Ruffed Grouse – The Figures Don’t Lie

Went on my first grouse hunt last week in my home state of North Carolina. Or as we call it: Walking through the woods behind a dog with a gun on your shoulder. Yep, on a short hunt of just under two hours I flushed zero grouse. After experiencing a flush rate of over two birds an hour in New Hampshire earlier in the month it got me thinking about what the status of grouse is in our home state. So I contacted the upland biologist for the WRC and asked for charts from the Avid Grouse Hunter survey in which I participate. Besides the fact that chasing grouse is my chosen pursuit, we need to know why grouse are important.

Ruffed grouse are what wildlife biologist call an indicator species. What is that? Many wildlife species can adapt to changes in the ecosystem. A couple of local examples are bear and turkey. If food and protective habitat are not available in one location they simply move to another. Populations of both species continue to flourish in the mountains. Not so with grouse. Their habitat needs for breeding, protection and food are very specific. Thus if their habitat decreases so will the population. In our region the the variable that can most likely affect them other than habitat is weather during the hatching season. Therefore ruffed grouse populations are an indicator of the health of an ecosystem. Another reason they are an indicator species is because meeting their habitat needs also has a positive impact on other wildlife needing similar habitat.

The WRC has been conducting an Avid Grouse Hunter Survey since 1984. Participating hunters record data for each trip to the forests including date, location by county and private/public land, hours hunted, and birds flushed and harvested. At the end of each season the records are mailed to the WRC. The purpose of this study is to establish long term trends for the health of the grouse population. I’m no scientist, but I did have to take a statistics class in college (that was no fun). Individual data are important, but trend is more so. The trend doesn’t bode well for grouse in North Carolina. Let’s start out by looking at some of these data related to individual hunter success.

Chart from NC WRC

It’s best to start with a simple number, average number of grouse flushed per hunting trip. That’s what it’s all about anyway, right? As the first chart shows, in its inaugural year study participants averaged just under 4.5 grouse flushed per trip to the field. That number peaked between 1988 – 1990 to around 6.2 grouse per trip. Either one of those figures is great compared to today. In the last reported survey year that number had dropped to about 1.8 flushes per trip. But it’s not just the numbers that are important. Scientists like to look at trends. If you look at the line chart since the peak in 1990 the trend is downward. You can infer that with all other factors being equal hunters are seeing fewer grouse.

Chart from NC WRC

Now let’s look at some data to correlate to hunter success, percentage of hunts with no grouse flushed. In the first year of the study only about 10% of trips resulted in no grouse flushes per trip. That number has climbed dramatically over the past thirty years to about 48% of the trips resulting in no grouse flushed. It doesn’t show in either of these charts, but the average length of a hunting trip has not changed much, from 4.2 hours in 1984 to 3.7 hours in 2017.  So while hunters are spending about as much time in the field, their grouse contact success rate has significantly decreased. Basically, on every other four hour trip to the woods for grouse, you will have no bird contacts.

Now let’s look at a comparison of private and public land success rates, and further how that relates to timber harvests on public land.

Chart from NC WRC

First, let’s break down the flush rate by land type. The first chart here from the WRC graphically portrays that difference. Neither of them is positive. Private land is the top line and public the bottom. Despite a significant upward spike in 2011, both are trending downward since data collection started in 1989. In the most resent season, 2017, the rate hit its lowest point with about .25 (1/4) grouse flushed per hour on public land. Private land was slightly better but still below the trend at about .75 birds flushed per hour. Compare that to the better than two per hour we experienced in New Hampshire, and the better than one bird per hour when the data were first collected. This is not good news for either hunters or as an indicator of forest health.

Now let’s further look at the public land issue. And when you talk about public land in Western NC it’s pretty much the Pisgah/Nantahala National Forests. State managed Game Lands in the mountains account for only about 10% of the total public lands here. Mac McConnell lays it out in a May 2016 ForestPolicypub.com article comparing data from both the USFS and WRC.

Chart by Mac McConnell

As this chart shows, in 1992 the USFS was creating nearly five thousand acres of wildlife habitat through forest management, primarily timber harvests. At that time the average grouse flush rate recorded by the WRC survey was about 1.5 birds per hour. Moving to 2016, the USFS was only creating about 500 acres of habitat and the flush rate dropped to under .5 per hour. Again, the trend is important here versus individual points. Tying these two separate data together shows a direct correlation between timber harvests on public land and grouse populations. There is no denying the science.

So why is the grouse important? As the data show, as an indicator species it points to an overall unhealthy forest; at least for most wildlife. Another non-game species in decline that needs young forest growth is the Golden-Winged Warbler. Young forest growth also provides low browse for other animal like deer.

