I can't recall on who's podcast I first heard about it but I know it was Ben O'Brien of the Hunting Collective and Meat Eater Inc. who I first heard speaking about "grip 'n' grin" photos and how they resonate with hunters, anti hunters, and those on the fence and it got me thinking. My relationship with grip and grins is complicated. I've rarely had issues with other people's but personally it always felt forced and unnatural forfor to post such photos. After a bit of soul searching I believe the core of my "why" is that they do a poor job of telling the very long and complicated story that precede and follow it.
The above photo is of me with my first bow kill. It was a nine point buck I took on my grandparent's property in upstate New York and if asked, I could recall every detail leading up to this monumental event which would forever shape me as an archer and hunter. Hunters can look at at this photo with understanding that my grin is simply the manifestation of so many complicated emotions running through my body at that very moment. But to the un-initiated or the anti-hunter the image of a smiling man or woman standing over a very dead and very beautiful creature can be off putting and understandably so.
A photo says a thousand words but the problem with that thousand is it usually lacks context. How could those unfamiliar with hunting understand my emotions at this moment having practiced and hunted for years without success to finally come to full draw on this buck one cold November night. They couldn't possibly feel the pressure I did as I released my arrow or the momentary relief when I saw it hit vitals and heard the air leave his lungs. Or how it felt to sit in silence in the cold darkness, replaying every decision and action in my head over and over as I waited for him to pass peacefully, hoping that he was not suffering. And finally the overwhelming relief when my cousins, who came to help me, and I tracked and recovered him in the dark only fifty yards from where I shot him.
That is my problem with grip and grins. I am not against them in anyway as long as they aren't completely distasteful (you know who you are...) but they simply do a poor job of telling the epic journey that started long before this photo was taken and continued long after. In the age of social media I accept that my role as a hunter is more than just steward of the land and it's creatures but also ambassador of this great past time. I not only want hunting to survive but I want it to thrive. That doesn't mean I want the woods to be as packed as Time Square but I do want to live in a world where people are at least educated in the ways of hunting. Where they share the same respect for their meat as myself and my fellow hunters and don't view the hunter as pariah but as the essential conservationist and adventurer that they are.
For that reason I'm more careful about what type of kill photos I post. The difference is often as simple as a reverent stare vs a big smile (see example below). Personally I consider that a small price to pay if it is the difference between alienating someone who is on the fence about hunting. But to each their own. I don't look down on anyone who posts their grip and grins but figured since I spent enough time thinking about it I might as well post an article about it.