Welcome to Hunting in America, our four part series on one of our country’s most sacred traditions. It is a complex, wide ranging, set of principles and activities that brings out many of the great qualities of Americans. With roots set deep in our origins, hunting shows us about our ancestry, as well as providing a map for our future. While certainly a long story to tell, it is vital for us to understand this practice.
In the first part of the series, we hope to provide a framework, giving background on America’s earliest forms of hunting, what led to the rise of the modern sportsman, what hunting provides for our society, the issues it faces, and where it is headed in the next few decades.
Almost immediately after founding the first colony in New England, settlers began hunting out of necessity. While farming and trading provided them with a great deal of food, it wasn’t enough for sustenance. In order to survive, they would have to use the wildlife surrounding them to their advantage.
Fishing was an early source of food for those on the Atlantic coast, but many other animals would be pursued. These included bears, deer, elk, and small game. These would provide them not only with food, but furs and bones to trade with the Native Americans and goods to exchange with other countries in order to acquire supplies that they wouldn’t otherwise be privy to.
It was during this time that the first hunting seasons were developed. At first, the settlers believed that predators were responsible for the sharp decline in game, but soon they realized that they would need to take responsibility for keeping the populations managed through strict practices. In Portsmouth, Rhode Island in 1646, they enacted the first closed season on deer hunting, in order to preserve the species. (1)
With more and more Americans realizing our Manifest Destiny and heading west, new species were discovered and more hunting opportunities presented themselves. Trading posts were important to the exchange of the goods procured from hunting buffaloes and other wild animals.
As our nation developed, so did the lifestyle of hunting. In the mid-19th century, the rise of the sportsman began to develop. Some of the very first American Sportsmen clubs rose to prominence during this time period. One such club was the New York Sportsmen’s Club, which began a practice of drafting laws to regulate fishing and hunting of certain indigenous species.
Sportsmen clubs sprouted up everywhere. These groups led to a more increased effort towards conservation. In 1871, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began. The Forest Reserve Act was established in 1891, followed by the establishment of the U.S. Forest Service. Hunting continued its rise with the creation of the National Rifle Association in 1871. The first state hunting licenses were issued in Michigan and North Dakota during this time period as well.
There were many prominent leaders in this field at the time, but none more famous than Theodore Roosevelt. He was a major hunting advocate, and during his time in the presidency he proved that by accomplishing many goals set for conservation and hunting. 230 million acres were set aside by the government during his time in office. He also facilitated the creation of the U.S. Forest Service, established dozens of preserves and reservations for wildlife and forests, and was responsible for many of the great national parks we still enjoy. (2)
Heading into the 1900s, American Conservation programs were on the upswing, and the rise of sportsmen was apparent. The National Park Service was created, conservation agencies across the country were united through the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, and hunting began to modernize itself into the current form we enjoy.
Unfortunately, in the 1970s the heritage that had been established by hunting was facing critical threats from outsiders. The formation of the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance was brought about through a need to protect the rights of hunters and fishermen. Additionally, hunting rights groups have popped up in every state, providing the necessary defense against unwarranted attacks against the lifestyle.
The men and women who hunt, fish, and enjoy the lifestyle provided from these activities now face more threats than ever before. Animal rights groups with deep pockets are bombarding them with legislation. There is a need to protect them, but it is also important to educate those who don’t participate in these activities on the benefits we all receive from them.
Hunting in America has always provided two major benefits to society: wildlife management and an economic boost.
Wildlife management is a term that has evolved over time. For our ancestors, that meant pure survival. Protecting oneself from certain dangerous creatures and using others for food, shelter, and trade for other necessary goods.
Now, the term is more associated with the management side. Protecting the survival of species is not only the right decision from an environmental standpoint, but allows for future hunting seasons to endure and in turn protects us from overcrowding issues that can arise from a flourishing animal population.
Not only are these wildlife populations well under control, but they are also thriving since many conservation programs were put into place in the early 1900s. For example, the white-tailed deer population was a meager half a million over 100 years ago. Now, through conservation efforts, well planned hunting seasons, and reasonable limits for hunters, the population is around 32,000,000!
The same can be said for almost every wildlife species. Most of these animals number in the millions, which was not the case before the efforts of hunters and wildlife enthusiasts became commonplace.
Even more impressive are the numbers on the economic impact of hunting. With almost 6% of the U.S. population participating in hunting activities (3), business is booming and the entire country is seeing the benefits of that. In 2011, hunters spent $38.3 billion (with an economic multiplier effect of $86.9 billion!), amounting to $11.8 billion in state and federal tax revenues alone. (4)
These sportsmen contribute on average $8 million per day, much of which goes towards conservation efforts. Billions of dollars have been used towards protecting the habitats of fish and wildlife throughout the country, all of which help to maintain the welfare of these animals. Animal “rights” groups that want to end hunting practices say they care about the well being of these animals, but in reality they are only damaging the conservation efforts that go towards preserving these animal populations. Meanwhile, the hunters they demonize are actually providing real help to these animals through responsible wildlife management.