So OK, the forest is unhealthy for wildlife. Why is this important to hunting? Hunter numbers are declining. Two key factors in hunter recruitment and retention are access and opportunity. I’d say we’ve got the access part pretty well covered with over 1 million acres of public land in the mountains. But if game populations are low you don’t have opportunity. Imagine trying to introduce a new hunter to the sport of grouse hunting. They get all fired up, practice shooting, enjoy watching dogs work. But then they get to the field and every other trip to the woods there are no bird contacts. Just how long will they stick with the sport? Grouse hunting is tough and requires commitment. They won’t stay with it long.

So whether you are a hunter who wants to see more game on our National Forests or someone who enjoys nature and likes seeing a lot of wildlife when you visit public land, this science supports the need for more active management in the upcoming Pisgah/Nantahala long range plan. Let’s remember, we are visitors to our public lands; wildlife live there. And right now living there is tough.

Lost Connection with Nature

An old high school friend I connected with on Facebook recently posted a video about how the re-introduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1994 completely changed the ecosystem. Down to the point they attributed the course change of a stream to the wolves. The first thing I noticed in the video was they referred to elk as deer. And that’s where our civil discussion started. I noted the producers didn’t know much about wildlife if they didn’t know the difference. She allowed as how despite that editorial glitch the concept was the same.

Photo U.S. Park Service

Well, no it’s not. I then pointed out that six years prior to the wolf re-introduction Yellowstone had a massive wildfire, largest in its history, that profoundly affected the ecosystem; more so than the wolf population. The landscapes recovery from the wildfire simply coincided with the wolf introduction. To attribute ALL changes in the ecosystem to one apex predator was a bit of a stretch. After our online discussion ended it got me thinking: This is what we face as sportsmen and conservationists. An uninformed populous that doesn’t understand nature and falls for “feel good” publicity.

I don’t like to make generalizations, but generally speaking the American population has lost touch with nature. And just so you don’t think I’m just pointing fingers at environmentalists and animal rights folks, there are hunters who don’t get it either. Prior to the above internet exchange I was talking to a fellow clays shooter about grouse hunting. He allowed as how his friend in Vermont didn’t hunt grouse anymore because the grouse in his favorite cover were gone. I expressed that it wasn’t the grouse were just gone but the habitat had matured to an age that it was no longer suitable to grouse. They just moved.

Nature’s landscape is beautifully dynamic and impacted by many events. No one knew that more than Native Americans prior to colonization. We’ve been taught to believe those early North American dwellers had a light footprint on their environment. That is not true. In Charles Mann’s book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus early scientific explorers found evidence that tribes routinely managed forests and fields for their own sustenance. They conducted what we call prescribed burns to help young seeds regenerate to attract wildlife and keep fields open. They also cut non-beneficial trees to allow mast bearing trees like oaks, hickory, and chestnut to grow for their own use as well to attract wildlife. I highly recommend its reading to understand early North America. You’ll be surprised.

Hunters are often blamed for the near extinction of elk in the eastern United States. And surely there were excesses with no game laws and a hungry population to feed in our westward movement. But another factor is that our colonization changed the landscape. Elk need grassy fields to graze. We turned those fields Native Americans had managed for wildlife into forests for a growing timber industry. Combine excessive hunting with a changing ecology and you see what we get.

Photo U.S. Park Service

Elk were not introduced into forested areas of the Smoky Mountains but an area with open fields, Cataloochee Valley. And as the herd has expanded they’ve sought similar habitat outside the Park boundaries. The North Carolina Wildlife Commission is now working with the U.S. Forest Service on land adjacent to the Park and also has acquired local land to improve habitat in a new Game Land.

Native Americans didn’t use science to manage the landscape, but simply knowledge and human reasoning passed down over generations connected to the land. The Roman philosopher Cicero called it Natural Law. Science is to a degree an extension of Natural Law. Yes, there are folks who still have that connection with the land; farmers and hunters among them. Like Native Americans, they depend on it for sustenance and as a livelihood. Unfortunately within the general populous that is the exception, not the rule. In its most recent survey the USFWS found only about 12% of the American populous hunt.For the proper conservation of our resources we need to try and understand the complex relationship of all the factors affecting an ecosystem. Study. Read. Ask questions. Walk the land. Don’t just take for granted what an advocacy group says. Remember, they are advocating for a purpose. Sometimes facts and science that don’t support their purpose are willfully ignored.

That’s what real hunters, anglers and conservationists do. Not only do we pursue game, we understand the landscape and how different factors impact it whether it is fire, timber harvests, or introduction of a wildlife species. We are connected to the land. We do that not just for the game but to heighten the experience and connect us with nature. That’s what our forbearers did. Why can’t we?

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.

