Is Trophy Hunting Hurting Our Sport? One Veteran Says, ‘Yes!’

In a world driven by social media and massive digital platforms, one well-known outdoor personality believes the ship is going in the wrong direction.

Is Trophy Hunting Hurting Our Sport? One Veteran Says, ‘Yes!’

Not reared in a hunting family, my early education into the great outdoors came by way of print magazines and early outdoor television. Writers such as Bob Robb, Dwight Schuh, Bill Krenz and the like captivated me with their words. When it came to the big screen, my options, unlike today, were limited — thank God! Hey, I may ruffle some feathers here, but there are simply A LOT of outdoor television shows that just need to go away. The same, in my humble opinion, goes for a litany of YouTube Channels as well.

Twenty years ago, most every outdoor television show I watched taught me something. They were REAL shows filmed by REAL bowhunters. One that always struck a chord with me, mostly because of their flamboyant personalities, fun-loving nature and ability to consistently capture epic moments on film, was Archer’s Choice, hosted by Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo. The duo just always struck me as the real deal, and now with more than 400 episodes on outdoor television, this pair has forever inked their place in bowhunting lore.

Last January while roaming the aisles at the 2018 SHOT Show, I bumped into Ralph and Vicki. It was pure happenstance, but hey, everything happens for a reason. Before I knew it, Ralph and I were swapping stories. I could tell from the get-go that we shared a like-minded vision for just living, promoting and sharing the outdoor lifestyle. That day a plan was hatched.

“I just have so much I want to say,” Ralph told me. “We are just going about things all wrong. We are totally cannibalizing ourselves, and I absolutely hate it.”

Wanting him to expand further, I sat down with Ralph months after the show and this is what he had to say about the current state of our hunting industry, and where he feels it may be headed. Buckle in, this may get a little bumpy!

The smile says it all! Vicki Cianciarulo has put down some serious antler inches in her day, but still relishes the joy that comes from harvesting a tasty doe.
The smile says it all! Vicki Cianciarulo has put down some serious antler inches in her day, but still relishes the joy that comes from harvesting a tasty doe.

Just the Facts

“I’ve been in the outdoor industry for a long time,” Ralph stated. “Heck, it’s my life. I mean, I was changing target butts at age 13 just to pay for my range time. Vicki and I had our own successful pro shop and have been filming hunts for television for nearly 20 years. I only mention this to let people know that I’ve seen a lot. I don’t know it all, not even close, but I’ve seen a lot.

“In the 1980s and early 90s, when we had the shop, you couldn’t do anything wrong in archery and bowhunting. Nothing! Anyone that made a bow, arrow or broadhead pretty much had great profits. We couldn’t keep stuff in stock. Our shop was booming. Magazines were full of print ads and people were buying product. It was awesome. Those print ads were being seen by those people that had some extra income to spend on gear.

“Fast-forward now to the days of social media. A lot of pro shops are going under. Many can barely keep the doors open. Why? Simple. Because social media is targeting a different demographic that simply isn’t a buying demographic. Throngs of social media users simply have very, very limited amounts of expendable income. And most likely won’t for another 10 or 15 years.

“This isn’t their fault. They’re young. Heck, I like social media as much as the next person. I mean, it’s interesting. But those guys in their 40s, 50s and up are getting lost. We simply aren’t appealing to them through social media and digital platforms. They want to kick back in their very comfortable recliner with their very favorite bowhunting magazine and read about awesome gear and great bowhunting content. Oh, and by the way, they want to see some cool print ads. In addition, this same group loves to flip on the Outdoor Channel and watch their favorite shows — the shows they’ve watched for decades.

“I say this because we have, as an industry, just gone social and digital nuts. We can’t forget about the 40-years-old and up crowd. They are the influencers. They are the parents. They are the seed planters. Right now, we are failing our seed planters.”

All gloved-up, Ralph and his son, RJ, get ready to field-dress RJ’s very first whitetail buck, which just so happened to be a button buck. The duo was thrilled!
All gloved-up, Ralph and his son, RJ, get ready to field-dress RJ’s very first whitetail buck, which just so happened to be a button buck. The duo was thrilled!

