I ran into one of my good friends this week at the local fair and he said, “I’m surprised you haven’t written about this whole Under Armour thing.” I’m not really into doing hunting OP-ED articles and I told him about how I didn’t know if I felt strongly either way. This was mostly, I explained, because I don’t really like any of the parties involved. The more I spoke about it though, the more I realized that I did indeed have an opinion on the subject, as would be typical for myself.
If you haven’t heard about “this whole Under Armor thing” or the recent outrage from anti hunters, and the subsequent counter outrage from many within the hunting community, it goes like this:
Josh Bowmar traveled to Alberta, Canada for a Spring hunt for Black Bear. If you are familiar with Canada Black Bear hunts you will not be surprised to hear that this hunt took place over bait. His wife Sarah was reported to be filming the hunt and Sarah was “sponsored” by Under Armour Hunt. To explain a high level view of this relationship you must understand that several years ago, Under Armour got into the hunting apparel market and sportsmen and women embraced the company immediately. They sponsored hunting “athletes” and soon some big TV names were wearing their clothes; the Drurys, the Lakoskys, Cameron Hanes to name a few. Under Armour piggybacked off their reputation in athletic sports apparel and began collecting market share in the hunting industry. As the UA hunting line grew, they quickly capitalized on a growing segment of the outdoor industry: women. They started a sub-social media family under the UAHunt label and broadened their sponsored athletes to include the likes of Sarah Bowmar alongside industry giants like Tiffany Lakosky and Eva Shockey. Although less widely known in hunting circles, Bowmar has an impressive social media following, predominantly on Instagram where she has more than 1 million followers; nearly twice the Lakoskys and Eva Shockey combined. The Bowmars are fitness gurus who post workout videos to social media and have built a large following from it.
Fast forward to Josh Bowmar’s Alberta black bear hunt and you will find yourself in a somewhat ridiculous whirlwind of both facts and misinformation. The Bowmars decided to video their hunt, and Josh Bowmar would be using a spear tipped with double edged blade about a foot long, or so. The Bowmars also decided to attach a Go-Pro style camera to the spear and as the target bear approached the bait, Bowmar hurled the spear; essentially center punching the animal. On the video he can be seen reacting by throwing his hands in the air and celebrating. The bear was recovered the following day and Bowmar can be heard saying that it only went approximately 60 yards before expiring- indicating a quick, clean kill. The video was then posted on the Bowmar Youtube channel where it eventually garnered outrage from the anti hunting/animal rights crowds. Under Armour, after originally posting congratulatory photos of the Bowmars with the bear on their UAHunt social media, received pressure from activists in the form of social media comments and a petition (which reportedly had approx. 4,000 signatures) calling for Sarah Bowmar to be dropped from the apparel company’s sponsored athletes because of her husband’s taking of a black bear with a spear. UA soon released a statement saying that they were parting ways with Sarah Bowmar, disavowed ever having connections with Josh Bowmar, and went as far as to say that Bowmar acted recklessly and that they do not condone the method used to take the bear; favoring instead “safe” hunting where the animal is cleanly taken and the hunter is not in harm’s way, (my paraphrase). Not surprisingly, the anti hunters are still not happy with Under Armour, some accusing the company of only caving in this situation because of pressure while still supporting other animal ‘murderers’. Similarly, the hunting community is accusing the clothing manufacturer of only caving in this situation because of anti pressure after they had publicly supported the hunt through the use of pictures of it in their social media postings. Calls for boycotts from both sides continue and its likely UA is hoping that the short attention span of the public will be on their side and the next inevitable controversy will draw the spotlight away from this issue soon enough.
So, now that you have the basic facts, I am going to tell you what I think. My opinion doesn’t mean a whole lot in this matter, (you know what they say about opinions) but what I will start with saying is that situations like this, while telling, don’t do a whole lot of good for the hunting community. They tend to bring undue and negative scrutiny upon our sport and then they also have the affect of causing a whole lot of in-fighting within hunting’s ranks.
