We live in an era where profiling and labeling people seems to be taboo. Some say that labels should only be used for items like jars and envelopes and not for people. Even though labeling certain people may not always be appropriate, some forms of labeling can be done in a positive manner.
After working as a state wildlife conservation officer in Michigan for nearly 30 years, I confidently can label one particular group of people. I proudly label the vast majority of hunters as great citizens. I label hunters as people who care about our wildlife, natural resources, and our fellow man. I label hunters as people who have conviction and strong beliefs in issues such as our constitution, faith and love of their families. And I label hunters as true conservationists.
This labeling and my knowledge about hunters comes from my decades of personal experiences and interactions with thousands upon thousands of hunters. From so many positive contacts with hunters comes my favorable opinion about this group of people who care so much.
Regarding hunters’ core beliefs in our constitutional rights, not much needs to be written here, as it was very obvious to me that almost all hunters harbor very strong beliefs in our founding documents and such rights as the Second Amendment.
As far as the faith issue is concerned, most hunters care about religious values and, for example, understand the Bible teachings from the book of “Genesis.” From these verses, we are taught that God created fish, birds and animals for man’s use for food. It is stated that man is to have dominion over these creatures and be good stewards of these creatures and is not to waste them. Understanding these principles shows why many hunters are people of faith, and are often seen saying prayers of thanks after a successful hunting experience. I have witnessed hunters actually kneel down, tear up and thank God for the animal that they just harvested. Many TV shows feature hunters mentioning God after a hunt. Legendary hunter, musician and great American Ted Nugent often mentions God after he shoots an animal. He mentions God’s creation, is very thankful and cherishes his hunting experience.
As far as family is concerned, most hunters truly care about their families and spend quality time outdoors together. So much is learned by hunters while hunting with family members. Learning about nature, renewable resources, animal habits and lifestyles, and respect for our environment are just a few of the lessons learned. Family members including grandparents, parents and their children often gather at special places such as deer camp. Hunters enjoy family time there and carry fond memories with them their entire lives.
Some groups and political organizations act as if they have a patent or lockbox on environmental, conservation and natural resource protection issues. On the contrary, it is the hunter who cares about and has compassion for our outdoor world. Just look at how hunters have supported conservation efforts over the years. Hunters contribute more than $800 million per year from excise taxes alone on guns, ammo and sporting goods. As reported by NRAHLF.org, in 2016, $1.1 billion in sportsmen-generated funding was allocated back to our states for wildlife and habitat programs. Hunters belong to many clubs and organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, the National Rifle Association, National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), Pheasants Forever, Safari Club International (SCI), Whitetails Unlimited and many other groups whose mission statements include caring for our wildlife and natural resources. Through their clubs, hunters donate more than $2.6 billion in additional funds annually to wildlife and habitat programs.
Through hunters’ collective efforts in supporting healthy and stable wildlife populations, numerous species, including game and non-game species, have benefited. For a few examples, the U.S. whitetail deer population was down to only 300,000 animals in 1930 and now numbers more than 30 million. Elk numbers tumbled to only 100,000 elk in 1900 and now total more than 1.1 million. Wild turkey numbers fell to around 100,000 in 1930 and now total 7 million nationwide. These examples show how hunters care about our wildlife and its long term stability, and how hunters strive to keep populations healthy so as not to allow our animals to become threatened or endangered. In addition, hunters do an amazing amount of good deeds for our wildlife and its habitat through America’s many sportsman and conservation clubs. Even non-game birds and animals receive hunter funding for conservation and preservation projects. User groups such as bird watchers, kayak and canoeing enthusiasts, boaters and people who just love the outdoors benefit from the care hunters have for our resources and the projects paid for by hunters.
Not only do hunters care and have compassion for our wildlife and our environment, hunters also care for other human beings. An example of hunters’ “caring spirit” can be seen by all of the good accomplished through the Hunters for the Hungry (HFH) movement each year. HFH is an initiative created by the NRA that has brought tens of thousands of pounds of meat to those in need in homeless shelters, soup kitchens and church kitchens across America. Many groups and clubs such as the NWTF and SCI participate in “Hunters Feeding the Hungry,” “Sportsmen against Hunger” and similarly-titled programs where hunters regularly donate game meat to needy people. The NRA operates a HFH information clearinghouse, working closely with state agencies to put interested individuals in touch with programs in their area and to foster public awareness through education, fundraising and publicity. (For more information on programs in your community, click here. For the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum HFH fact sheet, click here.)
In total, 2.8 million pounds of game meat is donated annually by hunters through such programs, which provide more than 11 million meals for those less fortunate. In addition to these staggering numbers, hundreds of thousands of meals are provided directly by hunters to their relatives, neighbors and friends in need.
Hunters also care about firearm safety and hunting ethics, and care about being responsible hunters. These issues are passed down from generation to generation but are also taught in hunter safety/education classes. Conservation officers and thousands of caring volunteer hunter safety instructors are part of a culture of training and educating all hunters. There is absolutely no doubt that the implementation of hunter education classes has led to hunting being a very safe sport. The origin of hunter safety courses can be traced back to 1949, when the NRA created our country’s first hunter education course. The NRA worked in conjunction with the state of New York and developed the first state based hunter education curriculum.
Also, the NRA recently introduced a free, very comprehensive NRA Online Hunter Education course that to date has been adopted by three states. It launched in Florida in August and has since expanded to Connecticut and Oregon. The NRA’s goal is to have it offered in all 50 states within five years. Most hunters 50 years of age and under have passed a hunter safety course. The classes are mandatory in all 50 states before being able to go hunting. These hunter safety courses produce millions of responsible individuals similar to how Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America and 4-H clubs across America produce responsible members. Through all of the great work that our hunter safety instructors and coordinators do, hunters are taught to be a group of people who care about people and nature, to act responsibly, legally and ethically, and to enjoy their sport in a safe manner.
Through my eyes as a conservation officer, I am pleased to be able to place these labels on hunters. I have seen the proof that most hunters live in a world and culture where they are good stewards of our land and our natural resources, and use firearms in a safe, ethical, and legal manner. I beam with pride when I mention this fine group of people.