Brad Luttrell, Co-Founder of GoWild, recently interviewed big game hunter Hannah Finley. Ms. Finley was recently the victim of death threats and abuse after an animal rights activist posed a picture from a bear hunt. The following Q&A was edited for length. Click here to read it in its entirety.
GoWild: For those who haven’t found you via the interwebs yet, tell us who you are, and what you like to hunt.
Hannah: I was born in Utah but have spent most of my time here in Arizona. As the daughter of a wildlife manager, the outdoors has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember. I have lived all around Arizona, even in Tusayan—right next to the Grand Canyon—and have gotten to explore many parts of the west.
My love for nature started very young with experiences like fishing and hiking to find some sheds (little did my brother and I know my dad had already found them and GPS’d them so he could hike us in there to “find” them). I know, coolest dad ever, right?
Every little experience like that planted a passion and dedication to the outdoors inside me that has led me to become the person I am today. When I first got the opportunity to hunt, I was hesitant. I did not know many girls that hunted and I was unsure if it was the right thing for me, but as soon as I spent that first day outdoors hunting, I was absolutely hooked.
Now I spend almost every weekend hunting on top of being a full-time college student with a 4.0 GPA. I cannot get enough of it.
I hunt every species I have the chance to, but I really just genuinely enjoy being outdoors. When I am not hunting I am volunteering on conservation projects or fly fishing. I share my adventures on my Instagram (@hannah.finley) with the goal of inspiring girls and people, in general, to get involved with the outdoors. I want to be the role model that I struggled to find as a little girl.
GoWild: What’s the hardest hunt you’ve ever done?
Hannah: Wow that is a tough question. I have had so many challenges on all of my hunts and I have had many unsuccessful days (unsuccessful in taking an animal but not unsuccessful in having fun and enjoying nature). I can ensure you this is not because of lack of dedication.
That being said, I would have to say my bear and lion hunts have most likely been my hardest hunts. I have gone bear hunting with my dad and brother many times but in the last two years really dedicated myself to being able to harvest one.
My first year was a rollercoaster of bad luck and beautiful moments. We saw 48 bears that year, all sows with cubs or bears in areas closed to bear hunting.
Despite not taking a bear that year, I had the most fun fall of my life. I hunted every weekend from August until October. When I say hunted I mean I got up at 3 am every morning, hiked eight miles into a canyon to glass, spent the day there, occasionally glassed up a bear too far to shoot or with cubs, and then hiked out to do it all again the next day. I loved every sunburnt and exhausted moment of it . . .
My bear came to rest on one of the steepest and rockiest hills I have ever been on. So steep that we had to tie all four of his paws to trees just to keep him from rolling while we field dressed him. We got to my bear early that morning and did not get packed out until 4 p.m.
I fell down that steep hill more times that day than I have ever fallen. I guess having the weight of a bear hide, some meat, and a bear skull on your back can do that. Going down was still a lot easier than going back up. It was definitely one of my hardest days but I was too excited to care.
GoWild: [Asking about harassment by anti-hunters] Can you recap what happened?
Hannah: Over the last three weeks I have gotten countless threats, messages and comments because a vegan “activist” posted the picture of the bear I was lucky enough to harvest in October. She posted the picture with the goal of having her followers attack me, saying that I killed a “harmless bear cub” and that people like me should pay for what we do. She even included the hashtag #HuntTheHunters.
After that post, the picture was shared over twenty times, furthering the spreading of false information with the goal of harming me and my page. Most of the posts encouraged followers to report me to get me taken off Instagram. I refuse to engage with anyone attacking me or making vile comments so they all got blocked. The only people I reply to are those that genuinely want to understand hunting, instead of assuming things and making horrible comments.
I do my best to educate people if they are willing to learn. The attacks and harassment continued heavily for three weeks but it’s starting to slow down now.
Looking at those “activist” pages it is clear to see that most of the anti-hunting posts are pictures of women. I truly believe they attack us because we do not fit into the stereotype of what they want a hunter to be. I even got comments attacking my womanhood for being a hunter.
Many of which calling me a man, a redneck, or attacking how I look (my favorite of which said “Your hair looks stupid under that hat”). Some of the comments were scary, some were mean, but most of them were so ignorant they were humorous.
I know why I do what I do and I know what we do is right, so I chose to make a stand for hunting and hold my ground. Luckily, that resonated with many people and I was soon receiving messages with just as much, if not more, support as I was getting hate.