I don’t think someone can assess this situation without laying some responsibility at the Bowmars’ feet. If you have a social media following of over a million people, and many of them are following you for reasons other than hunting, you might need to think twice about what you, your spouse, or your bowhunting channel posts if you want to retain a sponsorship from a huge, publicly traded company. Furthermore, I don’t know that a Go-Pro attached to the spear is a necessary component or that it added much to the video. First, a lot of Go-Pro videos suck in my opinion, and whether that’s because of user error or just the nature of what they are used for, I don’t know. But what I do know is that the “Spear Cam” footage in this video added nothing to the overall production quality. In fact, what looked like a pretty good hit in the hunter camera angle looked more like a paunch hit on the Go-Pro footage and the quality of video from the Go-Pro is diminished in comparison with the other camera angle. I personally could have done without it, but that isn’t my call to make. However, I do think conducting a cost/benefit analysis for the sake of your hunting brothers and sisters, would be helpful. If it isn’t fundamental to your footage and just adds to the level of gore, which will inflame the anti crowd, why include it? At the same time, the Bowmars are within their rights to include that footage if they so choose. But, in this day and age, it can hardly be surprising to them that they would cause outrage, especially since Sarah is often harassed on social media as being a murderer, (even for simply posing in a picture with a pair of shed antlers; not kidding). So, I guess my point is why bait the antis? Go spear hunting if you want (it is legal in Alberta at the time of the hunt and this writing, but talks of banning it are currently underway). Hunt over bait if you want (it is legal in Alberta). Film your hunt if you want. But is the Go-Pro on the spear necessary; I mean really necessary? Did the Go-Pro help the spear fly better? Did it help it find its mark? I doubt it. It seemed like it was an attempt to be edgy and provide another view of the kill, which maybe hunters can watch and understand, but also may be upsetting to those fence-sitters who aren’t quite sure of what to think about hunting. No matter what we use to kill animals, anti hunters will call for the hunter to be slain in the same way, turning themselves into a living hypocrisy. Its not them we need to think about, but instead it is those individuals who don’t participate but still see hunting as a heritage, a way of life, a conservation tool, a source of sustenance, that we are in danger of pushing to the side of the anti. We risk coming across as being lovers of gore, blood lusters, or worse yet, in it for personal gain and glory. And that brings me to my next point.
I have to be honest. I found the reaction of Josh Bowmar after he speared the bear to be annoying. If I was an anti hunter I would probably find it appalling. I would use it as proof that hunters kill for personal glory (the antis did do this). In the absence of understanding the adrenaline rush that naturally occurs in these situations, it might appear that his celebration is simply over the fact the HE “just speared a bear!” If I was a fence sitter, unsure of how I felt about hunting, the reaction would give credence to the claims of the anti crowd. In reality these reactions are often the overwhelming feeling of joy, satisfaction, success and adrenaline all culminating in one moment where practice and hard work came together to yield a harvest. At least that is what I feel when I take an animal’s life. Its followed by feelings of respect and time spent in reflection; reflection about the hunt and about the animals life. I hate to call it remorse, because that isn’t fair. I make a conscious and well calculated decision before I pull the trigger. I am comfortable with my decision, and remorse isn’t the right word, but there is often a solemn time that follows a kill for me, and its become very important to how I hunt and an important part of the kill. That’s not to say its the right way, or the only way, but what I am saying is that the video clip I watched showed less of that kind of reaction and more of the fist pumps and bumps and those kinds of things. Honestly, I don’t know what Josh Bowmar felt after killing the bear with a spear; likely an immense amount of accomplishment, maybe relief that a lot of practice had come to fruition (he has stated he practiced extensively with the spear and was at one time a competitive javelinist)- its not my job to know his heart. I just saying that for me, had I seen him produce a more composed reaction, had I felt the video made the animal the star of the show instead of Bowmar, I would have enjoyed said video more. I think its fair to say that those on the fence about hunting would be easier swayed to our side if they saw reactions that were a bit less reminiscent of a touchdown dance. There is a small possibility that these reactions fueled and antagonized the anti hunting crowd and could have played a part in the level of visceral response they levied against the Bowmars, but that we will never be certain of. The anti crowd is like a pack of rabid dogs, and you never know who they might attack next, which is also what makes Under Armor’s response so disconcerting…
…So let’s talk about that. UA caved. There is no two ways about it. 4,000 signatures is all it took to make UA cut ties with a sponsored hunting “athlete”. I’m sure the anti hunting crowd is happy to know the bar has been set so low. 4,000 signatures is nothing in the days of social media and our connected world. A small amount of pressure and a corporation was forced to alter their relationships. Now, I am guessing this has something to do with being a publicly traded company. The company needs to make sure their investors are protected and that they are operating in their shareholders best interests. Presumably they feared a larger backlash if the story gained traction and there is literally an endless supply of “Bowmars” on Instagram, so its plenty easy to replace them and move on once the storm cloud of antis dissipates. I get it. Its business. UA is more than hunting, and hunting is a small part of UA.
