The Rinella Rebuttal: Hunting is Actually Dead Without Social Media
By: Brad Luttrell
I hate social media companies. Which is why I founded one.
I’m a hunter who has learned much of what I know about hunting through social media, but this relationship is complicated.
Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok—they’re not just quick ways to connect with friends anymore. These tech giants are the Master of Puppets, pulling strings with precision to control our desires, purchases, relationships, news digestion and political preference.
And Americans lap it up with a wide-mouthed spoon.
One would think hunters and anglers could disassociate from our Big Brother-like relationship to screens, but we have no moral high ground here. In fact, there is an argument that our content could be among the most morally compromised at times.
"Social media content is not inherently harmful to the modern perception of the hunter or angler. In fact, hunters and anglers need the power of social media more than ever before."
Much has and will continue to be said about social media’s complex relationship with the outdoors. As an industry insider, social media founder, and someone who has spent thousands of hours attempting to understand just how manipulated our addicted brains have become, I hope to add some unique perspective to a conversation that simmered for years and recently came to a boil on MeatEater and Blood Origins episodes with Matt Rinella.
Make no mistake—I think most social media platforms are harmful for human behaviors and mental health. That is foundational to my existence as the founder of GoWild, a social platform for outdoorsmen and women. With that premise established, I want to make one thing clear:
Social media content is not inherently harmful to the modern perception of the hunter or angler.
In fact, hunters and anglers need the power of social media more than ever before.
First, it’s critical to understand the detrimental effects and the control Silicon Valley has on not only our content, but our ability to learn.
Google is one of the five most cash flush companies in the world, and owns 91.5% of searches online, worldwide. YouTube’s search volume is larger than Bing, Yahoo, AOL and Ask.com combined. Google paid $1.65B for YouTube years ago, and now YouTube generates about that much in revenue every 30 days.
At a minimum, Google has a monopoly on serving answers to the world’s questions. As the company continues to distance itself (and its advertisers) from firearms and hunting content, we should all be concerned about losing this resource for hunting education. Legislative blows stay top of mind for sportsmen, but let’s not forget Google could pummel us by throttling our ability to learn with the stroke of a few keys to alter its search results.
Hunters often take issue with Facebook and Instagram’s “censorship” practices, but in truth, this does not even begin to highlight the concerns I have about these platforms. For the sake of clarity, I deleted my personal accounts on all Meta-owned platforms.
The Wallstreet Journal’s Facebook Files series uncovered countless disturbing truths about Facebook. According to the reporting, Facebook and Instagram knowingly ignore data proving the platforms are both harmful to its users. The worst of this report uncovered that millions of American teen girls—32% to be exact—said Instagram made them feel depressed about their bodies, and 6% of suicidal teens claim Instagram to be the cause of their dark thoughts. With that mounting evidence on his desk, the Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, still said the app’s effects on teen well-being is likely “quite small.”
"For me, the most concerning part of all of this is the fact that society just keeps trucking, accepting these misgivings as if it was just a child who spilled milk at the table."
Facebook has proven to be incredibly taxing for our bodies, according to Facebook researchers. Per this report, we lose sleep, underperform as employees and parents, and have body image issues because of it. Oh, and Facebook allows drug cartels to recruit, human traffickers to operate, and religious hatred to run rampant.
TikTok’s algorithm, likely on its way to being the most dangerously addictive of all, is falsely convincing teens they have mental disorders. The algorithm has been proven to reinforce negative emotions and content, a dangerous trait for its youthful audience.
Simply highlighting these reports—and these are just recent ones—is exhausting. These negative impacts and actions go on for Twitter, LinkedIn, and screen time in general.
For me, the most concerning part of all of this is the fact that society just keeps trucking, accepting these misgivings as if it was just a child who spilled milk at the table. If human trafficking, teen suicides, drug cartel recruitment, miss-diagnosed mental symptoms and mass depression is something we can overlook, I fear we’re already so morally compromised that any conversation around the ethics of hunting content are moot.
I will try anyway.
Hunters and anglers might be able to read everything laid out above and somehow say, “OK, but that doesn’t apply to me.” While I maintain we should care about all humans, and especially our children, I’ll bite on this premise for the sake of discussion and present our own ethical quandary.
"So let’s not kid ourselves: This often morally deficient ecosystem exists because the hunting, fishing and firearms community demands it."