How to Stop the Transfer of Public Lands – My Take

Let me wade into the pool of everyone commenting on the issue of transferring federal lands to the states. I’ll say upfront that I am against it. I’ve not heard any conservation group speaking out for the move, and rightfully so. Most hunters and other outdoor enthusiast spend some of their time on federal land. All I’m hearing from any of these groups is “call your Congressman” and “attend public meetings” opposition. But what I’m not hearing from any of the major conservation organizations speaking out against it is: WHY is Congress considering this? That's the elephant in the room.  When I worked in corporate quality improvement one of the first things we did when addressing a problem was root cause analysis; or WHY is this happening? A little background.

Background & Context

If you hunt, or enjoy the outdoors, you are probably aware of the movement in Congress to transfer ownership of federal lands to the states with HR 621. The bill, introduced by Representative Chaffetz of Utah, was withdrawn a month ago and was immediately followed by another bill to eliminate federal land law enforcement and turn that function over to the states. The House in early January also passed a budget provision to make it easier to sell public lands. These efforts have caused the justifiable uproar.

To answer the WHY, it's important to establish context.

  • The federal government is the nation’s largest landowner, with a total of 2 billion acres nationwide
  • Those land holding include 47 percent of the western states
  • The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages over 247 million acres, 1/8 of our total land mass

Answering the WHY

So here is my take on the WHY Congress is doing this. Among the cries of “keep public land public” and “public lands belong to the public”, the federal land managers are not listening to the public. We are frustrated by a federal bureacracy that no longer manages the land for public use. Particularly for some of its primary users, hunters and ranchers. Federal land managers simply wrap themselves in the cloak of bureacracy developed by environmental groups.They have lost their focus on the original original multiple-use mission to conform with environmental groups' agendas. Examples?

  • In my home state of North Carolina, the Pisgah/Nantahala National Forest comprise 1 million acres. The goal for young forest growth for wildlife is 10-15%. During recent public meetings it was revealed that only 1% falls in that category. Every effort for two decades to do projects is met with procedural appeals and legal action by environmental groups. As of today, there are no active timber sales on either forest. Let that sink in: 1 million acres with no timber active timber sale.

If conservation and sportsmen’s groups want to stop this movement, they need to address the WHY. It is not enough to scream “keep public lands public”, we must push for changes to public land management policy. We are being shut out of the public land management equation. Hunters and anglers contribute more money to wildlife management on those lands than any groups in this nation. It is time to take back our public land management and return it to the purpose envisioned by President Teddy Roosevelt when he established the first public lands over a century ago.

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There is hope. The new Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture, Zinke and Purdue, are sportsmen. They should be sympathetic to the pleas of sportsmen who share their common pursuit. We must regain our preeminent role and let our voices be heard. We will no longer let environmentalists’ policies rule our public lands. We are also the public. I think the move to sell off federal lands will go away if the federal government manages the land as originally intended. Do you agree?

Why We Are Able to Hunt – Part 2

Last week we looked at the basis for the North American Model and its first two principles – Wildlife is Held in the Public Trust and Prohibition on Commerce of Dead Wildlife. Let’s look at the remaining five principles to get an overall picture of how the model works. Each of the remaining principles is just as critical to model success as the first two. Especially number seven.

Principle 3 says wildlife management is governed by the Democratic Rule of Law. Have you ever attended a state DNR or Wildlife Commission public meetings on new game regulations? That is what this is all about. Hunting and fishing laws are created through the public process where everyone has input into the systems of wildlife conservation and use. Season and bag limits for migratory game are set at the federal level through public input. State legislatures typically have a Wildlife Committee that establishes game laws. And you as hunters and anglers have the opportunity to speak your peace about how those game laws are enacted.

Principle 4 tells us there are Hunting Opportunities for All. Every citizen should have an opportunity, under the law, to hunt and fish. This is there to insure we do not adopt the European model of hunting mostly for the privileged wealthy. Notice two things. First, “under the law” means not only do you have to obey game laws but others as well. If you are a convicted felon you cannot be in possession of a firearm. That pretty much limits you to muzzleloaders and archery equipment. Also if you violate game laws you may have your license revoked. The second part is “opportunity”. We must always remember that hunting and fishing are privileges, not rights. They can be restricted or removed.

Principle 5 says there will be no Non-Frivolous Use of wildlife. Basically this means you use what you take. This is there to prohibit strictly trophy hunting; killing an animal for its trophy status and leaving the carcass in the field is the best example of this. Yes, there are hunters that go on trophy hunts. But they also pack out the meat and personally consume it or in many cases the meat is donated to food pantries for those in need. Doing otherwise can result in fines or license suspension/revocation. An older example of this mentioned in last week’s column is the market hunters in the late 1800’s that killed buffalo just for their hides and left the carcasses in the field.

