Hunting for America (Part Two)

In my opening piece, I poked some good-natured fun at stereotypical city-folks.

Seems that some of them have recently discovered what the hunters among us have known in our souls since before we were even officially classified as human…

The rejuvenating power of nature, when one is quiet and fully in tune with it.

That piece also touched on the fact that much of the natural splendor we’re able to enjoy here in America is because of hunters, whether it’s PC to admit that or not.

But there’s an interesting bipartisan irony to this fact — one that pretty much anyone on the political spectrum can get behind…

It has to do with the two U.S. presidents named Roosevelt.

First, immeasurable credit must be given to passionate big-game hunter Theodore Roosevelt, my personal favorite Republican president.

Without his ardent conviction that future generations of Americans should have abundant populations of wild game animals to hunt, as he so enjoyed…

He would not have championed the preservation and enhancement of 230 million acres of public lands in this country, mainly for wildlife habitat.

Combined, that’s roughly the size of Texas and Michigan put together — or nearly 10% of the total land area of the United States.

These acres include four national game preserves, 51 federal bird sanctuaries, 150 national forests, and five national parks.

A major nod to Democrat president Franklin Roosevelt is also in order. He’s the one who signed the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act into law…

That’s the groundbreaking legislation I mentioned in the first part of this series.

So far, funds generated under Pittman-Robertson have topped $14 billion…1

With the Act itself forming the backbone of a multi-faceted conservation financing model that has generated nearly $57 billion.

Bottom line: Without these two U.S. presidents actively and passionately supporting wildlife and habitat conservation, management, and funding…

Deer, bear, bison (especially), elk, turkeys, mountain lions, wolves, and more would likely now be critically threatened in America — and perhaps even extirpated.

Yes, this would’ve been partly the fault of unchecked, unregulated commercial hunting and trapping, which were major industries until the early 20th century…

But it also would’ve been because threatened animal populations can’t come back without abundant preserved habitat — and ample funds to pay for biologists, game wardens, park staff, and other necessities.

That’s what’s so great about the American conservation success story.

We abused and nearly destroyed our wildlife resources, in so many ways.

But we learned from our mistakes. We made a sound plan to rectify them, before it was too late. We worked together, across party lines, to bring that plan to fruition…

And not only did we save America’s wildlife for future generations of both hunters and non-hunters alike — but forged what I consider one of the greatest successes of federal governance (there are not many of them) in our nation’s history.

The problem is that with every passing day, fewer Americans are hunting.

That spells trouble for animals of ALL kinds, and for outdoor recreation in general.

The decline and fall of a uniquely American way of life

Hunting’s influence echoes in every corner of our culture…

Yet with every passing year, fewer and fewer people realize it, especially in the younger generations.

I’m not just talking about the fact that our main unit of currency is called the “buck” because for decades, it represented the market value of a deerskin…

Or that some of America’s most iconic literary characters, folk heroes, and real-life icons — like Natty Bumpo, Davey Crocket, Daniel Boone and Buffalo Bill — were legendary hunters…

But also everyday things you might not connect with hunting.

For instance, did you know that uber-fashionable youth clothing giant Abercrombie & Fitch was a high-end hunting outfitter for 85 years, starting in 1892?

Their lavish flagship store was on Madison Avenue in New York until the late 1970s.

They outfitted Teddy Roosevelt’s safari, Byrd’s famous expedition to Antarctica…

And Ernest Hemingway was a regular there.

LL BeanYou may know that L.L. Bean made its name as a hunting outfitter — breaking into the market with its trademark Maine Hunting Shoe (or “duck boot”) in 1912…

And yes, they still sell hunting, fishing, and camping gear.

But I’m pretty sure they haven’t put an explicit hunting scene on the cover of their quarterly catalog since the fall of 1988.

I know because I was in their flagship store in Freeport, Maine last month…

And in that store, there’s a giant wall that displays decades worth of their mail-order catalog covers — and the last one I saw that actually pictured someone hunting was from 31 years ago.

