We’ve Met the Enemy . . .

In my previous blog I wrote about the threat to our hunting heritage by Anti-Hunters. That said, the threat can only be substantial if we allow it through hunter apathy. An old line from the Pogo comic strip comes to mind: “We’ve met the enemy and he is us.” The original NRA blog mentioned puts much of the responsibility to overcoming those threats on federal agencies, national sporting and conservation groups. That is partly correct. But we need to do our part.

So as hunters we should ask ourselves some serious questions. What do I hunt? Do I belong to conservation groups that support that species? Further, do I belong to sportsmen’s groups that stand up for my privileges? Am I involved? If we can’t answer those questions then yes, we may be that enemy we have met.

For too long, probably when they started decades ago, state game commissions were seen as guardians of all that was right about hunting. They took care of business on our behalf. We’d buy our license and go hunting. All was right with the world. But that was at a time when people were more connected to the land, more people hunted, and animal rights groups and anti-hunters were non-existent or weak. Times they are a-changing!

So how has all of this changed, and not for the better? Here’s my thoughts through experience related to problem with #7 on the NRA Blog, lack of opportunity. Opportunity is different from access. Access is about available land. Opportunity is about wild game populations on that land. Two different issues. Let’s look at an example with environmental groups as it relates to opportunity.

Bottom line: they don’t want any timber harvests on public lands. Period. Decades of science show that if you don’t manage the land, and one of those management tools is timber harvests, game populations will decline. So the environmentalists have become adept at blocking timber harvests on federal land through legal action. Once they win a court battle it becomes precedent which they use in other geographic areas. This has led to a cascading effect of regulations. Anti-Hunting and animal rights groups follow the same path. The most recent example is their efforts to block de-listing of wolves in the upper Midwest.

In our local area the Nantahala National Forest comprises one-quarter of the North Carolina Game Lands system, nearly 500,000 acres. Did you know that during the short three week mountain deer season there are no doe days in that area? Let that soak in. Deer populations are so low on ¼ of the Game Lands there is no doe harvest. Why? Because the land is not managed for wildlife. I talked with a rep from the U.S. Forest Service who told me that from the time of proposing a timber harvest for wildlife, to the time of implementation, it took about six years due to regulatory hurdles.

So what are hunters to do? There’s an old saying, “80% of life is just showing up.” We must get involved and there are many ways to do that at the local level. First, sign up for email newsletters and notifications from game departments and federal land managers. If they are holding meetings for public input that is where you will know about it first. Then attend those meetings. Provide written comments. I’ve attended Forest Service meetings where only a handful of hunters show up when hundreds stay home. Before you do go, arm yourself with the facts. This is where it takes time.

The old interweb of things is a great place to get information; scientific facts to share at public meetings. Animal rights groups hate facts. Simply because they don’t have any to support their position. Do your research on the internet (from reliable sources of course). Turn to your game department or favorite conservation group for that info. They both conduct scientific research. All of them have reams of data they have collected over the years and it is readily available. Have the facts in hand to support your position.

Get your hunting friends involved. Share this with them. Give them a ride to meetings. Let’s leave the court battles to the NRA, NSSF, Sportsmen’s Alliance and other national groups. We must get involved at the grassroots level. If not, one day we may find not only our privileges restricted (which some already are), but completely taken away.

SHOW UP! GET INVOLVED!

The Greatest Threat to Hunting

What do you consider the biggest threat to your hunting privileges? And they are privileges, not rights. I say that because rights cannot be taken away. Privileges can. In a recent NRA blog, Mark D. Duda and Tom Beppier of Responsive Management enumerated twelve threats (the Dirty Dozen) to hunting in the 21st Century. Responsive Management is the leading research and polling firm in the outdoor industry.

The Dirty Dozen is truly a formidable list of threats. But if I had to put my finger on the leading threat it would be number 4 on their list, Anti-Hunting Sentiment. Why? Because of its ability to impact other items on the Dirty Dozen. Let’s look at how those tentacles wrap around other issues.

Item 1 on the Dirty Dozen list is The Changing Demographic Makeup of the United States. For years the number of hunters in the country has remained stable, somewhere under 15%. Unfortunately that number seems to be on a downward trend. However, legal hunting has always been supported by well over 80% of the population. That means a lot of non-hunters still support legal hunting. Through advertising campaigns and non-fact based public information policies anti-hunting groups can influence that non-hunting base of support. Simply because they don’t know what hunters contribute. Lose their support, and we lose our privilege. Which brings us to tentacle number 2.

Threat number 3 in their list is Low Public Knowledge About Wildlife and Conservation. Anti-hunting groups have never bothered to use science or facts to support their efforts. Do they ever mention the fact that hunters and shooters have contributed over $800 million to wildlife habitat and restoration through Pittman-Roberson funds? Of course not. The general population does not understand the basic principles of wildlife management and the role hunters play. That lack of knowledge is dangerous and believe me the anti-hunters use it in their publicity campaigns. Here’s an example.

