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The Role of the Hunter and the Gun in Wildlife Conservation

The Role of the Hunter and the Gun in Wildlife Conservation

As humans, our unique seat atop nature’s food chain is a position of immense power and responsibility. Proper recognition of that power inspires an acceptance of our stewardship obligation. We must be more than predators or protectors; we must be conservators. Conservation can be concisely and correctly defined as: “The wise use–without waste.” Those who accept the honorable burden of natural resource conservation derive a wealth of personal satisfaction from the commitment.

We American hunters are an integral part of the natural world and consumers of its precious natural resources. As such, our incumbent stewardship of those resources is a pleasant and rewarding burden–a covenant of care. No one wants wildlife to thrive more than hunters and trappers. We desire that wildlife has everything required to prosper, reproduce and thrive without suffering the ravages of disease or starvation.

Providing Hands-on Conservation
As consumptive users of wild resources, we are more than a funding source to the tune of $1.1  billion alone for 2016.We are the actual hands-on wildlife managers who apply the specific management needs in cooperation with state and federal wildlife agencies. Without the hunter and his or her gun, wildlife management is non-existent. 

When a wildlife species, such as the whitetail deer, becomes overpopulated and at risk for disease and wasteful loss, we act to reduce the population to scientifically viable numbers—and we pay for the privilege of doing so. Hunters pay the bill for managing wildlife and they actually apply that management to the benefit of the resource—benefits that extend to non-game species alike—and to the non-hunting public. That dynamic is, in and of itself, amazing.

Several decades ago, the infamous Gypsy moth invaded much of northeast America and literally decimated thousands of square miles of prime oak forests. The moth’s devastation spread southward through the Appalachian Mountains like a raging wildfire, killing every species of oak tree. The moth affected a sudden and complete change in forest composition, so vast that an army of timbermen and thousands of chainsaws could not possibly have replicated the sudden deforestation.

This oak-forest holocaust removed the leaf canopy, permitting sunlight to reach the forest floor and pull new plant growth from the soil at an astounding rate. Lumbermen raced to salvage the standing dead oaks and the once cool, dark, park-like mature oak forest lands were quickly converted into the most productive of all forest types: early-successional, or habitat with vigorously growing grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees that provide excellent food and cover.

This habitat is the most beneficial forest stage for whitetail deer, resulting in their population numbers growing so rapidly that the phenomenon can be legitimately described as a population explosion. In just a few short years, the burgeoning deer population overflowed the brushlands to destroy farm crops, ravage landscaping, and led to greatly-increased incidents of deer-vehicle collisions and auto-insurance claims.

Deer numbers were out of control and something had to be done about it. Wildlife managers reacted by establishing regulations to adjust the deer population to a level that reduced damage to farm crops, home landscapes and deer-vehicle collision rates. Hunting was the method and the gun was the tool.

Once again, not only did hunters fix the problem they paid for the privilege through purchasing additional antlerless deer licenses. Much of that funding was applied to the creation of wildlife-friendly food plots, forest openings and herbaceous seedings of right-of-ways to keep deer off the highways and out of farm fields and suburban lawns. In the process, thousands of pounds of top quality protein was secured for the hunter’s families and donated to food banks through Hunters for the Hungry

Quite simply, legal hunting is the most highly effective wildlife management tool ever devised. Without the hunter and the gun, wildlife populations suffer maladies such as starvation and diseases related to habitat destruction—and game wardens, also commonly referred to as conservation officers and wildlife officers, are law enforcement officers responsible for the protection and conservation of fish and wildlife at the state and/or federal level.

Funding Wildlife Law Enforcement
The American hunter, in helping to fund the salaries of wildlife conservation officers, also pays for the enforcement of wildlife protection laws. We hunters even pay for the privilege to not hunt some species. For example, just a few decades ago, hunting of the American Wood duck was totally prohibited by game laws because their numbers were too low to risk any further reduction at man’s hand. The Woodie is the most colorful game bird native to North America. Because of its beauty and wonderfully delicious flesh, it is one of the most coveted prizes in the waterfowling world, but for several decades we hunters funded its total protection. In addition, we built and erected thousands upon thousands of wood duck nesting boxes across the country to replicate tree-cavity nesting sites. The effort was so successful that we now enjoy an abundance of these wonderfully wild birds and we hunt them again within the restraints of seasons and bag limits designed to ensure their viability and a bright future. 

We hunters also paid for salaries of the game wardens who enforced the regulations that protected the woodies until they could recover from population lows. During the many years of low wood duck numbers, we purchased state hunting licenses, federal duck stamps and state duck stamps, and paid taxes on our guns, ammo, waders, hip boots, blinds, boats and other equipment yet were prohibited from taking a wood duck. That’s the equivalent of paying the grocery for a gallon of milk but not receiving the milk.

Laying the Groundwork: The Hunter and His Gun
The hunter and the gun are absolutely vital tools for successful wildlife management in America. Without them, wildlife would suffer and the general public would be taxed to hire wildlife control agents. NRA members recognize that the intrinsic value of our guns surpasses the need for self-defense. The proper and ethical use of firearms for sport hunting is the most effective and economical means of maintaining healthy wildlife populations, providing exceptional outdoor sport and providing top quality food for American dinner tables.

Without guns and hunting, there is no wildlife management, but the anti-gun lobby ignores this vital truth. The same is true of the anti-hunting zealots who are purposely ignorant of wise wildlife management practices and the importance of the hunter and his gun to the welfare of America’s rich wildlife resources.

Take pride in being a gun owner and an American hunter. You are wildlife’s best friend.

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