I am very thankful for everyone that showed me support in that time and I think we were able to educate many people on the benefits of hunting.
GoWild: At one point you said you got 400 hateful and ignorant comments in 30 minutes and blocked over 2,000 rude and awful people . . . Is this the worst you’ve ever been harassed, or was it just the first time it’s ever been picked up by a national news organization?
Hannah: This is the worst I have ever been harassed. Of course running a public page with the goal of sharing my hunting adventures has always led to some comments by anti-hunters or those who do not hunt, but most of them have been reasonable and willing to listen to me when I describe to them the benefits of hunting and what hunters do for conservation.
Generally, the comments I have gotten in the past have been from people who were just misled and lacked an understanding of what we do and why we do it. Usually in those cases I have been able to kindly present facts and stories to inform them and change their perspective on hunting. I do the best I can to keep nonhunters from becoming anti-hunters because that is very important to hunters and the future of hunting.
What made this recent occurrence the worst mostly has to do with the people who were involved. After that picture was shared by an anti-hunting page the first time it continued to be shared more than 20 times with each page spreading more false information about my hunt and encouraging their followers to attack me.
The harassment started on the first of January and still continues, although most of them have been blocked or found a new hunter to attack now. These people have absolutely no understanding of bears or hunting in general and turned their lack of knowledge into a vicious and horrible movement of threats and comments against me.
Despite the vile threats and comments I was blessed to have support from many sportsmen and even some support from people of different backgrounds. The hunting community did an amazing job in holding our ground and educating those that were misled.
GoWild: You know, my biggest fear with all of the harassment that goes on within open platforms like Instagram is that some kid is going to get their first deer, post it, get harassed, and never hunt again. Today’s youth are so impacted by their peers, that one batch of comments like what you went received could extinguish a future hunter. Do you worry about that?
Hannah: This is definitely a huge problem we will face with the popularity of social media and it is something I worry about as well. Even though I am only 18 years old, hunting has been a huge part of my life for a long time and I am headstrong enough to hold my ground on things like this. However, a new hunter that has not yet become as involved in the outdoors may have a harder time with negative comments or harassment.
I am a huge supporter of ethical outdoorsmen and conservationists and cannot stress enough the importance of supporting each other in times like these. At the end of the day our differences do not matter, our similarities do. Sometimes we are so busy arguing about what bow we should be shooting, the size of an animal, etc, that we lose track of the fact that we are all on the same team here. If hunters do not come together to support our passions and each other, we may lose our ability to do what we love.
It is also important for us to inspire people to get involved and to portray all aspects of hunting in a respectful manner. My goal for my Instagram (@hannah.finley) is to do just that. If the tradition of hunting is waning it is up to us and only us to inspire others to find passion in the outdoors like we do. We should be posting tasteful images and videos, discussing what hunters do for conservation, and supporting each other.
Every move we make and thing we do can have an effect on the future of hunting—good or bad. Volunteer for conservation efforts because that is really what it is all about, and share that! Take a kid hunting or help out at a youth hunting camp. If hunting is your passion, do everything you can do to protect the future of it.
Getting people involved that are outside of the normal stereotype of hunters (more women and youth) will help secure the future of hunting in times where it is being attacked. Since anti-hunting organizations (Humane Society of The United States, PETA, etc.) know that, they are more likely to attack women and children. We especially need to be standing up for and encouraging the people who are receiving these attacks.
GoWild: What other advice would you have to young hunters about dealing with the anti-hunters that will certainly come if you’re participating on most social networks?
Hannah: My biggest word of advice would be to know why we do what we do and stand by it. Hunters are brave enough to work for our food and we contribute so much to conservation that we should be proud of who we are. Never let a mean comment get you down because most of the people making them spend their lives behind a computer while we spend ours out enjoying nature.
Be proud of who you are and what we do.
On the other side of that, there is no need to provoke anti-hunters or to make nonhunters into anti-hunters. Post classy images, do not harass wildlife and help to inform the public about what we do as hunters. If someone comes to your page to attack you, rise above it.
If we are the ones that hold our ground respectfully and choose to be kind while others are vile, it says a lot about hunters. When someone comes to your page who is clearly uneducated choose to inform them instead of attack them. Be the better person and enjoy your life.
You can learn more about GoWild and its efforts to get more people into the outdoors at timetogowild.com. The GoWild app is currently available in the Apple AppStore and will be out on Android soon.