I’m nervous about this, but there is a point. Let me get to it. First, neither my wife nor anyone else’s wife — as far as I know — has died on a chukar hunt.
This whole thing started because some of my students learned I was a “YouTube” star (I disagree); for them, stardom meant having more than 100 subscribers to my channel (I have 3,000+), and a video with over 1,000 views (my video with the most views has over 1 million). They told me I should be getting paid for my videos, which I didn’t believe. But one of them showed me how to “monetize” them, and I’ve received a couple checks now from Google; I gave the kid $20.
“You have to make click-bait videos! ‘Wife Dies on Chukar Hunt’!” We had a good laugh about their idea, and moved on to the riveting world of participial phrases. But they kept bugging me about it, so I started thinking it might be fun, just about the time I decided I’d had it with Instagram (I deleted my account last summer). So I never did anything about it. The season came, and I sort of forgot about it.
Until today: looking through some of the photos of our hunts so far this season, feeling kind of ho-hum about the lack of moisture and the dry conditions and difficulty finding birds, I came across a 12-second video we staged with Leslie saying something about “dying” from hiking up a steep slope. So I took a few minutes and made a quick video, titled “Wife Dies on Chukar Hunt,” posted it on YouTube, and am now waiting to see what happens.
I wouldn’t even have tried this if I weren’t concerned about the impact of social media on our world. My students’ lives seem to revolve nearly entirely around it. They all have smartphones, even the poorest of them, and — before we decided to ban smartphones at school — would be on them all day long. As cross country coach, I had to make very specific and precise rules about when and where my runners were allowed to use their phones.
Social media has also invaded my little insulated chukartopia: before being persuaded to join Instagram (a cooperative effort by my students and wife, each with a different yet equally futile objective: students so they could stalk me, and wife to help promote this blog and its hat and shirt sales), I operated under the contented delusion that there weren’t many chukar hunters out there. But not long after joining Instagram, and a couple chukar hunting groups on Facebook, I quickly realized that, even during the off-season, the “pile of chukar on my pickup’s tailgate” photo was as common (to others; not me) as fake is to news these days. I felt naïve, and a little disturbed, both by my naïveté and by the existence of a genre of unselfconscious slaughter photos. This blog has featured its share of dead bird photos and videos, so I have no right to criticize anyone for sharing their accomplishment; chukar hunting is badass, and getting a limit is definitely an accomplishment.
But it does bother me, I’ll admit. Part of it might be envy: I’ve only limited one time in the 18 years I’ve been doing this, and I did post a photo of it on the blog (it was a long time ago); I’m not a good enough shot, and not fit enough to hike long enough to find enough birds to shoot limits more than I have. But the other part of it, the part I think social media encourages (especially Instagram, with its ridiculous algorithms of self-aggrandizement), is definitely not something that even remotely represents what I find amazing about this pursuit. If anything, it highlights the thing I like least about it: killing. If there’s a trend in social media representations of chukar hunting, it’s that it’s more about that awful, disingenuous euphemism “harvesting” and not so much about the hunting, or the dogs. And I’m not here to say my way’s the right way — to each his or her own (although, this is my blog). I’m just saying that I find much more intriguing things in any given chukar hunt than the carcasses I can pose for a tailgate hero shot.
The other thing I found extremely disingenuous about Instagram in particular, which led me to delete my account, was that it was a forum for false praise and very limited tolerance for honest exchange of ideas. Granted, it’s a photo app, but the comments on photos — unless the topic or caption was “edgy” — were unreflectively encouraging of slaughter as the primary objective of bird hunting. As long as the photos had some dead birds in them, they got lots of “Great job” and “Go get ’em, dude!” comments. I posted a photo of a private stream (the kind with water and trout in it) in England and linked it to the GOP assault on public lands in the U.S., and got no end of shit for it, which surprised me because — hello? — chukar hunting is a public land game. I mistakenly assumed my chukar hunting followers were down with protecting public land access. Apparently not. Partisan politics is alive and well, even in chukardom. Useful to get that learned.
Which brings me back to “Wife Dies on Chukar Hunt.” In one sense, it’s a “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” thing. In another, it’s a (probably ineffective) parody of social media and the fact that even as noble and rarified an activity as chukar hunting is not immune to the depravity of our social-media-obsessed world. Enjoy, or don’t. I really don’t care. Really. And if you feel the urge to comment solely with an emoji (as someone did on a recent post), do yourself a favor and unsubscribe.