Trophy Crazy

“The outdoor world has gone trophy crazy, and I think it’s just nuts,” Ralph went on. “We are in an age of judgement. No one can just shoot a deer, any deer, without swarms of online leeches letting them know that they should’ve given the deer another year. Some will even chastise them for harvesting a small buck or doe. You give a cowardly idiot a keyboard, and they instantly grow a pair of cojones.

“Vicki and I are blessed to talk to a lot of bowhunters each year at seminars and the like. There is one thing we always do: We ask everyone in the audience to be honest and raise their hand if they have a closet, box, chest … whatever, simply filled with spike and forky skull plates. Many will laugh, but a ton of hands will go up. Our question to them is then this: Then why are we telling our children and new hunters that this is wrong? Why are we judging? Why are we painting this crazy trophy-only picture? Hey, I get it, and I’m man enough to own up and say television has played a role in this. We see a lot of big animals get shot on outdoor television. We see a lot of big animals on social media and in print article pictures. But the truth is, a very, very small percentage of the population can travel from state, to state, to state in search of a trophy. Most guys and gals get a few weekends a year in a stand. Many of those guys and gals will never see a true trophy animal in their lifetime. They are just thrilled to be out there with their new bow, and then when they shoot a forky, they are elated. That is until they put a picture up on social media and get flat-out bullied. It makes me sick!

“Today, we have young bowhunters scared to post their success pics on social media. If they do post, many will start by apologizing for what they shoot. Hey, a trophy is in the mind of the beholder, and that my friends is a stinking fact. Who are we? Who are we to judge someone else? I want kids and young bowhunters to grab their bows and hit the woods. I want them to run arrows through spikes and fork-horned bucks. I want them to learn how to hunt and how to harvest cleanly. These bowhunters are our future. They are the ones who will buy licenses. They are the ones that will help our numbers increase, and the more numbers we have, the more power we have as a group.

“Now, don’t get me wrong, every bowhunter wants to shoot a big animal. But the reality is, this trophy craze is hurting and not helping us. Bowhunting is about stepping stones. When you first start, you should be flinging arrows. Most of the time you won’t be connecting, but you should be flinging.”

Ralph Cianciarulo is an elk nut! He loves the thrill of chasing bugling bulls, but when the freezer is running low and a cow tag is in his pocket, he jumps at the chance to harvest elk meat.
Ralph Cianciarulo is an elk nut! He loves the thrill of chasing bugling bulls, but when the freezer is running low and a cow tag is in his pocket, he jumps at the chance to harvest elk meat.

Practice What You Preach

“Many years ago, Vicki and I were in a ground blind with our son RJ. We were shotgun hunting, and a little button buck wandered out into the plot. RJ wanted to shoot it, and we wanted him to shoot it as well. At one point, I told RJ to wait. Not to wait because I didn’t want him to shoot a button buck, but because I needed him to hold off so I could move the camera. He was only 10 years old at the time, and he turned to us and asked, ‘Why does everything have to be on camera?’ I mean, from the mouth of babes. I looked at Vicki and she looked at me. Then, I simply shut the camera off. He pounded that button buck, and we were thrilled. And you know what, so was he.”

A young Ralph Cianciarulo proudly poses with a doe. The good news: Nothing has changed! He drops the string on a number of does each year.
A young Ralph Cianciarulo proudly poses with a doe. The good news: Nothing has changed! He drops the string on a number of does each year.

The Outdoor Lifestyle

Ralph continued, “This industry can’t be about ‘I just tagged out on a giant in Kansas, now I’m off to Iowa and then on to Illinois.’ We are destroying our audience with this. We need to get back to that picture of a few hunters huddled around the skinning-pole at deer camp wearing wool flannels — smiles smeared on their faces — deer of all sizes hanging. That picture is real. That picture is perfect. That picture is what we need to get back to. We have to bring the outdoor lifestyle back. It’s that lifestyle that appeals to the organic craze that’s going on. It’s the lifestyle that’s going to boost recruitment, not chest-thumping photos of giant animals and belittling others.

“So before we start managing wildlife, let’s manage our young and newbie bowhunters. Let’s let them love the lifestyle. Let’s let them go out and shoot a trunk full of spikes, fork-horns and 6-pointers. Let’s plant the seed, because once we plant the seed, it will be planted for life.”

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