HANNAH FINLEY, BIG-GAME HUNTER ATTACKED BY ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVISTS, SPEAKS WITH GOWILD ABOUT HER EXPERIENCES
Take out an imaginary piece of paper. On the said fictitious sheet, draw some lines to form a couple of buckets. Now write down all of the good things social media has done for the hunting community in one bucket, and all of the bad in the other. Does one bucket spill over? Which one?
I’m left unsure of which one. Lately, it would seem the bucket of negativity would be too heavy to fetch. You certainly couldn’t tote it without spilling. But I also know that through social media, I’ve found many great hunting podcasts, friends and connections. While I don’t know where I fall in this mental exercise, I am sure that the major platforms are a scary place for hunters.
Obviously, as I mention in my talk with Hannah, I hope GoWild can be an answer to that, but we have a long ways to go before GoWild has that kind of reach. And GoWild will never completely prevent these instances, because none of us are going to exclusively hide our content in an app for only hunters. And we shouldn’t have to. GoWild is intended to help share our more intimate stories of the hunt, the parts outsiders might not understand. Then we can—and should—put on our best public-facing image to avoid turning off those on the fringe.
I was surprised to learn Hannah is only 18 years old. Her humility and respect for others is honorable, and it’s something so many seasoned adults fall short of. It’s my hope that by sharing stories like this one from Hannah, we can all learn something. Young and old. New and experienced.
Enjoy the Q&A.
GoWild: Hannah, thanks for talking with us! Now, you’ve got quite the social media following, but for those who haven’t found you via the interwebs yet, tell us who you are, and what you like to hunt.
Hannah: Well thank you! I never planned on getting a following like this, I just wanted to share my adventures. I have been blessed with so much support and acknowledgment and I am beyond thankful for that. All I want is to be a good role model to hunters and outdoorsmen.
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: So I want to clarify with folks—you’re not one of these social media superstars who hunts once a year and squeezes a single photoshoot out for the next 364 days. You are the real deal. You’re hunting mountain lions and bears—animals that take real commitment. 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.
2017 was no different. I told myself this is the year I kill a bear. I joked that I didn’t care if it was bald and sunburnt, I was going to get it done. I hunted from August until October, which is when I finally got a chance at success. When that success finally came I cried tears of joy and humility. I had spent so much time on this moment and I was so thankful for the chance at this beautiful boar. I was so glad I did not give up after days of getting my butt kicked. All of my years of work had came down to this moment and I could not have been more grateful.
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: Recently I got an email from Wide Open Spaces and saw a headline about a hunter being harassed. That storyline strikes a chord with me, because solving for that was part of my motivation to start GoWild. We provide a place free of the trolls, and our community guidelines are clear: Promote conservation and hunting or get out. Unfortunately, the bigger players don’t have that kind of hunter support, and you were the victim of that. 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. That’s horrible. 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 harrassed. 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 that 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: We get literally thousands of these kind of awful comments on our Instagram account, and I’ve noticed most of them are on pictures of bears, wolves and lions. These are the animals that have been anthropomorphized—or assigned human emotions and traits—through our culture. Whether that’s kids’ movies, books or toys, we now teach people for their whole lives that bears are your friend. But they’re not—they’re apex predators that don’t care one bit about your emotional ties to them. That said, I also truly love bears. I love photographing them on my trail cameras and seeing the sows with their cubs, but I’m currently working on hunting my first bear, too. It’s a really complex relationship hunters have with these animals. I know I’m not alone here, but I’m interested on your take because I know you’re a conservationist, too. How do you explain these emotions to someone who doesn’t understand hunting?
Hannah: I also love bears. I love all the animals I pursue and in a way, I believe hunters love them more. When we are in the field we experience these animals in their purest and realest form. We see them hurt, we see them being born, we see them thriving, and we see them fighting. Sometimes a hunter will go weeks without seeing a human and the wildlife surrounding us is all we have. We hunt the terrain that they live in and sometimes it kicks our butts. Hunters are outdoors experiencing the same weather, dangers, and challenges that these animals survive in every single day and that will give you more respect for an animal than seeing one caged up in a zoo ever will. Hunters understand everything about these animals and we see them in ways most people will never have the opportunity to.
Although we love these animals and are passionate about them, we also have an understanding of what they truly are. We know that they are animals. They do not function in the same way as humans because they are not humans. They do not have families like we do and they live in a world where survival is their main goal. We know that is true because we see examples of it every day. It can be anything from seeing a male bear killing cubs so he can mate with a sow again to finding a dead fawn torn apart by coyotes. Experiencing things like this will really make you realize that animals live in an entirely different way than humans do. Since we see the truth of how nature actually functions, hunters know that we are not “taking an animal away from its family” or “killing a harmless little bear.” That is just not how nature works.
It may seem that the main goal of a hunt may be to harvest an animal, but it is not the only reason we hunt. We hunt for a connection with nature and to experience things other people will never see. We hunt because we care about the animals we pursue. We know that hunting is helping these animals and that science backs that up. We spend money for tags and licenses and we know that that money is going towards the conservation of the animals and landscape we care so much about. We volunteer for and support organizations that are out everyday saving and helping wildlife. There is nobody, and I mean nobody making as big of a contribution to conservation as hunters and anglers do—not PETA, not HSUS, and not anti-hunters. Hunters are absolutely the biggest driving force in saving these animals and we are proud of that. To say we love wildlife is an understatement.
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 that are receiving these attacks.
GoWild: We’ve developed GoWild to help kids—and adults—have a safe place where they can ask questions freely, and we’ve seen it gaining traction for sure. But 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.
GoWild: Hannah, thank you so much for your time. My last question: You’ve hunted so many different species, and I can tell in my short time of following your story that you’re always looking for your next adventure. So what is it? What’s your next big hunting trip?
I plan on spending this weekend working on some conservation projects and archery hunting deer. After that you will just have to see! I am always doing something new! Stay tuned for an exciting year of hunting, fishing, and enjoying life.