The Invisible Bird Hunter

Earlier this year I posted a blog  “We’ve Met the Enemy . . .” talking about hunter apathy in supporting conservation efforts. When we owned a gun shop I’d get into over the counter conversations with hunters about anti-hunting groups trying to stop legal hunting and environmentalists thwarting wildlife habitat efforts. The typical response was a shoulder shrug and something along the lines of, “Aw, that can’t happen here.”

For too long sportsmen have put their trust in government agencies to protect the land and their hunting privileges. We’ve lapsed into a false sense of security by letting those agencies be our voice and do the right thing for us. In many cases they still do. It still amazes me that hunters still don’t get it when it comes to active participation in conservation efforts, especially with certain upland game birds in decline (grouse, woodcock, quail). Now we have more information to support the concept that yes, bird hunters are invisible in supporting their sport.

Ultimate Upland recently released a report on upland hunter participation in conservation organizations for the bird they hunt. Results are both disappointing and appalling. Based on a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 2011 survey on hunter participation there are nearly 1.5 million pheasant hunters in the country. That’s the good news. The bad? Only 8.5 percent of them belong to Pheasants Forever or like-minded groups. Grouse hunters? Of the over 800,000 who said they hunt grouse only 1% belongs to Ruffed Grouse Society. Quail hunters are just a little above grouse with 2.5% supporting conservation groups.

Courtesy Ultimate Upland

Conversely, Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl boast nearly 50 percent of waterfowlers among their ranks. So does that higher membership percentage make a difference? Numbers indicate it does. While wetland habitat needed by waterfowl has increased by nearly 35% over the last forty years, habitat for upland species has significantly declined between 20 and 40 percent (chart below).

Let me say this: there is no panacea or silver bullet solution. The decline in game bird populations and habitat has been a long-term trend and can’t be corrected overnight. But there are steps we can take as individual upland hunters to reverse the trend. One of the ideas being floated is an Upland Stamp similar to the Federal Waterfowl Stamp where funds are used for wetlands habitat. I’m OK with that as a partial measure. The problem for me is it’s a continuation of an existing problem: we put our reliance on government agencies. For a nation build on individual rights and responsibilities we must take action at the grass roots level.

Courtesy Ultimate Upland

Here’s some ideas we can ALL do:

  1. Step one: Join up! If you hunt an upland species join the conservation group that supports habitat work for that bird. That is what all of them are about. Yeah, membership is primarily hunters but the work they do is to improve habitat. While you’re at it, encourage your hunting buddies to join also. We’re talking annual membership of $30-40 a year. It’s not going to break the bank.
  2. Once you’ve joined, get active. All the conservation groups host fundraising events one or two times a year, usually anchored by a Sportsman’s banquet. Don’t just go to the banquet, buy raffle tickets and bid on auction items. Much of that money goes to habitat work at both the local and national level. A lot of local chapter do muddy boot habitat projects where members can get involved.
  3. The other part of getting active is answering Call-for-Action notices from the group. If they need you to go to a Forest Service meeting to support a planned habitat project, show up with some of your friends. Out west attend public meeting hosted by BLM to support grasslands management. It’s true: 80 percent of life is just showing up.

For nearly 100 years sportsmen have been willing to sacrifice to make sure wildlife species thrive. We have paid license fees, self-imposed bag limits, and paid Pittman-Robertson excise taxes all in the name of wildlife conservation. But those are all government driven. It will require support at the grassroots level if we want to continue our upland hunting traditions. We all need to be involved.