Songbirds disturb the pre-dawn stillness, greeting the new day with their nonstop calls. Leaves start rustling, causing your heart to hammer and your eyes to strain as you seek the sound’s source. But then you discover it’s just a squirrel. The morning quickly passes. You saw no deer, but it was a rewarding experience, nonetheless.
If such experiences stir your soul and make you wake well before sunrise, you might just be a bowhunter.
Even better, you can take some credit for all those sights and sounds. After all, the trees, birds, deer and squirrels that spike our adrenaline and fuel our hunting drive wouldn’t be here without the science-based conservation programs hunters provide. “Conservation” is a big word heard often in the hunting community. Its practice ensures wise stewardship that gives back to nature and secures a robust future for all birds and animals – not just those we hunt. In fact, conservation is as much a part of bowhunting as tagging your harvest after a successful hunt.
That’s because bowhunters aren’t just interested in shooting big bucks or stocking freezers with venison. As with all hunters, bowhunters care deeply about wildlife and their habitats.
For nonhunters, it might seem strange that hunters – who pursue animals to kill and eat them – are the greatest champions of wildlife conservation. And yet hunters do more than any group to ensure the future of America’s wildlife. By becoming a bowhunter, you can be part of that conservation heritage while enjoying the sport’s endless challenges.
North America’s notions of wise use and conservation took hold in the early 1900s when wildlife populations fell to all-time lows. Hunters realized they had to protect and enhance habitats while conserving wildlife for future generations. Today, wildlife overabundance is often the larger challenge, along with shrinking habitats. Therefore, if you care about wild animals and beautiful natural lands, you have a stake in conservation.
Even if you’re a new bowhunter and haven’t thought about conservation, you’re already helping wildlife. Some of the money that bought your bow and other archery equipment goes toward wildlife conservation in your state. Further, bowhunting puts you in touch with nature and helps you appreciate the natural world. Such connections build respect for nature and a desire to help wildlife.
Conservation in America
Yes, we’ve come a long way. The abundant wildlife we now enjoy seemed impossible to Americans in 1900. Wildlife was decimated during the previous centuries as European immigrants settled and farmed what is now Canada and the United States. Hunting and trapping was unregulated, whether to feed individual settlers and their families, or satisfy commercial markets back East and in Europe. Meanwhile, vast forests were cut for lumber and to clear fields for agriculture, and wetlands were routinely drained, filled and farmed, thus eliminating yet more wildlife habitats.
It’s important to distinguish between market hunting and subsistence hunting, which weren’t sustainable; and today’s regulated hunting practices, which have been sustained 80 years already. Market and subsistence hunters of the 1800s fed their own families or entire populations, often by selling meat and hides of wildlife they killed. Deer hides became workwear, bird feathers decorated women’s headwear, and buffalo hides became fashionable hats and caps that fueled demand for even more buffalo skins. Even buffalo tongues became a delicacy that graced many New York City menus
North America’s wildlife couldn’t sustain such unregulated, large-scale slaughters. Their numbers plummeted from these assaults on their habitats and populations. Therefore, hunters who cherished wildlife as a resource, not as a commodity, mobilized into sportsmen’s clubs to demand long-term management programs.
They convinced state legislatures to regulate hunting and protect habitat while enforcing the laws with publicly funded conservation wardens. Robert D. Brown, dean of the North Carolina State University College of Natural Resources, published a paper on those efforts. “In 1844 the New York Sportsmen’s Club was formed, which drafted model game laws recommending closed hunting seasons on woodcock, quail, and deer as well as on trout fishing,” Brown wrote. “These laws were passed by the Orange and Rockland Counties of New York in 1848.”
Strict hunting regulations and laws that set aside lands for parks and wildlife were landmark achievements in the early 1900s. The National Forest system protected millions of acres for wildlife while also ensuring future logging operations were sustainable. State game agencies enacted strict bag limits and hunting seasons to regulate hunting using scientific principles. Many of those efforts remain today, with specific times for hunting seasons, and strict limits on how many animals are available for harvest. Further, hunting-license purchases fund much of the scientific research that helps craft those guidelines and restrictions.
Meanwhile, the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 became a major milestone for wildlife. State game agencies needed a consistent, long-term source to fund wildlife conservation projects. Under the Pittman-Robertson Act, ammo and firearms manufacturers agreed to pay an 11 percent federal excise tax on all hunting-related products. Archery manufacturers also signed on in 1972. Funds from this tax can only be used for wildlife-based research, education and restoration projects.
Since the Pittman-Robertson Act’s passage 80 years ago, hunters and hunting-gear manufacturers have contributed billions of dollars to wildlife projects nationwide through taxes and hunting licenses. In fact, every time you buy a hunting license; or visit an archery store to buy arrows, broadheads, a bow, quiver or other accessories that attach to your bow, you’re supporting wildlife
Get Involved Now
And make no mistake, you’re making a difference. In the early 1900s, less than 50,000 elk and 500,000 white-tailed deer remained in the United States. Our hunter-driven conservation programs helped boost those populations to about 1 million elk and 34 million white-tailed deer today. Wildlife is flourishing and hunting opportunities abound.
But our work is far from over. Wildlife remains threatened by disease and habitat losses. That’s why many hunter-based conservation groups keep doing amazing work to aid wildlife. These groups range from general conservation to species-specific organizations. Among these many hard-working organizations are the National Deer Alliance, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, Quality Deer Management Association, Mule Deer Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
The RMEF, for example, isn’t just concerned with elk in Western states, partly because elk once roamed American from sea to shining sea. The RMEF works to protect wildlife habitats nationwide while restoring elk whenever possible to their native Eastern ranges through relocation programs run by state wildlife agencies.
Ongoing elk-restoration projects are taking place in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia and North Carolina. These projects are made possible by volunteers working with state wildlife agencies. Most of the volunteers will never hunt these elk, but they’re ensuring future generations will enjoy their presence and perhaps one day hunt them.
If you want to aid those efforts, find a group you’re passionate about and join the thousands of hunters who donate time and money for wildlife and wild places. By hunting and actively participating in hunting organizations, you’ll become a valuable contributor to North America’s conservation legacy.