by Jeff Sipe, Outdoor Industry Professional - Monday, July 12, 2021
"Red Fox to Grey Squirrel, come in Grey Squirrel."
"Go ahead, Red."
"The Fox is in the hen house. I repeat, the Fox is in the hen house."
My best friend and hunting buddy, David Wisher, and I always had fun communicating in the field. This was the common phrase letting each other know that one of us was back at camp. And that meant one would have a cold beverage waiting for the other. But the connotation of that saying means something more nefarious than what we meant it to be.
Growing up in the firearms industry, my interpretation of those "in the industry" were always the same: conservative Western outdoorsman. Okay, maybe that is a narrow-minded viewpoint, but it is a reality for a Northwest native Montanan. Both sides of my family were majority Democrats, hardworking, blue-collar types. I learned to hunt and fish with all of them, and the lessons I learned stick with me today. The more I worked in the industry, the more I understood the complexities of it. However, looking at our industry today, I sometimes don't even recognize it. When I first got involved in it, I was amazed at how many competitive companies would help each other, almost like families, whether a hunting or military/law enforcement company. I'm not saying there wasn't any competitiveness, but everyone seemed to be on the same page. We fought for the same things, we fought against the same things. We all got along.
Well, things have changed a lot and now are highly political. I'm not saying there aren't Republicans and Democrats still out hunting and shooting together because there always have been. I'm just saying, for the most part, putting aside all political differences, that the entire industry was extremely conservative as a whole, and that has changed.
In today's industry, there is such a wide range of morals, values and beliefs. I have watched organizational ad campaign after campaign talking of change, inclusion, acceptance, education and understanding. Yet we continue to fight amongst ourselves like mortal enemies. So much so that I am not sure what we all stand for anymore. I believe that if you look at just the outdoor writers alone, you will find the most eclectic group of different belief systems you never knew existed. And there is nothing wrong with that. I know most of them, and even some of the most far-left ones are some of my best friends. And why is that? I believe it is because we have the same love and passion for hunting and the shooting sports. And as far as the priorities our industry holds dear, I would say the Second Amendment is No. 1 and hunting and conservation is No. 2. This is a tough one for me because for most of my life, I never thought I would have to worry about the Second Amendment as we do now, so hunting and conservation were always No. 1 for me—until now.
However, the fact remains that there are those among us who are doing everything they can to divide and create rifts in our community. Please do not kid yourself: People who stand against us want us to fight and disagree. The only way to destroy the most influential industry lobby in the country—the shooting, hunting and outdoor trade industry—is to divide us and get us to fight each other. Those people and organizations are not always easy to spot and hence go unnoticed for long periods. Usually, by the time they are called out, their following is so large, and providing they promise copious amounts of beer their followers will refuse to believe anything contrary to their thinking. So, you must dig. You must find out where their money is coming from, who is providing the money and what their agenda is. Only then will you find out what that person or organization is genuinely all about and represents.
I recently read an article in the New York Times referencing a major foundation that funds many of these organizations and then funds the political action committees that are 100-percent for the destruction of the NRA and our industry. So which organizations are getting funded? What are political action committees also getting supported by the same foundations? It is not hard to tie it all together once you examine things. People often use the term “green decoys” to describe these kinds of organizations, and many of them use the term as a badge of honor. But is that the best thing for our industry? I mean, God forbid one of these industry professionals decides to use his or her influence to bash our industry as a whole and make us all look like a bunch of raving lunatics (more on that later).
Now listen, I am not writing to bash anyone. I am here to educate. So, when you find people who you believe are not in the industry because they love it or might have misguided motives, I think it is our responsibility to call them out and then educate them. I think most of the people in these organizations are good people, and I think we should give them the benefit of the doubt until we know their motives are misguided. It is only at that point where I believe we as an industry need to stand up and say, "You are not welcome here."
Today we are in the fight of our lives for some of the most sacred freedoms we all value to the most profound sense of our beings. We are fighting for the Second Amendment, and we are fighting to keep anti-hunters from pushing their agenda to the fullest. There have been so many “great causes” that people seem to fight for, like the Second Amendment, public lands, so-called "assault" rifles, universal concealed carry, suppressors, universal background checks, new hunter training and more. Some of these causes are incredibly touchy subjects that can cause an ordinarily mellow individual to turn into a mouth-frothing belligerent lunatic.
