Tim and I roared with laughter as we pulled away from the gas station in town. A man who was not from our neck of the woods took umbrage to the NRA sticker on my truck. For some reason, the man thought I had RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and fully-automatic AK-47s in my rig but all I packed was a Winchester Model 70 for whitetail, a Winchester Model 12 for waterfowl and a Parker VH 20 for grouse and woodcock. I understood that one of my setters covers ground at the speed of heat and hones in on birds like a missile, but RPGs and AKs? Really?
While the exchange was humorous, it showed how the Second Amendment is of critical importance to hunters. We hunters must stand up for our beliefs, but the way in which we do it is also important.
While it's normal to push back when attacked, what would have been accomplished had I ranted at the guy at the gas station? Probably not much. But whenever someone is upset with me or laughs at me because I support hunting and the Second Amendment, I want to know why. The question has a way of opening minds, and only when one’s mind is open can that person listen to reason. Then I focus not just on getting my point across, but on getting it across correctly.
I know from experience that humor doesn't always work. A decade or so ago, I was bird hunting with my friend on his property. He had 500 acres and worked hard to manage the land to hold birds. Lots of birds drew lots of folks and he didn't want to do all the work only for others to enjoy. Therefore, he came up with a fair program. He posted the property with “No Trespassing” signs every 100 feet, then offered hunting opportunities to those who asked for written permission. All one had to do was ask.
During one hunt there, my dog went on point. A pair of grouse flushed and my friend and I shot. "Hey!" yelled a woman. "Stop shooting at me!" It was a woman from the city walking her dog. The dog, a Lab, wore an orange collar and cape. The woman was on the phone with the police in an instant. An officer arrived a few minutes later.
I hoped it would be Officer Clarke. I knew him well, as we’d gone to school and played football together. However, the officer who arrived was new to the force and just as confused as my friend and I were.
"Arrest these men," she said. "They were shooting at me."
"Where were you when the shots were fired?" asked the officer.
"Right there," she pointed.
"And you didn't see or respect the ‘No Trespassing’ signs on the road?"
"There aren't any," she said, adding, “at least none that I could see."
"They're yellow and tacked on the trees about every 100 feet. I saw them on my way in. We might walk down to the road and see if they're still there. Maybe they moved."
"I'm allowed to take my dog for a walk," she said.
"Of course you are. Do you have written permission as the sign requests?"
"What's that got to do with anything?"
He shook his head. "Ma'am, I'm going to have to write you up for trespassing on private property. You were on private property without permission."
We didn't have to say a word. In fact, it was better that we didn't.
Another example has to do with land being in “current use.” Current-use property owners receive tax credits for leaving their forest, marshland and agricultural land in a natural state and can receive additional tax savings through recreational easements. Recreational easement land is kept open for public use whether it be for hunting, fishing, hiking or birdwatching. If you don't want hunters on your land then you must post it. If you don’t post it, you lose your deductions—fairly simple.
A few years ago I found a property I wanted to hunt. There were big fields that held turkey in the spring, a hardwood stand that was loaded with whitetails and the river bottom was a flood plain that held woodcock and grouse. I knocked on the landowner's door to ask for permission.
"No, you can't," he said. "I don't care about hunting. I don't want people on my land anymore."
"Okay," I said, "But then why haven't you posted your property? Then I wouldn't have wasted your ... or my ... time."
"I don't want to lose the tax credits," he said.
"But the tax credits come as a result of you letting hunters on your land."
"I just want the tax credits,” he repeated. “I don't want folks on my land."
In cases such as these, a note to the IRS makes the most sense.
In closing, we know that dealing with anti-hunting sentiment can be like diffusing a bomb. Sometimes it is best for members of the hunting community to walk away from a scenario. But at other times we can make headway. In these cases, remain calm, present a positive attitude and think through the most effective way to get your point across. When talking to the American public about hunters and legal, regulated hunting, you might win someone over just by explaining how hunting is a tool for wildlife population control and that it funds wildlife conservation. Don’t assume the general public is aware of this. And share how hunters care about wildlife. As the NRA and members of the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum say, collectively working together to talk to the public about hunting can be the difference in saving its future.