Categories: Philosophy + Politics

Camo Culture and Contempt

If you want to give someone a visual cue that you hunt, inviting them into your home where you have heads mounted on your wall will likely be very effective. However, if you’d like to signal — outside your home — that you culturally identify as a hunter, arguably the most effective way is to wear camouflage clothing. Donning camo, especially as part of one’s daily wardrobe, has become a strong signal of cultural identity, a clear lifestyle choice. Nothing screams “I like to hunt” quite like a camo hat worn to the mall.

Seeing camo displayed so overtly, especially in non-hunting contexts, might lead some non-hunters to think immediately of negative caricatures of hunters: hunters as dull, careless, offensive, and inconsiderate. Perhaps it’s that many of the most stridently ideological hunters wear camo clothing in day-to-day life, often with a jarring ‘I hunt. It’s legal. Get over it.’ attitude in tow. Or, perhaps it’s that camo clothing can make one look more intimidating and less approachable to non-hunters. And even for those who aren’t offended or intimidated, camo could still be seen as a marker of ideological difference. Many non-hunters may see a person wearing camo and think, “He and I are dissimilar and probably wouldn’t get along”.

Whatever it is, seeing a hunter in camo can be a lightning rod for expressed or implicit disdain directed towards that hunter and hunters more broadly. Camo seems to have the power to temporarily turn non-hunters that in general support hunting (‘I think it’s cool that you hunt to put food on the table.’) toward less supportive thoughts (‘I bet that you drive a giant mud truck and shoot deer right out of its window. You probably don’t care a lick about the environment.’). It’s a weird — and unfortunate — dynamic: camo contempt.

I’ve seen this camo contempt play out often enough that when the time came to consider purchasing camo for myself — when I started to consider the potential utility of camo for my hunting — I approached the issue with trepidation.

Did I really want to be the guy dressed in full camo? Did I want to possibly elicit a litany of negative stereotypes from my city-dwelling neighbors as I prepared for a weekend spent pursuing deer? More importantly, did I want to present a potentially intimidating persona to non-hunters?

Because one of my goals — with Modern Hunters and in my daily life — is to help make hunting accessible to non-hunters and to the hunting curious, I think carefully about these sorts of questions, questions that might never cross the minds of many hunters. I want to seem approachable. I want to reduce the implicit biases that my visual cues might elicit. Most of all I want to make hunting something that is comfortable and appealing to non-hunters.

Wearing camo clothing in my daily life — where it serves no functional purpose — seems to detract from my ability to fulfill these goals. So, I don’t. When I prepare for a weekend spent out in the backcountry hunting, I toss my camo shirt and hat into a bag and don a normal set of clothes. I outfit myself in camo only once I get to the trail-head.1

You might ask: why would I change my behavior in response to the ill-conceived biases of others? Thanks to the First Amendment, am I not free to wear basically whatever I want — even if it is highly offensive? Why should I inconvenience myself to protect the image that others hold of me? Shouldn’t those who find camo off-putting just ‘get over it’?

They should. And as a hunter, I should help — not hinder — them to do so.

You see, stereotypes aren’t broken down by divisive ‘us vs. them’ polemics. They aren’t broken down by personal, retributive attacks. They aren’t broken down by inducing defensiveness in those who hold the stereotypes. And they certainly aren’t broken down by pointedly insisting others simply ‘get over’ them.

The best way I’ve found to break down stereotypes about hunters is to avoid eliciting them in the first place, bringing up hunting as a topic on my own terms. I avoid external signals — like camo — that might cue stereotypes and try first to appeal to areas I know that many care about: animal welfare, environmentally conscious food consumption, personal health, and proper management of wild animal populations. I introduce hunting within these contexts, not within the divisive cultural milieu that has sprung up around the issue. I don’t throw hunting’s legality or historical ubiquity in the face of non-hunters. Instead, I present it to them as an activity that fulfills many of their own stated desires and goals.

This works. Because it works so well, I don’t wear camo except when in the field hunting. I avoid ascribing to camo culture as much as possible, hoping that one day camo might elicit flattering — rather than unfavorable — associations.

What do you think about wearing camo in daily life? Have you experienced any camo contempt? If so, what’d you do about it?

  1. I should note that living in an urban setting in California makes this a salient issue for me. If I lived in another part of the country, perhaps more rural, or perhaps with a greater percentage of hunters, this would be less of an issue. 
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