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Assume a hunting buddy commands his friend, “Come on! Take the shot!” The buddy supported his command by pointing out that they’d been hunting for three days and had been unsuccessful thus far.  The hunter with the rifle replied, “It’s a little out of my range and it’s windy.” His rifle hadn’t been sighted in beyond one hundred yards and this was a 350-yard shot. The buddy commanded again, “Take the shot. It may be years before you have another chance to get an elk!”

The force created by friends or a group to influence behavior is commonly referred to as ‘peer pressure.’ Peer pressure can be external, where someone tries to influence your behavior; or it can be internal, where you decide to conform to the values or behaviors of the other person or of the group. These are examples of negative peer group pressure. Positive peer pressure exists, of course, such as when students in a hunter education class try to live up to the values expressed by other ethical hunters. This article deals with negative peer pressure and offers three strategies for overcoming negative pressure.

Strategy One
Understanding Peers and Pressures
A peer is someone having similar characteristics such as age, experience or status. Whether or not you like your peers does not change their status. Different kinds of peers will likely have different abilities to pressure you. A peer you like will influence you more than a peer you dislike. A peer that hates hunting will likely have less influence on you than a peer that is an avid hunter.

The ‘pressure’ part of peer pressure is complex. On a hunting trip, your father, for example, is likely able to generate more pressure on you than a stranger. Two skills come into play: the value you place on the peer creating the pressure and understanding the ethical cost you might pay by giving in to the pressure. The greater you value the peer, the more difficult it is to reject the pressure. The greater you value the peer, the stronger you have to be to resist the pressure. Understanding the cost of giving in to the pressure can, and should, develop the inner strength needed to reject the pressure. Choose your peers wisely.

Strategy Two
Know Your Limitations
Harry “Dirty Harry” Callahan said in Magnum Force, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” In the hunting context, knowing one’s limitations has profound moral significance. Injury or death to the hunters and the animals can and do occur. If you know your limitations, you can develop strategies and the moral will to overcome them.

Some limitations are technical: right caliber, bullet selection or arrow or skill to make a clean kill. Other limitations relate to character. Do you know right from wrong? Legal from illegal? Your ability to make these distinctions is the result of preparation for the hunt, your humility, your ability to anticipate the consequences of different actions and the moral clarity of your values.        

Strategy Three
Have a Plan

Ask yourself these questions: “What would I do if my hunting partner asked me to trespass or shoot an animal I didn’t have a tag for or shoot an animal backed against a fence or asked to use my rifle although he was drunk?” If your answer is “I don’t know what I would actually do.” then your default position is you would do the wrong thing. If your answer is that you won’t do those things, no matter what, then the likelihood is you would reject the pressure to act illegally or unethically and you would do what is right and honorable.      

To strengthen resistance to peer pressure, hunters should do the same. They should anticipate problems and legal and ethical challenges and craft ethical arguments and actions to immunize themselves against the pressure. Hunters should visualize saying ‘no’ to a buddy that asks the hunter to do something improper. Planning nurtures confidence and confidence nurtures moral strength. Be strong and be clear, although being so is not easy. When you are pressured to do something improper, resist. Do not be a bystander in your fate. Do what’s right.

by Michael G. Sabbeth

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