R’s of hunting, get the whole family together and take everyone to see “Alpha,” which is showing in theaters all across the US right now. This will not only inspire the family, but voting with your feet for such a beautiful film, you encourage Hollywood to make more hunter-friendly movies. 

--James A. Swan, Ph.D.