I remember often encountering the sentiment as a young boy that hunters were evil men who just wanted to spill the blood of innocent furry woodland creatures. Now that I’m trying to become a hunter, I realize how utterly silly that idea is, and how ridiculous it makes the believer of such an idea seem.
If someone wanted to kill something just for the sake of it, they’re not going to go through the trouble to take a hunter education course and pass the test, paying for all the fees, research all the laws and regulations, seasons, species, areas, etc., buy an annual license, tags, and stamps, drive out to the wilderness and stake out blinds or stalk animals for days, etc, etc. etc. In short, it is an epic ordeal for a first time hunter to figure it all out. It has taken me a full year from signing up for the first class til now I am comfortable knowing where I can go, to hunt exactly, what, and when.
The point is, hunters don’t go through all that effort just to “kill something.” There are surely much easier ways to achieve that. Hunters want two main things in my opinion: 1) fresh, cheap, wild meat (way tastier and healthier than free-range organic); and 2) to fulfill their instinctual impulse to be a hunter. The latter is what makes hunters such awesome conservationists, ethically speaking. They are in-touch with their place in nature, intuitively understand local ecology, and realize the tremendous value of wild lands. Both contribute to making hunters such awesome conservationists, financially and politically speaking. They will pay whatever it takes to keep a place to hunt (wild sustainable habitat) for future generations, and vote and act in such a manner as well.
Overpopulation of deer and other game animals is briefly discussed by this article, and it is yet one more reason hunters are awesome conservationists. Deer, feral pig, and even black bears in some areas have overpopulated from lack of hunting pressure (colonists killed off most the predators in the US), and hunters are the only way of controlling their damage.
To read more about this, check out this great Bay Nature article about how Hunters are the biggest supporters of conservation in the US!
The View From the Blind: Hunters Take Aim for Conservation
By Aleta George
Here are some key quotes from the article, in which the author also discusses her first tries hunting:
“I was surprised to learn how much money hunters and fishers contribute to conservation through the purchase of licenses, stamps, and equipment. In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service distributed $25.3 million to California through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.”
“It’s not just the license fees, but their invaluable political support for preserving habitat, especially wetlands for migratory waterfowl,” says Richard Walker, professor emeritus of geography at UC Berkeley. “The same applies to fishermen and their associations, who support wild rivers, habitat restoration on rivers, and water flows for fish, as in the Delta. Hunters get more bad press among environmentalists than fishermen, but they are quite equivalent, though it’s easier to practice catch-and-release with fish than with deer or boar!”
“Many well-known conservationists honed their appreciation for the natural world with a gun in their hands, including John James Audubon, Theodore Roosevelt, and Aldo Leopold.”
“While it may seem logical to assume that scientists or naturalists were the first to advocate hunting regulations in America, it was actually the hunters — or, to put a finer point on it, the “sportsmen” — who did. By the end of the 19th century, sportsmen took care to separate themselves from the market hunters who supplied meat to California’s growing population after the Gold Rush. Hunters and nonhunters alike witnessed the disappearance of large game animals during the second half of the 19th century. In 1856 the Sacramento Daily Union boasted of the limitless opportunities to hunt deer, elk, and antelope and both species of bears, with the “grizzly everywhere to be met with.” By 1874 the same paper reported that the antelopes were gone, as were the elk that roamed San Francisco, Stockton, and Solano and Yolo Counties. “They have all been destroyed by the vandal pot-hunters, who regard neither season nor age, nor sex or condition of the game they slaughter,” the Daily Union lamented.”
“An old-time market hunter interviewed by Anthony Arnold for Suisun Marsh History said that he and his partner killed 100 to 200 ducks a day in 1879, and that their take was only limited by transportation. “Refrigerated railroad cars were critical to the expansion of market hunting,” says Stanford historian Richard White, “and played into why the passenger pigeon went extinct and why waterfowl populations plummeted.” In 1910, 500,000 ducks were sold in San Francisco, and four years later that number had dropped to 28,425 birds. “Past practices of mass slaughter, here and elsewhere, were so offensive than a foul odor still hangs over all hunting,” says Walker. “Recreational hunting gets confused with market hunting, so it’s good to make that distinction.”
“Newspapers and national outdoor sports magazines called for restrictions, and George Bird Grinnell, the editor of Forest and Stream, became the voice of conservation. Grinnell also founded the Audubon Society in response to the slaughter of millions of herons, egrets, and other birds for the use of their plumage on hats. Grinnell helped to establish the “code of the sportsman,” which advocated for the noncommercial use of all game killed, writes John F. Reiger in American Sportsman and the Origins of Conservation. Sportsmen taxed themselves, pushed for state regulations, and formed game reserves, such as the duck clubs in the Suisun Marsh. The code is alive for some hunters, while for others it is enforced only through regulation.”
“Anderson says hunting gives him entree to social groups that he couldn’t reach as a conservationist; reduces the population of animals that don’t belong here; and provides local, organic, free-range meat for his family. “The final reason I hunt relates back to Leopold,” he says. “Hunting gives me an opportunity to be part of the ecosystem in a way that I’m not when I’m walking along with a clipboard and my agency colleagues and a landowner. It’s an enormous stress reducer to be out before dawn, huddled against a giant redwood tree calling in a turkey that might be dinner; to hear the owls hooting; and to watch the planets burning bright in the sky. We might have a better understanding of what it is to be humans on land, to be managers of both wild land and working landscapes, if we’re more part of that ecosystem.”
“People find it hard to understand that being a hunter is not only consistent with being a conservationist, but in some ways is part of being a conservationist,” says Steven McCormick, who recently stepped down as president and CEO of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and who before that worked for the Nature Conservancy for 30 years, including seven as president of the large national environmental group. “I am a conservationist and a hunter as one thing, not as two separate interests or passions.”