For more than 99% of human history, Homo sapiens existed as hunter-gatherers. However, modern society has become increasingly disconnected from our roots in the natural world. The public often sees humans as distinctly separate from nature. As a result, most people understand little about hunting and even less about its connection to conserving wildlife and wild places.
Public attitudes toward hunting are often fueled by emotion, propaganda, and misconceptions instead of hard data, scientific evidence, and proven practices. It’s time to set the record straight.
Preservation vs Conservation
The words “preservation” and “conservation” are often used interchangeably. Although both processes seek to protect the natural world, these two approaches couldn’t be more different. Conservation seeks to protect the environment through the responsible management of natural resources. Preservation’s main goal is to isolate nature from human interaction.
To put it more simply, conservation seeks proper and responsible use of nature, while preservation seeks to protect nature from all use. Conservationists are participants in nature, while preservationists are merely spectators.
At the heart of preservation is the idea that humans are somehow separate from nature. However, it is impossible to separate humans from the natural world. With nearly 8 billion people on this spinning blue sphere, it is impossible not to leave a mark. Our fingerprints are everywhere on this planet.
Preservation seeks to prevent human damage. However, the damage has already been done. Sitting back with our fingers crossed, hoping more damage won’t occur is not a valid solution to a very real problem.
The Earth is just as much our home as any other living being on the planet. We are part of the system, not separate from it. Preservationists would have you believe the wild world is independent of the human world and that we are aliens visiting here. In truth, everything on this planet is interwoven, including humans. Everything we touch has an effect on nature. For that reason, it is our duty as intelligent beings to be responsible stewards of the world we call home. Preservationists are observers of the natural world detached from it, but conservationist are participants and are very much part of the system.
An action plan is the best way to repair previous damage and prevent further irreparable harm. The North American Model of Conservation provides protection while actively repairing and constantly adjusting to current circumstances. It also has a ready source of funding already in place to achieve these goals.
Hunters are Conservationists
Although anti-hunting organizations are quick to paint hunters as cruel, barbaric, and uncivilized, hunting is the backbone of wildlife conservation in North America.
In a civilized and cultivated country, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen,” Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, founder of the National Wildlife Refuge System, and avid hunter, explained years ago. “The excellent people who protest against all hunting, and consider sportsmen as enemies of wildlife, are ignorant of the fact that in reality, the genuine sportsman is by all odds the most important factor in keeping the larger and more valuable wild creatures from total extermination.
The North American Model of Conservation
The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is the most successful conservation system in the world. A system of laws and policies designed to protect and restore wildlife through sound science and active management, the North American Model is responsible for bringing numerous vulnerable species back from the brink, including wild turkey, black bear, pronghorn antelope, and wood duck.
Pioneered by Theodore Roosevelt and strongly supported by American sportsmen, the North American Model was developed in response to the near decimation of once-common species. Roosevelt and the hunters of his time recognized the dramatic and devastating effects of killing for feathers, especially through commercial hunting. At the heart of the North American Model is managing the taking of wild animals only within limits that ensure the sustainability of those populations for generations yet unborn, and management of those species is based on science, not opinion or conjecture.
The Model includes seven foundational principles:
- 1. Wildlife resources are a public trust that governments must manage for the benefit of all citizens.
- 2. Unregulated commercial markets for wild game that decimate wildlife populations are eliminated.
- 3. Laws are developed by citizens and enforced by government agencies to regulate the proper use and management of wildlife.
- 4. Public access to wildlife, regardless of social or economic status, including hunting, fishing, and trapping is a right of every citizen.
- 5. Wild game populations cannot be killed frivolously or casually, but only for a legitimate purpose as defined by law.
- 6. Because wildlife often migrates across political boundaries, it is considered an international resource.
- 7. Wildlife policy and management are based solely on science.
The North American Model is why modern conservation efforts are so successful. The principles have helped create a number of institutions, laws, and mechanisms, including funding, scientific research and training, wildlife agencies, conservation incentive programs, and protection for endangered species. This cocktail of legislation and programs, largely pioneered by hunters, has worked together to provide us with the healthy and abundant wildlife populations we enjoy today.