The money generated through hunting not only helps the economy, but it also creates a wealth of jobs for U.S. citizens. Close to 700,000 American jobs exist because of hunting alone. In a time when we need to be creating more jobs, the hunting world is contributing greatly to that cause, while animal rights activists look to put these hardworking Americans out on the street.
The merits are plain and clear to see. Through conservation efforts, money generated, and jobs created, hunting contributes more good to society than many other industries. What many fail to understand about this sacred tradition is that it isn’t just about the act itself.
Hunting gives us the opportunity to be one with nature, an experience that can’t be found in any other way. Some hunters will tell you that the best part about hunting isn’t shooting, it is the peacefulness and serenity that one goes through during the quiet moments when wildlife hasn’t appeared yet.
Most vital to understanding hunting is the fact that it is a window into our ancestry. It is what connects us to our earliest predecessors, and simultaneously it is what will connect us to our successors. The passing on of these traditions to future generations will continue the cycle.
Also important is the bond that is formed through the act itself. For generations, families have shared this and it has strengthened their relationships. It is a visceral feeling that can mean more to the family bond than almost any other activity. The experience of sharing in nature’s beauty and the dynamic between human and animal are unique things that have very few comparisons in society.
Frankly, hunting is a huge part of the American identity. We have always been on the forefront of the sportsmen movement. America puts much more effort into its conservation than most other countries do. It is something that millions of people take pride in, that they are a part of something much bigger than themselves. Their experiences are simply a few of many that go into the melting pot and create the community as a whole.
Unfortunately, sportsmen are constantly under attack, forced to defend themselves in a trial of character.
The “animal rights” movement has caused many headaches for the hunting community. The individuals that share the absurd viewpoint that animals have the exact same rights as humans have decided that they won’t stop until the institution of hunting is decimated. They slander the character of hunters, labeling them as barbaric. This is an unfortunate stigma that isn’t grounded in reality. People who have never been on a hunt only see the endgame. They can’t visualize the entirety of a hunt. They don’t know what goes into the experience, what hunting contributes to society, and all the benefits that come from a well-managed wildlife population.
This has led to many misunderstandings, and a witch hunt of sorts. When protesting doesn’t accomplish what they want, animal rights activists turn to the legislative route. They bring up unrelated issues that distract from their goal of abolishing hunting altogether.
We witness this all the time. For example, their current strategy is to outlaw lead ammunition, because they say it has harmful effects to the environment. Do they cite any credible sources for these claims? Of course not, they would rather appeal to emotional arguments.
Another current example is the battle over bear hunting in Maine (5). Despite repeated examples of bears becoming a danger to the area, HSUS and its followers believe that removing certain forms of bear hunting will limit these instances. This highlights the core of their new strategy. They will attempt to get rid of baiting, trapping, and hounding. If that works, they are one step closer to an outright ban on all bear hunting. It happens all over the country. The shortsighted goal of banning hunting in this country is a detriment to a fully functioning society, not just from an economic or tradition perspective, but most importantly, to our overall safety.
So where do we go from here? How do we continue to promote the obvious benefits of a society that hunts, while continuing to fight back against negativity and unfounded stigmas created by a small segment of society that doesn’t fully understand?
The Future of Hunting
It all starts with winning these legislative battles. Public support is imperative in order to the continued success of hunting in America. The education of the general public who don’t already participate in these activities must be a priority. We need to present the facts that are out there, the statistics that support it from an economic perspective. Frankly, those who oppose hunting don’t care about its traditions, and their extreme views on animal rights can cloud their judgment when it comes to wildlife management. Therefore, touting the economic success may be the best possible option, as most reasonable people would agree that any industry that provides 700,000 jobs and creates $8 million per day is hard to overlook.
The bigger issue is the opinion among a select few that hunting, and bringing death to any animal, is morally wrong. “Animal rights” does not equal animal welfare, yet they confuse the two. We can only hope to change the mind of a few people at a time. For many, they won’t change their ways of thinking. To them, all life should be treated equally. There is no changing that way of thinking. But perhaps there are people out there on the fence about these issues, and through reason and logic they can be reached.
Organizations such as National Shooting Sports Foundation, U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, the NRA, and dozens of national, state, and local clubs exist, in part, to help facilitate this education. We strongly urge you to support these organizations and all the great work they are doing for this purpose.
With supporters who are passionate about what they do, and with more information discovered about the benefits of hunting, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the bright future of American hunting.