“In a civilized and cultivated country, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen.” -Theodore Roosevelt
It’s well known that hunter participation has been declining for the last several years. This can be attributed to many different causes, lack of access, habitat loss, changing demographics, and countless other reasons. But one thing remains the same, hunters contribute a significant amount of money to wildlife conservation. Not only through organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, and other such groups, but whenever we buy our licenses, or purchase a new gun or archery equipment via the Pittman-Robertson excise tax. In 2016, nearly $700 Million was designated for wildlife restoration throughout the United States because of Pittman-Robertson.
However, as hunters, we have to remember that there are non-hunters and other groups of outdoor enthusiasts that enjoy the same woods and waters that we use. We might not care about how they view what we are doing, but we rely on them to vote and help keep the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation intact. We want one of our greatest natural resources to be scientifically, not emotionally, managed. So we need to care about how our lifestyle and passion is portrayed. We need to show why wildlife still needs hunters and that we are still relevant in today’s world.
We must show that we are stewards of the land and wildlife. We must show that hunters are the greatest conservationists and wildlife’s best advocates. But how do we, as hunters, show that? First and foremost, we need to show non-hunters we have the utmost respect for the game we pursue. There are many ways that we can show this respect and help non-hunters understand our passion.
Hunters need to show we are ethical in our pursuit of the wild game we seek. We should not take shots that we’re surprised when we hit the animal. We should only pull the trigger or release that arrow at distances within our capabilities and know what those capabilities are. We need to make a distinction between hunters and poachers. Hunters never take more than what we need or what is legally allowed. Hunters abide by fair chase rules and the regulations set by the state’s wildlife agencies. Hunters understand there is a balance of give and take, and we give as much as, or more, than we take.
On his podcast, The Hunting Collective, Ben O’Brien recently discussed his thoughts on the practice of taking pictures with the harvested animal on his social media page. “Trophy photo”, “hero shot,” “grip and grin,” whatever you want to call them, are a part of the hunter culture. And like Mr. O’Brien explains, I think the pictures are often taken out of context or misinterpreted. I don’t think I’m ever going to stop taking those types of pictures. As hunters we know what they can symbolize, our hard work paying off, spending time and making memories with close friends and family, or accomplishing a goal. We need to share that context with non-hunters and explain what that hunt meant to us.
Highlight the iridescent feathers instead of a pile of wet, dead ducks. Take a picture of the buck in the woods, where its majesticness is magnified, not in the bed of a dirty pick up truck. Not everyone wants or is ready to see the brutality that hunting can be, we need to show the beauty of it.
Many hunters make the decision to take part in how and where their food comes from. We are not “murderers” for making that decision, and not having someone else provide the meat for us. Hunting helps create a strong connection with our food. We respect our wildlife when we show their lives were not given in vain. We need to show that the meat that is harvested will be used to nourish ourselves and our families. Hunting provides meat for our freezer and it does it in a sustainable way with much less impact on the environment than other methods. Show how the wild game can be transformed into a gourmet meal, just as good or better than what is served in a high end restaurant. Utilize the wild game to its utmost potential.
Whether people want to admit it or not, humans are an integral part of the natural landscape. We’ve altered that landscape and have become forever intertwined with it and the natural world. Apex predators have been extirpated from areas and other animals are able to thrive with the help of food sources from human agriculture. So, now they need to be managed to help keep the balance, keep populations in check and maintain the natural habitats that are still left. We have to show that hunters are needed to help preserve that balance, so that those “within the womb of time” can also enjoy what we are now enjoying ourselves.
As hunters, we need to pass on our tradition. Taking someone, especially a kid, hunting that would otherwise not have the opportunity is a great way to keep our tradition alive. Hunting is a classroom without walls, and offers many lessons that can be applied in everyday life. Not only biology and ecology, but hunting also teaches hard work, patience, discipline, morals, humility, and respect. These lessons are as important as ever.
We need to have a unified front, hunter helping hunter. We each have our own personal goals and ethics, age, size, or sex, we all have different views on what and why we harvest an animal. But we shouldn’t attack each other for our differences in opinions, because we are all striving to accomplish the same goals. We want to experience the wild.
If we can effectively show the value of hunting, we can ensure that it is not tossed away as some barbaric hobby that is no longer useful. Our wild world depends on hunters, let’s show why that’s the right choice.
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