Even the way we talk here in America is heavily influenced by hunting…

Metaphors like “fair game” and “open season” and “beat around the bush” and “bark up the wrong tree” and “call off the dogs” and “sitting duck”…

And the notion of “hounding” someone or giving something your “best shot” or keeping some “dry powder” in reserve for a good investment…

They all come straight from the hunting field.

I could go on and on with this sort of stuff, too…

You could write a book about America’s hunting history. In fact, if there were any money in it, I would happily do that.

But the audience for such a book is clearly dwindling, or dying off. Or both.

And again, my point is that if you love the great outdoors, in any capacity…

You should be very worried about this.

Hunting saved my life — but can it still save our woodlands?

I started hunting in 1982, when I was 13 years old.

Coincidentally, that very year was the absolute peak of American recreational hunting, in terms of license sales and participation.

So you could truthfully say I come from this nation’s last great generation of hunters.

I don’t come from a hunting family, either. I was one of those millions of newcomers who flocked to the sport during that time period…

My uncle and I decided to try hunting as an adventure, and a new hobby. We quickly came to love it, and became the best of friends as we learned the sport together.

And looking back on it now, decades later…

I truly believe that those hunts with him — not just the time afield, but the planning, the gear and practice, the magazines, the anticipation — may have saved my life.

I won’t say exactly why I believe that, because it’s nobody’s damn business.

Suffice it to say that the deep, cool woods gave me a place to escape some things…

And hunting was one of the few activities that could actually stop me from thinking about those things for a spell. I found (and still do find) it all-consuming.

When I was 17, my uncle was killed in a freak accident.

Without being able to go and hunt our favorite spots on my own after his death, I don’t know if I would have been able to bear it. To this day, hunting keeps his memory alive in me. I will never give it up if I can help it.

I know hunting would be therapeutic and meaningful to others, too, if they tried it.

But I know that’s a lot to ask in this day and age — a time when meat consumption is maligned more and more with every passing minute…

A time when firearm ownership, possession, and use is becoming more and more polarizing and hyper-regulated…

And a time when hunters are pilloried more and more often in the mainstream media and popular culture.

These are some of the reasons why national participation in the sport has fallen by 32% in absolute terms — from 17 million to 11.5 million — since I started hunting.2

But that number is way worse than it sounds, because America’s population has increased by more than 39% over this same time period.

That means in relative terms, hunting has actually declined by more than 50% since its peak 37 years ago.

You can see the evidence of this decline all around you, whether you hunt or not…

Small, mom-and-pop outdoor stores are closing up shop everywhere you look.

Big-box retailers like Walmart and Dick’s are curbing their gun sales and limiting their ammunition and hunting inventory.

Newspapers and TV networks, even in smaller local markets, are giving less and less coverage to opening day of deer season, that long-standing American tradition.

By pretty much all accounts, hunting seems to be dying in the United States.

But if you wish to truly know — and more importantly — preserve nature…

Why don’t you come and join me out in the hunting field?

Maybe together, we can help prolong the demise of this way of life, or dare I hope…

Bring it back to vibrant good health, securing the future of our precious American woodlands and wetlands along with it.

Sadly Yours,

Jim Amrhein

Jim Amrhein
Freedoms Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder

P.S. The sole link footnoted in the first article in this series was incorrect. Our apologies. The correct link is right here.

1 Celebrating 80 Years of the Pittman-Robertson Act, Ducks Unlimited
2 Why We Suck at Recruiting New Hunters, Why It Matters, and How You Can Fix It, Outdoor Life

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Jim Amrhein

Just like he was 15 years ago, when first he sullied the pages of the original Whiskey & Gunpowder e-Letter and various other forums, Jim is still ornery, opinionated, politically incorrect, and shamelessly patriotic. He’s also more convinced than ever before that government can’t do much of anything right — except expand in scope and...

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