It’s everybody’s job – and it’s critical – to introduce others to all the joys of upland bird hunting
By Colby Kerber
For many of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever members who are also active in NAVHDA (the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association), hunting is a tradition and a natural part of our lives as we enjoy spending time outdoors with family, friends and our bird dogs.
Hunting is one of the oldest human cultural pursuits on record. For our primitive ancestors, wildlife was as sacred as life itself and a successful hunt meant survival. Nowadays, millions of hunters still take to the field to obtain their own meat and an intimate connection to wildlife.
But few of us hunt to survive. Instead, our role as sportsmen and women is to ensure the survival of wildlife.
Those of us dedicated to wildlife conservation face a stark reality. Do you know that today only 1 of every 25 people in the U.S. actively participate in hunting? Regardless of our commitment and passion, our efforts will fail if we don’t have the support of the public behind us. Because of those challenges, the hunting community needs to band together to make sure people see why hunting matters and appreciate it’s value.
As a passionate hunter-conservationist, I fear there will come a day when my children or future grandchildren won’t have the opportunity to enjoy pursuing wildlife the way I do. What does hunting look like in five, ten, or twenty years? If we want to ensure that upcoming generations are afforded the same outdoor lifestyles that we have, we must act.
One of the main keys to the success of our hunting culture is appropriately sharing our stories. Public perceptions of poor hunter behavior can be more damaging than the reality. With societies instant access to information, today more than ever we have an opportunity to challenge a stereotype. Misconceptions in the public about hunting have led to negative labels, but through our illustrations and stories we can offer a different perspective and help rebrand hunters in a positive light.
As sportsmen and women, we have been made to believe we are wrong for speaking about hunting in the company of non-hunters. But studies show that most Americans support hunting activities, so take ownership in what you do, stand proud, and utilize opportunities to educate others.
I’m not asking you to walk up to random people on the street and tell them all the good news about conservation and hunting. I’m just suggesting whenever you get a chance to tell others about what you care so deeply about, you should take it. Whether it’s through social media, talking with coworkers, or family gatherings, it’s important to have conversations with non-hunters so we can find more common ground. Sharing quality pictures and meaningful memories can spark more interest in NAVHDA, drive more members, and perhaps inspire someone to hunt!
United We Stand, Divided We Fall
I cannot think if anything better than the bonds of hunting with my close friends and family, experiencing the great outdoors together is essential to my happiness. Hunters have a unique passion for wildlife and nature, but we must use that enthusiasm in a positive way and not against each other.
Nothing makes me doubt the future of hunting more than a few minutes spent on social media, where comment sections are filled with arguments and negativity. These are not anti-hunters that are taking aim at our community, instead I’m talking about hunters fighting amongst themselves. We argue about everything from equipment to hunting methods and even which breed of dog you should own.
As humans we will always have a difference in opinions, but if your fellow sportsmen and women are hunting legally and morally then give them the respect they deserve. Let us support each other, because together we can make a difference!
Introduce Someone New
There is strength in numbers… but unfortunately hunter numbers have been dwindling for decades. Admittedly, you most likely delight when you spend a day afield without bumping into another hunter. Land access continues to be a major challenge and encountering strangers who have come across your secret spot can ruin the solitude we seek in the outdoors. However, more hunters are exactly what we need right now.
To ensure a strong future for conservation, we must reverse this trend. And it is going to take each and every one of us. It is our responsibility to foster the next generation of hunters, that’s why I am challenging each of you to set a personal goal to introduce at least one new person to our outdoor lifestyle. It can be a family member, coworker, neighbor or one of the millions of new gun owners across the country. Simply put, all you must do is ask.
The reason why I hunt is most likely different from yours. There are multiple reasons why we participate, but the one thing we have in common is we share the same resources. We need to encourage respect and pride in what we do, that feeling of ownership.
Focus on being ethical and preserving our outdoor lifestyle by following regulations, not trespassing, leaving no trace, thanking the landowners, and teaching others about the responsibilities we have. Nothing puts hunting in a worse light than someone poaching or irresponsibly engaging in some type of dishonorable take.
Unfortunately, media rarely separates these people from the vast majority of accountable sportsmen and women who follow the laws and hunt ethically. Ethical hunters are defined by their own sense of honor, safety, and fairness.
A handful of federal legislation initiatives shape conservation and wildlife programs that direct billions of dollars and impact hundreds of millions of acres. These funding mechanisms help manage wildlife populations, provide hunting access, and ultimately shape our hunting experience on public and private lands. As sportsmen and women, one of the most powerful tools we have is our voice. Together when we speak up, we can influence policies that determine our wild lands, waters, and wildlife.
Conservation organizations advocate for sound wildlife and habitat policy, but you as an individual are key to these efforts. Phone calls, emails or personalized letters to your legislators and our agency partners are often what makes the difference in these efforts.
Little things can have a huge impact. Our natural environment is resilient because it contains lots of different plants and animals with differing strengths, so that no matter what comes along the ecosystem can endure through it. Like nature, our hunting community is full of people with different capabilities and weaknesses. It is a nice reminder that if we are adapting together, we can endure our own hardships and be better for it.
Wildlife and our wild places will prevail because of passionate outdoor enthusiasts like yourselves. The future of hunting is ours to protect or ours to lose. You never know when that next opportunity to act will come. Your actions can ensure that hunting continues to be a rich tradition passed on for many generations.
Colby Kerber is Hunting Heritage Program Manager for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever.
Hunters in snow photo by Anna Swerczek.
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Learn more about NAVHDA here.