S.D. Gov. Kristi Noem Awarded 2023 NRA Distinguished Hunters Leadership Award

S.D. Gov. Kristi Noem Awarded 2023 NRA Distinguished Hunters Leadership Award

“You’re defending the rights that make our nation great.”—S.D. Gov. Kristi Noem in a video championing the NRA at the annual NRA HLF dinner on April 13, 2023

 The NRA Hunters' Leadership Forum (HLF) bestowed its 2023 NRA Distinguished Hunters Leadership Award on South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem during the 152nd NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Indianapolis. The Indiana Rooftop Ballroom was the venue for the April 13 event that recognized the NRA Life member and hunter for her exceptional leadership in the arena of hunting and wildlife conservation.

In her acceptance speech, Gov. Noem enthusiastically shared her priorities with the crowd, explaining the importance of hunting to her and her family, and why she is so passionate about conservation. “Our vacations were always about being outdoors,” she said, referring to her childhood spent on the family farm. “Dad would load up us kids and go hunting,” which she said taught her how Americans’ firearms freedoms went far beyond the right to personal protection passed down to us by our Founding Fathers. Gov. Noem said that although she lost her dad in an accident when he was 49, he had already instilled in her the core values of the hunter, a love of freedom and an appreciation of the land.

“Through hunting you learn to become a problem solver,” she said. “We don’t know what hard is in this country and we’re crippling our children. Our country needs some problem solvers who want to talk about the challenges.”

It was those values instilled in her throughout her life that played a part in her decision to run for governor in 2018. Gov. Noem said she came to realize that “you can give speeches, but it doesn’t mean you did anything.” She famously ran on a platform of stronger families, and passing on hunting for a second century in South Dakota. She drew laughter from those in attendance when she noted that South Dakota is the only state that actively celebrates shooting its state bird, acknowledging that she, along with her husband, Brian, and their family make all of their plans around pheasant season.

But Gov. Noem said she recognized that to continue hunting pheasants, the state bird needed to be sustained to ensure the second century of pheasant hunting in South Dakota was as successful as the first. To that end, she started the Second Century Habitat Program, an initiative to increase resources to grow the state’s habitat through state funding and private donations, followed by a nest-predator bounty program, which she said has been successful in protecting ground nests for pheasants. In fact, more than 30 percent of participants in the bounty program were under 18 years old, said Noem, underscoring the importance of teaching future generations about the role of hunting and trapping as a wildlife management and conservation tool.

So after being elected South Dakota’s first female governor—running on a platform of protecting South Dakotans against tax increases, government growth, federal intrusion and government secrecy—it was no surprise that Gov. Noem was re-elected in 2022 with the largest vote total in state history. Gov. Noem maintains that she respects her constituents’ rights, trusting them to make the best decisions for themselves and their communities as they focus on building stronger families.

Promoting the need to protect American freedoms at every turn, she urged the crowd to step up their efforts. “See what you can do and support the HLF,” she said. “Have these conversations. The problem with this country is we’ve stopped talking. Bring up the hard subjects. More than ever, people want to be safe and have their freedom. If we lose this country where will we go? Let’s be grateful for living in America.”

SD Gov. Kristi Noem, second from right, stands with NRA personnel at NRA HLF banquet
Left to right: NRA HLF Chairman Ward "Trig" French, HLF’s Peter Churchbourne, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and HLF’s Karen Mehall Phillips greet each other during the NRA HLF annual banquet where Noem received the organization’s NRA Distinguished Hunters Leadership Award.

But the sentiment that seemed to most resonate with the crowd were her closing remarks when she said, “How dare we leave [our children] less of a country than we grew up in. Talk about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights—about what secures freedom. Do it for our kids. God bless you.”

Sponsored by Worldwide Trophy Adventures with taxidermy displays provided by Woods and Waters Taxidermy, the evening underscored why we hunt and how we hunters care deeply about wildlife. But Gov. Noem was not yet finished standing up for the NRA and American freedom. She returned to the national stage on Friday, April 14, to address the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum.

She doubled down on her commitment to gun owners, hunters and shooters by signing an executive order on stage to prevent state agencies from contracting with large banks that discriminate against firearm-related industries. Examples of such discrimination include refusing to engage in the trade of goods or services and terminating existing business relationships.

We NRA members and hunters give thanks for leaders like Gov. Noem who stand with us in protecting the freedoms upon which America was founded. No doubt she will remain out front, telling the story of hunting as a driving force of wildlife conservation into the future.