Hunters get a lot from nature every season through new memories, insightful lessons, lasting friendships and – occasionally – delicious meat. Therefore, it’s fitting that we do a lot for wildlife through conservation, which we’ve been doing the past century.
Our Conservation History
American hunters are tied to a proud conservation heritage that began over 100 years ago to protect and manage the nation’s wildlife and waterfowl. That effort ended market hunting, which decimated deer, elk, pronghorn and buffalo herds; as well as bears, turkeys, swans, geese and other once-vast populations.
By the early 1900s, less than 50,000 elk and 500,000 white-tailed deer remained in our country. Today, though, we have about 1 million elk and 34 million whitetails. This amazing turnaround came through legislation and cooperation between hunters, trappers and anglers in conservation organizations.
Congress passed the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act in 1937, which imposed an 11 percent excise tax on firearms, ammunition and select hunting equipment. This tax wasn’t forced upon hunters. They pushed for it! All money from that excise tax goes straight into wildlife conservation, and cannot be used for other purposes.
Over the past 80 years, hunters and hunting-industry manufacturers have contributed billions to conservation through excise taxes; and individual hunters, trappers and anglers have contributed billions more through license sales.
“That composes the lion’s share of funding at the state level for conservation,” said Becky Humphries, CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation and former director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “Few state agencies get general tax dollars to help manage wildlife.”
State wildlife agencies use that funding for critical research, population surveys, law enforcement, hunter education, wildlife-disease management, and managing public-land habitats. Without money generated by hunters, trappers and anglers, state agencies would struggle to function.
Current Conservation Initiatives
But that’s not the only way hunters give back to wildlife. Although many animal populations rebounded since the early 1900s, many still face challenges. Disease and habitat losses are chief concerns for the NWTF and other conservation organizations. A current initiative is to recruit new hunters to maintain the nation’s traditions of wildlife stewardship.
“Conservationist have always contributed their time and treasures to this effort through political advocacy, joining conservation organizations, and contributing their dollars to fund projects,” Humphries said.
A current NWTF program, “Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt,” is a 10-year initiative that began in 2012. This effort aims to conserve 4 million acres of habitat, recruit 1.5 million new hunters, and open 500,000 acres to public access.
“We are past the halfway mark, and we’re way ahead of schedule,” Humphries said. “That’s brought about because we have individuals who raise money, mentor hunters and help with land conservation.”
Mentoring the Next Generation
Consider how much joy hunting has brought your life. Wouldn’t it be amazing to give someone else the gift of the outdoors?
“Mentoring is one thing we need people to do the most, and it’s probably one of the most rewarding things we all can do,” Humphries said.
The NWTF offers mentored hunts for those who need help getting started. “Mentors take new hunters and build their confidence so they can go out and hunt without them,” Humphries said.
You don’t need to be an expert hunter to be a mentor. The NWTF provides training so you can effectively teach new bowhunters safe and responsible skills and tactics.
Hunting, after all, is about much more than shooting animals. It enriches lives, teaches us about wildlife, and helps us care more about nature. We get a lot out of hunting, and can give back to the outdoors by helping with conservation projects.
Conservation organizations and local chapters of the NWTF can be found across the country. Many of them do amazing work right in your backyard. Find a project you’re passionate about and jump in. You can also mentor new hunters, pick up trash on public lands, or donate venison to Hunters for the Hungry or other charitable organizations.