Let us not forget, however, the stupid part about this. That part about how UAHunt dropped someone for essentially doing what they were sponsored to do- hunt. Er, let me correct that, their spouse went on a legal hunt, harvested an animal legally (as per all reports thus far), the sponsored “athlete” was present and posed in pictures which were used to promote UA hunting apparel on social media (arguably to the benefit of the company), and then amidst a small amount of outrage UAHunt drops the sponsored “athlete” for her spouse hunting “recklessly”. Its almost mind boggling when put in that perspective. So, that’s the stupid part. The concerning part is that UA released a statement that announced that they canned their relationship with Sarah Bowmar and called the method used to harvest the bear was “reckless” and stated that they do not condone it. Now remember, its these same anti hunter types signing this petition who also combat the sound argument that hunting has been around for thousands of years and is a vital part of human history and existence with comments such as “cave men didn’t have high powered rifles to shoot an animal at long range”. They call hunters cowards for not hunting the animal in an environment where the animal “has a chance” and the hunter has some skin in the game, or in other words places themselves in “danger”. Here we have a spear hunt, nearly as primitive as it gets, and the antis are outraged over the barbarianism and inefficiency of the method, and we have UA essentially agreeing with them. That’s the “wow” moment in all this for me. To the anti hunters I would ask, “which way do you want it?” To which they would reply “no way”, of course, thus proving that reasoning with them is impossible. To UA I would ask, what do you do with the precedent you have just set? It you get 20,000 signatures to drop Lee Lakosky after he kills a brown bear with a compound bow, are you going to cave and drop he and Tiffany? This would arguably constitute a likely more dangerous, (or should I say “reckless”) hunt than a black bear hunt as the use of a bow on an animal that size does not guarantee an immediate kill. Plenty can go wrong there. Where do you draw your line now? What will you be pressured into next? Who at UA makes the call if something hunting related is too “reckless” to support? Is this arbitrarily decided, or is there a process? How many signatures does it take? Make no mistake, UA’s reaction to this anti hunting petition validated the antis’ claims. They won this round, and a taste of victory for that crowd is a dangerous thing.
You see, this is the problem when we welcome a mainstream company into the hunting market with open arms. We give them a bunch of money for their products and they still have a lot of other stakeholders at their table pulling them in different directions. It just is a poor fit. Either you stand with legal hunting, or you don’t. That’s the bottom line. How do you drop someone for a legal hunting practice engaged in by their spouse, based on your own subjective assertion that it is reckless, all while you are sponsoring them as a UAHunt athlete? Forgive me, the question isn’t “how”. UA showed us precisely “how”, and the fact is, they can do whatever they want. The question is better stated as, “how does UA do that with intentions of continuing on as a bona-fide hunting brand in the minds of their target market?” With so many other clothing brands emerging with extremely high performing gear it is hard for me to believe that UA isn’t putting themselves in a vulnerable spot within the hunting market. Layer on their lack of chutzpah in standing against anti attacks and I see even less incentive for hunters to look to them in the future over other brands that offer a direct sales model like Kuiu, or even top end retailers like Sitka. Compare the value provided (performance of the garments vs. the price tags) from these companies with that of Under Armour and make the decision for yourself.
The last thing I can’t quite figure out in all this is UA’s marketing approach to hunters. As a corporation with substantial resources, why are you not encouraging the production of content from your UAHunt team that depicts the whole essence of hunting and what it means to pursue a deeper relationship with the outdoors and our quarry. The kind of content that does a service to hunting and conservation. I look at the work Sitka is putting out- the partners they have, their “athletes”- or the Kuiu film festival submissions, and countless other independent guys who are creating wonderful, amazing content that gives you chills to watch it, and I wonder why a huge manufacturer like UA can’t produce a grassroots campaign to find and develop hunters who are producing awesome content every day that portrays hunting through the lens of the epic adventure it was supposed to be. I have to wonder if UAHunt saw Sarah Bowmar’s 1 million followers and wanted the immediate exposure she could provide. Personally, the most hunting content I have seen produced by her seems to revolve around being a 10, looking good on Instagram in UA leggings while posing in repetitive pictures with jacked up deltoids, while drawing back her Hoyt. I’m left feeling not so certain that UA isn’t selling some superficiality here, or at the very least trying to profiteer from what is already there. Is that what motivates us or inspires us as a hunting community? Do we really only want to be entertained by the photo of the hot chick in UA gear rather than by the guy or gal who is going to show us something epic through their creative mind or wants to help us create our own adventure through real and substantive content or advice? I’m left to wonder why UA would not chose to sponsor more of these DIY guys or gals who buy their clothing with their own buck because they need something that works, and works well, (because they are actually out there doing it) and they decided on UA clothing based on its merits. And, while that guy or gal is utilizing your clothing, they are producing some awesome content that helps to promote hunting in a way that is more than a simple kill shot video on an outfitted hunt over bait. UA got what they paid for; they chose looks and follower count over true creative talent and knowledge and substance; and because of that they found themselves in no-win situation between a rabid animal rights crowd and a now scorned hunting community.
The only question remaining is, “what the heck UA?”