When our favorite content creators beckon, we stare at the screen, consuming every tug of the line, snap of the bowstring and squeeze of a trigger. Some of these curators certainly feel the pressure to feed the content beast, which in turn leads to killing and casting just for content. I have personally spoken with influencers who admit they have additional pressure to kill a big buck to keep pace with their content calendar. Brands bring out reporters and influencers for “media hunts” to show off how lethal their products are (this practice goes back decades, pre-dating social media). The pressure for content has turned some hunting influencers into poachers. I even know of several influencers who took turns posing with my buddy’s deer in Texas so they had content to share.
This all happens. While there is a sliding scale of moral purity in these examples, this should be concerning to us all. Much of this is tasteless behavior.
This cycle is flagrant when laid out like this, but as I come into my sixth year in the hook and bullet industry, I can’t count how many times I’ve heard these conversations. It’s not all gross, but these practices are part of the industry’s fabric.
So let’s not kid ourselves: This often morally deficient ecosystem exists because the hunting, fishing and firearms community demands it. He or she with the largest stats can make six figures a year (and I know some anglers who are into the million+ range) both metaphorically and quite literally “killing it.”
With every new birth of an influencer, we have dozens more new YouTube channels trying to copy the recipe. As they all try, Silicon Valley wins. With every impression comes more ad revenue for Big Tech to fund its fight against us. Mainstream social media has branded us like cattle with their app icons, having taught us that we need the vanity metrics of like and follower counts to be ourselves and happy. Users keep scrolling and posting, striving for that 15 seconds of fame with a viral post that is largely viewed by bots and meaningless strangers who forget you exist seconds after that double tap.
"While social networks are chock full of their own issues, when asked if outdoorsmen should stop posting to social media, the answer is simple: No."
My position here is not new. Since 2018 with the launch of my podcast series Restless Native, I have vocalized my concern about the collective story sportsmen were telling. We must strive to do better, but advocating to remove all sportsmen from social media is not only a fruitless endeavor, it removes us from the most accessible, powerful platforms in the world for changing behavior.
For better and sometimes worse, social media has proven its ability to unite movements, raise awareness and change real world behavior. While social networks are chock full of their own issues, when asked if outdoorsmen should stop posting to social media, the answer is simple:
No one has ever gained a share of voice by becoming silent.
No one has ever changed perspective without trying.
No movement has ever gained momentum by never taking that first step.
It happens through a collection of small audiences. Even Gandi started out with just 78 followers, which became tens of thousands, all because he told a compelling story. His actions that started with just a few rocked the world.
We can do better with our content—there is no denying it. It is time to evaluate the content we as an industry fund, and that we as consumers demand. I agree. But just as killing the alpha coyote often opens up new territory for other packs, ending the conversation by not sharing our story on social media only creates a void that will be filled by anti-hunters.
Before you commit to sharing or not, it’s worth a review of some of the byproducts of telling a better story.
I was in college when social networks really came on the scene with Facebook, and I was the first editor of our student newspaper to embrace it. We were ahead of the times. I saw early what it could do when, because of social media, our website crashed due to a viral story because ESPN realized we beat them on a story and linked to us.
I’ve used social for work since 2009, and my first job in social media started in 2011. I’ve worked in this space and watched as Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Reddit all came into the fold. My first viral campaign effort was in 2012 on Reddit. I’ve also watched players like Vine, Clubhouse, Periscope, Vero and others flare up just to become completely irrelevant as quickly as they arrived.
In that time, I’ve consumed hunting content through nearly every platform you can think of—hunting forums, Reddit, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and of course, since 2017, our platform, GoWild. Quite frankly, despite growing up small game hunting with my dad, I sucked at hunting when I founded GoWild in 2016. I was desperately trying to find a place to connect with people regionally, and around the topics I was interested in. I was ultimately dissatisfied with my options, and created GoWild to help other hunters and anglers like myself build community and connection.
In all of this, I’ve seen nearly every angle of argument around too many hunters, not enough hunters, too many anglers in our fisheries, frustrations with fish mapping apps creating crowding on lakes, crossbows impacting harvests quantities, and this list goes on for literally eternity.
I have opinions, but even with a career of experience in social media, I still consider myself learning. I’m speaking on these topics at SHOT Show this year with maybe the world’s foremost expert, Chuck Rossi, and even despite my experience, I still have some imposter syndrome about it. I still prefer to ask questions and prod instead of proselytizing.