The other day I was in a doctor’s waiting room. I overheard a couple, looking at a picture of a deer fawn, say, “Isn’t that beautiful. That’s why we don’t let people hunt on our property.” Do they know anything about carrying capacity for wildlife species? How about the role hunter organizations play in contributing venison to local food pantries for those in need? What about how hunters are instrumental in maintaining healthy wildlife populations? I believe those folks represent that large uninformed population.

Other items on the Dirty Dozen are important such as lack of access to hunting areas and lack of opportunity due to low game populations in certain areas. But when you combine the first three mentioned they are a formidable threat. And one of the reasons for the significance of that threat is hunter apathy.

In my previous life running a gun store where we were a state License agent I had opportunity to discuss these threats with hunters. The typical response was, “Aw, that can’t happen here.” Really? Talk to hunters in Maine, with a rich hunting history, about the recent attempt to ban bear hunting. Or how about the day before leaving office, the Obama administration had the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) issue a Director’s Order banning use of lead ammunition on lands controlled by USFWS?

So what can we do? Number one, hunters need to get involved! Join conservation groups that support your hunting heritage like Sportsmen’s Alliance, Ruffed Grouse Society, Ducks Unlimited, NWTF, etc. But that is not enough. Attend public meetings by state wildlife agencies and federal land managers. Most importantly, know the facts and be ready to share them with that uninformed population. If we don’t get involved, one day our grandchildren will not be able to hunt. Is that what we want?

Uncle Jim’s Gun

As the woodcock busted from the thick cover on a ridge next to the stream valley the little Winchester Model 42 .410 came to my shoulder, leveled on the bird, and I pulled the trigger. It fell to the ground as hoped. Another woodcock on the ground. What’s the big deal? Because it was killed with Uncle Jim’s gun.

Many of my generation grew up with a father, uncle, or grandfather who took us hunting. For me that was Uncle Jim. And like many lifelong hunters we still have a gun or guns handed down from that hunting mentor to remind us of those times. For me, that is Uncle Jim’s gun.

I got my first shotgun for Christmas when I was ten years old, a J.C. Higgins single barrel shotgun. After learning the safety rules and some practice shooting, my first hunting experience was with Uncle Jim. Technically he wasn’t my uncle, but great-uncle, on my mother’s side. Uncle Jim was in the Air Force in 1963 and they were home on leave from Germany that Christmas.

Two days after Christmas we went to another great-uncle’s farm to hunt. We woke up the first morning to about one foot of snow on the ground, unusual for Alabama. So all we had to do was hunt. The gun he carried that trip was this Winchester Model 42 .410. That is the gun I have. During that trip I saw him shoot rabbits and squirrels with it.

But that was only the beginning of our hunting history. When he retired a few years later they moved back to the area and he became my hunting mentor. Uncle Jim was a small game hunter. He not only enjoyed it, but also did it for the meat. He had other guns he used for quail and dove, a 20 and 12 gauge, but the Model 42 was his “go to” gun to put meat on the table. We spent many a morning hunting oak and hickory stands for squirrel and field edges for rabbit. That .410 was deadly in his hands.

Most of those hunts have faded from memory except one. We were squirrel hunting an oak bottom behind his house one winter morning. He had a little feist dog that hunted with us. We were approaching some undergrowth and Sarah starting yipping. Uncle Jim said, “I’ve never heard her do that. Go around the other side.” A few seconds later my young ears heard an unusual flapping sound, the bark of the little .410 and a thud as something hit the ground. Uncle Jim’s deep guttural laugh was followed by, “Come here boy.” There on the ground laid a turkey. He killed a turkey on the fly with a .410 shotgun!

After college I went into the Army, we didn’t get to hunt together much, an occasional dove shoot, and time passed. Then in 1985 we returned from Korea at Christmas and went to visit him. He had aged and was no longer able to hunt. I’m guessing the gun had similar meaning to him as it does to me. He called me down to the basement where he kept all of his hunting gear and said, “Don, I don’t hunt any more. I want you to have this gun.” He handed me the Model 42. By this time the bluing was worn and the stock showed its age.

When I got to Fort Bragg a friend recommended a local gunsmith who spent meticulous time restoring it as closely as he could to original condition. A couple of years later my mother called to tell me they had found Uncle Jim dead in his recliner looking out on that same oak bottom we hunted. I like to imagine he was thinking of our hunting there when he passed.

I’ve not shot the gun much since then; an occasional clay target and maybe take it out for squirrel once or twice a year. I had taken it on a grouse hunt to New Hampshire in hope to bag a grouse or woodcock with it. No such luck. Then on a recent woodcock hunt in North Carolina with my son the chance came up and I took it.

Every time I heft the little Model 42, feel its weight, and slide shells into the magazine I see Uncle Jim looking up into an oak tree on a cold November morning and here that deep laugh at a young boy stretching his hunting wings. Uncle Jim’s gun will be in my son’s hand some day and I hope he remembers that North Carolina woodcock. Hunting isn’t just about the kill, but also the lasting memories.