As a long time hunter and shooting sportsman who is not an NRA member, I cringe when the the topic of guns and hunting comes up in political circumstances. Guns and hunting inspire a unique sort of political pandering. Hillary Clinton recently led a long line from the left, who mysteriously develop a shooting and hunting heritage when they get a whiff of the wind in a place like Pennsylvania. John Kerry tried it in 2004 and it didn’t fly then either. To be fair, candidates on the right occasionally catch the sickness – the most recent example: Mitt (Varmint Hunter) Romney. I’ve got a better, very simple idea, for connecting with the hunting community, even if you don’t hunt – but first, a little history.
Ninety years ago, the Canada Goose and White-tailed Deer were all but gone. Today we have deer eating the azaleas and ending up as roadkill, the geese crapping all over the golf course – pests! So how did endangered species become pests? Dedicated citizens in the early conservation organizations worked diligently at promoting habitat preservation, pollution reduction and scientific game management. Few people outside of the sporting community though, realize that I’m not talking about the weeping kiddies watching Disney’s Bambi who grew up to become card-carrying PETA members. No, I’m talking about hunters. The BAD GUYS!
The White-tailed Deer resurgence in the Eastern United States directly resulted from the efforts conservation organizations founded by hunters and fishermen. The Canada Goose enjoys a similar status. As absurd as it sounds, dedicated hunters, in trying to preserve the game supply and their hunting heritage, helped to create the over-abundance of wildlife that we have now in the suburbs and exurbs of the East and (the West too, but I don’t have any personal experience there.)
In the 1920s and 1930s, hunters and freshwater fishermen formed organizations like The Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA) and Ducks Unlimited. Ordinary people (who enjoyed fishing and hunting both as sport and a means of sustenance) formed organizations to stop the rape and pillage that was commercial hunting at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. They also realized the dangers to the game stock posed by pollution, particularly water pollution.
It took almost fifty years of prodding by these groups and others for passage of the first comprehensive clean water legislation, but they did have early success in other areas that laid the groundwork. Shortly after the IWLA was formed, they convinced Congress to create the Upper Mississippi Wildlife and Fish Refuge and in 1937, Congress passed the Pittman-Robertson Act and FDR signed it into law.
The Pittman-Robertson Act, or by it’s official name, “The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act” constituted a federally mandated usage tax on sporting equipment, earmarked to pay for conservation programs run by the states. The act imposed an 11% excise tax on sporting guns and ammunition, the proceeds of which, go to state programs for: “…acquisition and improvement of wildlife habitat, introduction of wildlife into suitable habitat, research into wildlife problems, surveys and inventories of wildlife problems, acquisition and development of access facilities for public use…” The excise tax was later expanded to include non-hunting firearms (pistols) and ammunition, and again for archery equipment. The act provided the funds that made scientific game management possible through the efforts of the game and fisheries management departments in the states.
These early successes demonstrate rational and creative public approaches to a public problem by groups that continue to advocate for the environment.
So a bit of advice for candidates (and their advisors): If you want to connect with hunters without subjecting yourself to ridicule, skip the staged photo shoot in the duck blind. Learn about people like Will Dilg, Aldo Leopold, and Joseph Knapp. Read A Sand County Almanac. Then, talk about groups like The Izaak Walton League and Ducks Unlimited. Talk about the contributions of hunters and fishermen to the conservation movement in the United States. You might even connect with the environmental crowd too!