Principle 6, Wildlife are International Resources. Let me state the obvious: animals cannot read signs saying “Entering the United States”. Elk in the northern Rocky Mountains freely cross over the border between Canada and the United States. The best example though is migratory waterfowl. Many of the ducks and geese hunters harvest in Arkansas rice fields or Mississippi flooded timber started their journey in the open plains of Canada. For the model to work we had to have cooperation between both countries. Due to market hunting, waterfowl populations were at a near extinction point in 1900. That is why this provision is in the model.

Last of the seven principles is Scientific Management of wildlife. In my humble opinion, this should have been in the top three. Why? Because of the seven principles, this is the one we have most violated; particularly in the last couple of decades. Governments and non-profit conservation groups, mostly made up of hunters, have spent millions of dollars studying wildlife habitat and their needs. The scientific evidence is established. However, in the last twenty or so years emotion has ruled over science. Examples are replete. Let me share one.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service started the re-introduction of gray wolves into the Upper Midwest about 20 years ago. As with any species, the herd grew and reached a maximum carrying capacity about eight years ago. They tried to establish limited hunting and trapping opportunities through a permit system to maintain balance. Animal rights groups have taken legal action to stop it. Now moose and deer populations are declining in the region because the wolf population exceeds capacity. Bear hunters are losing dogs to wolf attacks. Science should determine game seasons and limits; not emotion.

Let me close with a quote from the man who brought the Model to conclusion, President Teddy Roosevelt. It sums it up in one sentence: “The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will”. Hunters and anglers, we must take that responsibility seriously.

Why We Are Able to Hunt

This quote from President Roosevelt expresses the purpose of the North American Model

 

Talking with fellow hunters I’m continually amazed by the lack of knowledge about the North American Wildlife Conservation Model. Huh? Yea, you’re not alone. You don’t know it, but everything you do in the outdoors as a hunter or angler is guided by the 7 principles of the model. Or at least should be (more on that later). Over the next couple of weeks we’ll look at the Model, what it means to sportsmen, and why our understanding of it is important.

Seeing the depletion of wildlife resources due to market demand in the late 1800’s, a group of sportsmen led by President Teddy Roosevelt decided something had to be done before many species became extinct. Because many of these species like waterfowl were migratory and crossed international borders, it had to be done in a joint effort with Canada. This effort became the Model in 1910. The Seven Principles are:

  1. Wildlife is Held in the Public Trust
  2. Prohibition on Commerce of Dead Wildlife
  3. Democratic Rule of Law
  4. Hunting Opportunity for All
  5. Non-Frivolous Use
  6. International Resources
  7. Scientific Management

Let’s start with Principle #1 – Wildlife is Held in the Public Trust. This means that natural resources and wildlife are managed by government agencies and owned by no individual to the benefit of present and future generations. The Model has been in existence so long this, the foundational principle, just seems to be second nature to most hunters. It wasn’t so in our predominantly European heritage.

In Europe at the time, and some traditions continue today, wild game belonged to the property owner. We’ve all heard the stories of European landed gentry having trouble with the laboring class (serfs) stealing game off their land. Isn’t that where Robin Hood’s Merry Band got its start? The ghilly suit used by modern snipers? It was developed by game keepers in Great Britain to hide and catch poachers!

Due to our expansive lands and diversity of wildlife populations, public trust of wildlife was the only way to protect all species and manage them for the future of hunting. You must also remember this was the time National Forests and Parks were established by President Roosevelt. With a mixture of both government and private lands, wildlife management responsibility had to be put in public versus private hands to ensure continuity across the continent. Again, based on our European heritage and the standard throughout the world, public trust of wildlife was an unheard of concept at the time. This is why wildlife enforcement activity applies to private as well as public land in the country today.

The second principle, Prohibition on Commerce of Dead Wildlife, is tied to the first. I learned the difference when hunting in Europe while in the Army. Even to this day in Germany wild game belongs to the landowner. If you kill an animal, for me chamois and reh deer, the landowner keeps the meat and sells it to local restaurants. That is unheard of (and is illegal) here in the United States. This was developed to stop market hunting. We’ve all heard the stories of market hunters decimating buffalo herds in the west just for their hides. Another problem at the turn of the century was waterfowl market hunters. They would shoot hundreds of ducks, barrel them up, and ship them to market to be sold in restaurants. This had to be done to stop the depletion of wildlife resources.

These two principles, and the reason they are the first two, are primarily responsible for the bountiful game populations we have today. Here are some numbers to support it. At the turn of the 20th century when the Model was developed there were only 500 thousand whitetail deer in the United States. Today that number exceeds 32 million. At that same time there were an estimated 100 thousand wild turkeys. Now their population exceeds 7 million. Ducks and geese were nearly non-existent and their numbers now exceed 44 million.

Yes there are other factors that affect those numbers. The Pittman-Roberson Act comes to mind. But if our forefathers did not have the vision to establish the North American Model over 100 years ago all of that would be for naught. Next week we will look at the remaining principles to show how they work in concert.

 

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?