An Open Letter to Michael Waddell

Written as if he were across the table from me.

Dear Michael,

I’ve watched your show for a long time. You’ve had a positive impact on so many lives (I’ve personally heard some of the stories) and I appreciate your support for free speech, gun rights, conservation efforts and just about everything else you care about. In fact, we’d probably agree on 99 issues out of 100. I just don’t agree with promoting the tactic of “reaping” turkeys and how you’ve handled the pushback from the hunting community.

I don’t like reaping because it’s objectively unsafe. In 2020, an Alabama man mistook an 11-year-old for a turkey and killed him. This year, three men in Virginia were shot by a fellow turkey hunter. We’d all like to believe we live in a world where people are smart enough to be safe, but it’s not reality. Stupid people are everywhere. Colorado was close to implementing a hunter’s orange requirement for archery season because of a stupid hunter. And, reaping flies in the face of the hunter safety programs that are taught across the country. I just don’t think it can be debated reaping is a safe way to hunt.

I also think reaping is a more effective way to kill a bird, but like you, I’d be interested in seeing hard data on it. It certainly triggers a different biological response in Toms. When calling in a bird with clucks and purrs, we’re essentially reversing biology (the hens are supposed to go to the Tom, not the other way around). That’s what makes it so difficult. You’re a fantastic caller – you know this already. With reaping, we’re triggering a competitive response and I believe that’s a little easier to pull off. Again, I’d defer to the science on this, but it’s where I stand currently. There certainly isn’t any science that shows reaping is more difficult than traditional tactics.

And, I dislike the optics of reaping; I believe it feeds into the caricatures Hollywood has painted of us forever. Anti-hunters can’t rely on science, so they have to rely on emotions. I believe imagery is the most powerful driver of emotion available to anti-hunters. Do videos featuring reaping serve us well in the long run? Perhaps they don’t hurt us as much as I’d like to believe, but I can’t imagine they help us in any way. And you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t want to see more wannabe influencers reaping in the turkey woods. It’s also hard to imagine why you’d think folks who oppose reaping are more dangerous than true anti-hunters (especially when many states have banned reaping already).

I’m a simple man, Waddy. I was born and raised in North Florida and before moving West, I spent most of my time bass fishing (with a little hog and turkey hunting mixed in). My father lead the singles ministry at a Baptist church. My grandfather served in the Korean War and retired as a police officer. I served in the U.S. Marine Corps and a considerable part of my day job consists of working with veterans. I like collard greens and sweet tea. I can’t help but feel confused (and pissed off) when I hear you say people who disagree with reaping are Marxists and communists. Am I a Marxist? Am I a communist? I sure didn’t feel like a communist when a mortar shell landed next to me in Afghanistan (thankfully it was a dud). I didn’t feel like a Marxist when I put an Army combat veteran on his first bird last year. I didn’t feel like a narcissist when I watched an 8-year-old get blown up by an IED.

(I was ComCam, not a door kicker. I feel very fortunate to have been around some true badasses, but don’t think for one second I’m saying I am one).

Maybe you’ve never heard of me or my website. It’d make sense; I’m small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. Maybe your comments weren’t directed at me at all. And I wouldn’t fault you for not knowing who I am; I operate in anonymity most of the time (though quite a few people know the “man behind the curtain.”) That’s by design, of course, because I have no desire to be famous or to make a living in the hunting industry. I’m simply trying to be a voice for the hunters who feel disenfranchised or left behind. Maybe I give them a laugh or two. So, are these hunters Marxists and communists as well? Do you really know what a Marxist or communist is?

You may not like me, and you may not like what I have to say. Nobody’s perfect and I’m no exception. But, the point is rhetoric matters. You have the bigger platform and the bigger voice. And I wouldn’t be shocked if you never saw this. But, if you do read this, I only ask you think twice before labeling dedicated turkey hunters (who seem only concerned with the preservation of our flocks for future generations, by the way) as low-life narcissists, “North Koreans,” “anti-hunter hunters” or communists. We’re allowed to have our own beliefs, and you have no right to make sweeping generalizations about who and what we are. Truthfully, using these labels is immature at best and goddamned disgusting at worst.

Social media has undoubtedly had a net-negative effect on all aspects of society, and that includes hunting. I know you’re trying to run a business. I know you’re trying to create content that’s designed to captivate your audience. And I know you’ve had some less-than-pleasant comments directed your way. But, if there’s a silver lining to social media, it’s that the ordinary man or woman now has a voice. We’re now able to disagree in a public forum. I know it’s a far cry from the days of VHS tapes, but your audience can now utilize a comment section. Who else is going to call something out publicly? We know how incestuous and intertwined the hunting industry is; nobody with anything to lose is going to align themselves with the anti-reaping movement, lest they draw your wrath and be labeled a “Marxist.”

Turkey numbers are in decline in many states, Michael. We all want to see that trend reversed. I appreciate what you’ve done to generate conservation dollars, and I wish you’d have an open-minded conversation with someone far more intelligent than I about this subject. At any rate, I, and others like me, aren’t going anywhere.

I don’t want to see every bird win, but I’ll be O.K. if more of them do. And, not everything needs to go on the internet.

– JB

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