I truly believe that no one has a deeper connection to the land and our natural surroundings than people who hunt and fish.
“Conservation” is a word that means different things to different people. If you ask the average person what it means, they will likely give you an answer having something to do with the environment. They may bring up the idea of protecting animals and our National Parks. A hunter, however, may give you an entirely different explanation of what conservation means.
I truly believe that no one has a deeper connection to the land and our natural surroundings than people who hunt and fish. Rather than spectating, we are active participants in the natural world, both consuming and protecting its resources.
I attended college in Ann Arbor and worked in the city for seven years. During that time, I spoke with many non-hunters. The biggest misconception I encountered was that hunters were the destructive force that the natural world needed to be protected from. There is a common belief that hunters seek to pillage the country’s resources to put trophies on the wall.
This simply could not be farther from the truth. Certainly, some hunters are in it for the trophies and don’t care about the meat or the animals it comes from. The people with this mindset, however, make up a very small minority of the hunting and fishing community.
When trying to explain conservation to someone unfamiliar with our community, the first thing I will do is draw a contrast with the market hunting conditions of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is important to establish, early in the discussion, that these hunters have nothing in common with the modern hunter. The market hunters brought the industrial revolution into the woods; they were focused on hunting wildlife for meat and pelts to sell and trade. There was no concern for preservation, conservation, or the damages overhunting could cause.
The goal was to kill as many animals as possible to make a profit. Perhaps you’ve seen the picture of giant mounds of bison skulls. To kill as many ducks as possible in each shot, commercial waterfowl hunters used shotguns the size of small cannons, which had to be mounted on boats. The passenger pigeon was the most abundant bird in North America. They were driven all but extinct by 1900 with the last bird dying in captivity in 1914.
1900 was the year that the narrative began to change. With wildlife resources heavily depleted across the country, the Lacey Act was passed. This was the first federal law banning the sale of fish and wildlife taken, transported, and sold illegally. Individual states’ laws banning the sale of wild game could now be enforced across the country.
By the time these anti-commercial hunting laws were passed, the game stocks for many states had been significantly depleted. Although the bleeding had been stopped, national game populations were struggling. The need for state funds to promote responsible game management was becoming clear. This led to the passage of the Pittman Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937. This law took the 11% excise tax on long guns and their ammunition and distributed it to the states for designated conservation programs. Later expanding the tax to all firearms, ammo, and archery equipment, this law has been one of the driving forces of wildlife conservation funds for state management of game.
The other piece of the financial puzzle comes from states’ sales of fish and game licenses. Through these mechanisms, hunters have footed the financial bill for conservation for the last 80 years.
When you look outside today in Michigan, you can see healthy populations of turkeys, deer, black bears, fish, and many other species. There are still populations of animals that struggle, but we have the mechanisms in place to help them due to efforts led by the hunting and fishing community. These animals are not here because of some accident. They are here because of the dedicated actions of individuals concerned with conservation and the millions of hunters who have bought hunting supplies and licenses.
The next time you buy a deer license, or even a box of bullets, pat yourself on the back for the vital role you are playing in the conservation of fish and game.