How Do You Spell Conservationist? H-U-N-T-E-R!

How Do You Spell Conservationist? H-U-N-T-E-R!

As an outfitter, it never ceased to amaze me how many clients in my hunting camps didn’t realize how much of their money went to support wildlife conservation. Maybe more surprising was when they would talk about their wife or other family member supporting the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) because of all the good it did for pets, not having a clue that the HSUS does not give a penny to pet shelters and is one of hunting’s most formidable enemies. So while it’s very important to reach out and engage a non-hunter when you get the chance, I think it’s equally important to make sure your weekend hunting buddies recognize the facts so they can share them with family and friends who just may be supporting the other side.

As our fight to save hunting intensifies, we must ask ourselves why we have allowed animal rights activists to get away with hijacking the truth about our critical role in wildlife conservation. Every time we are complacent about talking with non-hunters is a lost opportunity to tell our story. How else will they know the majority of wildlife conservation funding disappears without hunting?

When it comes to hunters’ documented contributions to U.S. wildlife conservation, click here for an overview of hunter conservation funding over the past century prepared for by public opinion and attitude survey research firm Responsive Management. For some fast facts, over the past two years alone, sportsmen have amassed $1.1 billion for state fish and wildlife agencies in 2016 and 2017 specifically for conservation, outdoor recreation and job creation. And check out these additional stats from 2017:

• $787 million: amount generated in by the Pittman-Robertson (P-R) Fund from hunting and recreational shooting-related excise taxes
• $853 million: amount generated from hunting licenses

In acknowledging sportsmen’s contributions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports we’ve raised more than $62.1 billion for state fish and wildlife agencies since 1939 through the P-R Act of 1937. This accounts for 80 percent of these agencies’ annual budgets. In addition to conservation and habitat enhancement initiatives, hunter-funded agency projects include: improving access to public lands; building and maintaining recreational shooting facilities; enhancing habitat, water quality and soil conservation; and conducting state hunter safety programs.

Our funding is all part of the “user pays—public benefits” program we readily embrace to ensure ongoing management of America’s fish and wildlife. Without wildlife management, there is no conservation. We back the state agencies that establish regulations and programs to conserve our public trust resources. When I pay for a hunting license, I never complain that birdwatchers and hikers don’t pay into the fund. As America’s leading conservationists, it is not even possible for us to discuss hunting without highlighting conservation. That’s why the collective hunting community spells conservationist “H-U-N-T-E-R.”

Yet to deliberately try and discredit hunters, anti-hunters call themselves the conservationists. They do this to disguise their preservationist agenda, diminish the truth about hunting and swipe our societal credibility.

Leveraging the Hunting Community’s Resources  
Fortunately, many of us hunters do act by reaching out to non-hunters and joining hunter-backed organizations like the six-million-member NRA. Acting as a unified voice to take back the narrative is exactly what the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) and NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum (HLF) are doing. For just one example, as the NRA goes about its business of protecting hunting on the state, national and international levels, NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox and NRA HLF co-chair Ward “Trig” French are serving on Secretary of the Interior (SOI) Ryan Zinke’s Hunting and Shooting Sports Conservation Council (HSSCC).  Established in January, the council advises the SOI and the Secretary of Agriculture on the implementation of policies regarding hunting, recreational shooting and wildlife and habitat conservation. It is identifying ways to benefit wildlife resources; encourage public partnership among sporting conservation organizations and state, tribal, territorial and federal government; and expand hunting and recreational shooting sports.

As HSSCC vice chair, Cox emphasizes, “Our public lands are vital to hunters and shooters in America. We have a duty to both conserve them and ensure they are open and easily accessible for the recreation and enjoyment of all Americans.” To date, the HSSCC has created several subcommittees, including the Conservation, Hunting and Shooting Sports Subcommittees to which NRA-ILA Director of Conservation, Wildlife and Natural Resources has been appointed based on her subject-matter expertise. (NRA HLF Co-Chair Ward “Trig” French is vice chair of the Hunting Subcommittee.) Recce has dedicated her 40-year award-winning career protecting wildlife, improving access to public lands and recreational shooting facilities and working alongside other like-minded organizations within the collective hunting community.