Through social media and podcasts, the R3 debate has raged recently. While I have a background in social media, R3 is a topic I’m passionate about, but I’m not an expert. With the recent R3 debates, one person I knew we needed to hear and learn from was Charles ‘Swanny’ Evans, a Certified Wildlife Biologist and the Director of Research and Partnerships for the Council to Advance the Hunting and Shooting Sports (CAHSS). For those who don’t know, CAHSS is the leading organization behind the R3 narrative, initiative and data. R3 is the Recruitment, Retainment and Reactivation of hunters.
"The challenge with a national conversation about “how many hunters do we need?” is that this answer varies not only regionally, but across species and down to the county."
You may also recognize Swanny’s name or at least be familiar with his work from the Wall Street Journal’s article about hunting’s appeal to a new audience. He and Hank Forester created Georgia’s incredibly successful Field to Fork program with the Georgia Wildlife Federation and National Deer Association. This program has been modeled by many states due to its success.
Within the last decade, Swanny spent a portion of his career sharp shooting overpopulated deer because states didn’t have enough hunters to control the population or it wasn’t deemed socially acceptable in some areas. He’s spent the last six years working on R3 for various organizations, and feels much of the public narrative around R3 is only talking about one R—the recruiting—while the efforts go far beyond that.
“R3 improves the experience of the existing constituents, and improves access for everyone, not just new people,” Swanny said. “We want to simplify regulations, provide access to information, improve societal acceptance, create public archery and shooting ranges, and retain hunters, not just recruit them.”
Brad Luttrell speaking to R3 Coordinators at NWTF’s Convention in 2020
The challenge with a national conversation about “how many hunters do we need?” is that this answer varies not only regionally, but across species and down to the county.
“In reality, when we talk about how many hunters we can handle as carrying capacity of hunters, it’s relative to the target species,” Swanny said. “In Georgia, we may not need more turkey hunters, but we need more deer hunters and can handle a lot more hunters for small game.”
Most hunters, whether new or multi generational, are going to focus on private land. While this doesn’t mean public land hunters will not see pressure, especially in more popular states that see higher volumes of non resident tag sales, it does highlight complexity in the narrative of crowding concerns.
For example, only about 13% of the hunting population hunts only on public land, according to a US Fish & Wildlife 2016 study, and 21% of hunters do a bit of public and private. This leaves an overwhelming majority of hunters focusing exclusively on private land. For context, there were 9.2 million big game hunters in 2016, 8.1 million of which are whitetail hunters, 2 million hunted turkeys, and only about 700,000 hunters across all states hunted elk. That leaves 3.5 million small game hunters and 2.4 million migratory bird hunters.
What’s interesting is it’s surely the case that those 700,000 elk hunters—a single digit percentage of the total volume of hunters—may in fact face more pressure in some areas than the more than 8 million people hunting whitetail on mostly private land. Regardless of their experience, one sub group’s experience can’t dictate the actions of the whole.
It is a fact that much of the east could not only handle but needs more hunters. CAHSS has spoken on this for years at small industry events, but few of the public narratives have invited them to the table for their expertise. In fact, they have been turned away when they’ve tried to shed light on the challenges of the anti-R3 narrative to those who speak out against it.
So, yes we do in fact need more hunters for the sake of population management of species like whitetail and hogs. While heavily debated, Swanny and anyone with CAHSS will tell you that the narrative hasn’t changed despite recent bumps in hunter numbers. How many people hunt is only part of our challenges, though. Another you may not have considered?
Hunting is too white.
It’s also too male, but we’re making more progress on that front, so I will focus on our diversity.
"By limiting hunting participation and recruitment to those who are already doing it (ahem, white people), we’re also failing to build any political, economical or social gains among other authorities or audiences."
Before we dive into that any deeper, let’s establish a few truths:
Just as being outdoors is proven to not only improve mental health, using a screen is proven to retard our social growth—that is the abilty to speak with and understand emotional queues from other humans. In his book “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked,” author Adam Alter highlights a camp that took kids who were spending hours online and for a week, taught them archery and other outdoor skills. Just five days later, they all tested 30% higher in their ability to connect and communicate, as well as recognize emotional queues.
They learned to be more empathetic through the outdoors.
White people are already far more likely to get outdoors than blacks, at 50% and 38% outdoor participation respectively, according to a study from the Outdoor Foundation. This is across any outdoor activity. Now, think about the fact that hunting is only 3% NON white, and you can see we have a serious problem with diversifying and welcoming others into the fold when compared to other outdoor activities.