Let's first touch on the mouth-frothing. First, we all need to understand that we are passionate regarding our industry. We will, if required, fight to the death to preserve our freedoms that the Constitution guarantees. So, let's all agree on that and move on. After all, we must be adults and listen before we start spewing words to the contrary. Once you listen to a specific stance, whether it be public lands versus private-land hunting or, God forbid, the states' rights versus federal land debate. Yes, I know many of you are frothing already. But once you have listened to the other side, you must learn how to educate them calmly. If you cannot, then your argument is senseless.
Let me explain. Years ago, when the public lands debate started to rage, I found myself on the Libertarian's side of states’ rights. Per the Constitution, I felt that states should control the land in their state. However, after thinking about my time being stationed in San Antonio, Texas, I remembered how hard it was to find anywhere to hunt on an enlisted person’s wage, being married with two kids. I couldn't find anywhere to hunt that wouldn’t have required me to pay three months' salary. So, I never got to hunt in Texas back then. And I certainly couldn't afford to fly back to Montana to go hunting. Well, there is a considerable difference between Texas and Montana when it comes to public-land hunting and being able to “just go.” It was this very point, knowing that whoever is in power on a given day in the state can change his or her mind on what to do with the lands owned by the state, that changed my mind on this subject. I didn't want to see Montana become all private land. And hence I changed my viewpoint.
Now that's not to say I am against private-land hunting—I am not. I am a major supporter of it. I have my negative thoughts about public-land hunting too. And just like my friend and public-land hunting advocate Randy Newberg has said many times on his hunting TV show, when he runs into other hunters who mess up the hunt, “Well... that's public-land hunting, you take the good with the bad,” and then he smiles.
You see, sometimes it just takes some common sense and calm thinking to find common ground with people when we do not always agree. It can happen. It just has to be a calm, educating discussion. Otherwise, the mouth-frothing frenzy takes over and divides us all even further.
However, and I say this with the strictest expression on my face: When we find the “fox in the hen house,” the one who is not in this for the betterment of the industry, who is here to cause rifts, who laughs at the fighting and then wholeheartedly supports politicians who constantly attack those beliefs that are at the core of our morals, what do we do? Well, as I have seen with my own eyes, not much. Other than some chest-pounding and maybe some social media bad-mouthing. But by God, we will destroy former Outdoor Life hunting editor Jim Zumbo’s career based on one errant statement, which I believe he has learned to correct. This is an example that could have used some calm education and discussion first.
In the end, we are still allowing real foxes to roam the hen house. We still act with kid gloves when we know someone is not suitable for this group. We rarely stand up and say, “Enough.”
We are not the industry we were 20 years ago. We have changed dramatically. We have grown and morphed into something that looks like the melting pot of America. And you know what? It's okay. We have to learn to work with each other again, and we have to learn to educate the errant ones. We have to be mentors to both newbies to hunting and shooting and to those who wish us ill will. We have to focus on the good-hearted people we are. But, when we find an actual “fox,” who intends to eat us, we also need to re-learn to fight together as one and clean house.
About the Voice of Leadership Panel
Facilitated by James “Jay” Pinsky, editor of The Hunting Wire, and Peter Churchbourne, a director with the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum (HLF), the Voice of Leadership Panel (VLP) is an appointed six-member group of outdoor industry leaders dedicated to sharing their voices on key hunting and outdoor recreation issues to inform, inspire and educate the hunting community. Appointed for a one-year term, VLP panelists will address key hunting topics and provide leadership-based digital content to be featured on The Hunting Wire and the NRA HLF website, NRAHLF.org.
Members of the 2020-2021 VLP include:
• Jim Curcuruto, Hunting and Firearm Industry Consultant formerly with the National Shooting Sports Foundation
• Mandy Harling, National Director of Hunting Heritage Programs, National Wild Turkey Federation
• Jenifer Wisniewski, Chief, Outreach and Communication, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
• Jess Johnson, Legislative and Advocacy, Wyoming Wildlife Federation
• Joel Brice, Vice President, Waterfowl & Hunter Recruitment Programs, Delta Waterfowl
• David Baxter, Educator, Texas Youth Foundation, Texas Youth Hunting Program
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