While the HSSCC is advising the Trump administration on hunting and recreational shooting policies, NRA-ILA Director of Hunting Policy Erica Rhoad was named to its international counterpart: the SOI’s International Wildlife Conservation Council. This advisory team consists of other leaders within the collective hunting and conservation community focused on increasing public awareness domestically regarding conservation, wildlife law enforcement and the tremendous economic benefits resulting from U.S. sportsmen who travel abroad to hunt.

Secretary Zinke has demonstrated from the first day he took office his commitment to protect and enhance access and opportunities for hunting and sport shooting on federal public lands, including establishing the two advisory councils,” added NRA-ILA’s Susan Recce. “A purpose of both councils is to prompt the important and sustainable role that hunters and hunting play in wildlife conservation in the United States and around the world.”

In leveraging our conservation resources through his two councils, SOI Zinke himself emphasized, “Over a century ago, Teddy Roosevelt established the American conservation ethic—best science, best practices, greatest good, longest term. Sportsmen carry on the American conservation ethic in the modern day.” (For a list of Zinke’s accomplishments after only one year in office, click here.)

Communicating with Non-Hunters
In coming full circle, as NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum Co-Chairs Richard Childress (also NRA 1st Vice President) and Ward “Trig” French say, we must take every opportunity, and make one where one does not exist, to teach the public and the media that hunting is conservation. (To read’s article “How to Use the Mainstream Media to Save Hunting,” posted on Aug. 7 click here.) Because the media applies the term “conservationist” so broadly, there is no clear-cut line between hunters and hunter-backed organizations that pay for conservation and those who don’t, starting with the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. For a list of other groups using conservation as a front to shut down hunting, click on these two links: 

• Hunting’s Five Formidable Foes
• Five Formidable Foes of Hunting—Part 2

Getting Started
An easy way to open up conversations with non-hunters is to take advantage of the summer season: Invite them for a cookout. Whether its co-workers or acquaintances I’ve met through real estate or the golf course, I host barbecues where the main course is always wild game. When they comment on how good the meat is, that’s my cue to talk about the positive sides of hunting: hunter funding for conservation; hunters’ voluntary donations of time and money to assist with habitat enhancement projects; benefits of the organic “field to table” movement; and contributions to Hunters for the Hungry (HFH) programs where hunters share their low-cholesterol, high-protein game meat with those less fortunate. (Click here for details on the NRA HFH Information Clearinghouse and to get a list of HFH programs in your area.)

As you talk with non-hunters, be sure to share a fact or a story about how hunters are integral to wildlife conservation. They may not ask to join you on a hunt, but that’s not the point. The goal is to get non-hunters to see past the misinformation spoon-fed to them 24/7 by anti-hunters and the uninformed media. Don’t assume anyone else has reached out and told them that it’s our funding that allows backpackers, campers and every other outdoor enthusiast to enjoy our natural wildlife resources. Ask them where the millions of dollars for conservation and habitat restoration programs would come from each year if not hunters. The unfiltered lens of truth shows hunting is conservation every time.

Reaching out to even one non-hunter impacts someone’s attitudes toward hunters and hunting. And if this person shares your conversation with another non-hunter, you may reach more people than you imagine.

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About the Author: NRA Life member, award-winning outdoor TV host and recreational real estate associate broker Phil Phillips has hunted five continents, taking more than 200 big-game animals and nearly 60 species worldwide. Prior to hosting hunting programs, he started Colorado's first Ranching for Wildlife Program for antelope, which he ran for 15 years. Working alongside professional land managers to restore and protect habitat, Phil went on to guide clients to 500-plus big-game animals that have qualified for the record book. In 1992 Safari Club International honored him as the North American Bowhunting Outfitter of the Year.