By avoiding national recruiting efforts like those from Swanny and Hank, we’re keeping hunter recruitment to only our friends and family—we’re not diversifying. I’ll push this even further, and briefly just assume you don’t care about diversity, equity and inclusion. Let’s say you just want to keep doing what you’ve done. By limiting hunting participation and recruitment to those who are already doing it (ahem, white people), we’re also failing to build any political, economical or social gains among other authorities or audiences.
Or in other words, diversifying hunting’s demographics is one of the best things we can do to preserve it because it strengthens our voter base.
We’re currently on a path to destroy ourselves.
Anyone watching the legislative fights that groups like Sportsmen’s Alliance face every single day knows we’re dying the death of a thousand cuts. Hunting isn’t going to be eradicated from one piece of legislation—it’s one ignorant bill after another.
Don’t take my word for it. Consider that 12 years before Facebook was founded, a rural sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison predicted if sociological trends, like increasing urbanization, smaller family sizes and growing anti-hunting sentiment continued, hunting could be extinct by the year 2050. Even left leaning NPR recognizes the challenges against hunters—and society if our conservation model fails—while hunters are still raging about crowding.
It’s the woodsman who can’t see the forest for the trees.
These losses are political battles, and they’re lost, in my opinion, because of two major factors. The first is that hunters have failed miserably to diversify and grow our own participation with new demographics, which would be one of the greatest wins at the ballot box. More rural, white hunters, and therefore more rural, white voters, does not give us an ounce of market share at the polls. We should listen when groups like Hunters of Color speak up, and we should all do more to diversify our content and audience. The truth is, welcoming the black, latino and asian communities, more women, and, yes, even the hipsters, is what’s best for hunting because inclusion is the best way to see our world for what we know it to be. When these groups pick up hunting, they take that positive experience and narrative back to new audiences us white guys haven’t reached.
The second political factor comes back around to how we’re sharing this story. National politicians have numerous advisers, coaching them on every speech, Tweet and even how they style their hair. These advisers procure an image that the research says will resonate with voters. It’s a thoughtful, albeit a little fake usually, process.
Hunters need to procure our image.
This doesn’t mean we share a false narrative, it means we focus on all of the narrative.
All of it.
When you only share the trophy photos, and someone calls you a murderer, that is because that is the story you’re telling. Perception is reality.
In contrast, when you post about the adventure, the ups, the downs, the food, the conservation, the bad shots, the emotional roller coaster days, the joy in knowing your food source, the cold sunrises, the child’s first deer, the hawk you saw catching a mouse, and every other wonderful moment we get to experience as sportsmen, it’s hard to combat why we do it.
"Social media isn’t going away, but hunting could."
Things have changed. I personally don’t want to be a part of some of these platforms. They’re bad for our mental and physical health. I am also interested in how fast platforms like Discord and TikTok have proven that the throne of power can shift.
I also believe in the deepest shadows of my soul that our platform, GoWild, can both meet young adults where they are (screens) to inspire them to get outside, and help hunters share the grittier side of hunting and fishing in an environment and audience that gets it. We have a platform where traditional and non-traditional hunters (which, I guess just means non-white males at this point) can come in and use social media to learn from an awesome community. It’s literally what we built it to do.
Social media isn’t going away, but hunting could. We need to do better, and it will take a series of micro efforts to make it happen. You’re either working towards improving the narrative, poll positions and demographics, or you’re not.
Yes, mainstream social media is degrading humanity. It’s documented.
Yes, hook and bullet content seems to be done more and more in the name of vanity.
But no, we shouldn’t stop posting. In fact, we should post like our lifestyle depends on it.
Because it just might.
About the Author
Brad Luttrell is the Cofounder, CEO of GoWild, a social commerce platform for hunting, shooting and fishing enthusiasts. The award-winning writer, photographer and creative director quit his advertising career to become an entrepreneur after being disenchanted with Silicon Valley’s treatment of hunters. Since 2016, he and three cofounders have built and scaled GoWild, a platform GearJunkie called the best social media app for hunters of 2021. Luttrell has made his fight against Silicon Valley public, having boycotted and deleted his personal social profiles and pulled his company’s budget from Facebook and Instagram. Despite all of this, Luttrell’s friends mostly just know him for his Double Smoked Venison Chili.