Hunters Fund Conservation
Hunting is without peer when it comes to generating revenue for conservation efforts. Hunting is literally an economic force for conservation.
Through their state hunting licenses and fees alone, hunters contribute approximately $796 million a year for conservation programs. But the funding doesn’t stop there.
Passed in 1934, the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act, also known as the Duck Stamp Act, requires the purchase of a duck stamp before hunting migratory waterfowl. The revenue generated from Duck Stamp sales is used to protect fragile wetlands crucial to our environment, not just our migratory waterfowl species. To date, Duck Stamp sales have generated over $1.1 billion, which has been used to preserve more than six million acres of waterfowl habitat.
In 1937, largely supported by outdoor sportsmen, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, more commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, was passed. This foundational piece of legislation placed an 11% excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment. Since its inception, the Pittman-Robertson Act has generated more than $14 billion specifically for conservation. The Act also funds the US Fish and Wildlife Service and state fish and game agencies across the country, with more than $700 million each year.
“[Pittman-Robertson] has restored ducks to our skies and marshes, antelope to our plains, whitetail deer to our woods, opened millions of acres for public access for hunters and anglers, and inspired conservationists for generations to come,” said National Shooting Sports Foundation Senior Vice President and General Counsel Lawrence G. Keane.
Hunters graciously donate an additional $440 million annually to conservation efforts through their support of groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimted, the National Wild Turkey Foundation, and Mule Deer Foundation
State wildlife agencies and the country’s wildlife conservation system depend heavily on hunters for funding. The revenue generated from license fees and excise taxes provides approximately 60-70% of annual budgets for state wildlife agencies, which are responsible for managing most of the wildlife in the US.
Without hunters to foot the conservation bill, the country’s wildlife would be in serious danger. Even in Vermont, which leads the nation in wildlife viewing, hunting is the most critical element in conservation funding. The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, which manages more than 25,000 species of animals and 2,000 species of native plants, claims wildlife viewing “provides no significant revenue stream to the department that would allow for the management of the resources viewed.” In contrast, the department relies on hunting and fishing licenses and excise taxes paid by sportsmen and women for most of its $20 million annual budget.
Most of the country’s public lands are managed through what is often referred to as “user pay, user play” funding. In essence sportsmen and women pay for the right to use the land. Money generated from license sales and equipment taxes covers the expense of routine maintenance, restoration, and enhancement projects on public lands. However, “user pay, user play” isn’t appropriate when it comes to our public lands and wild places. “User pay, public play” is far more accurate. The non-hunting public can enjoy hiking, camping, rock climbing, and wildlife viewing thanks to the hefty monetary investments of dedicated sportsmen.
Hunting and angling also provide a hefty boost to local economies through travel, truck sales, ATV purchases, and restaurant and convenience store visits, just to name a few. Hunters create an economic ripple that supports small businesses and creates jobs nationwide. The impact is significant in many rural areas that often struggle economically.
While hunters are busily footing the bill for wildlife conservation, many anti-hunting organizations, whose main goal is supposedly safeguarding animals, do nothing tangible for wildlife. For example, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), a non-profit organization often entangled in anti-hunting lawsuits and legislation, spends millions of dollars on litigation and propaganda campaigns. Between 2005 and 2009, HSUS spent $17.3 million lobbying governments and sponsoring ballot initiatives attacking hunters and livestock farmers.
HSUS executives also enjoy lavish compensation packages. According to a 2021 report, 93 people at HSUS made six-figure compensation. At the head of the pack was HSUS CEO Kitty Block, who was paid close to $450,000 in salary and benefits. Chief Development Officer John Vranas made over $340,000, and Chief Operating Officer Erin Frackleton received over $300,000.
The Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust, which is run by the HSUS, claims its goals are to create “permanent sanctuaries, preserving and enhancing natural habitat” and to “oversee the lands under its protection.” However, the Trust only controls 18,500 acres, despite gathering over $20 million in revenue. The reason for such paltry landholdings is because the Trust spends 75% of its budget on “education” rather than actual conservation.
Hunting Supports Wildlife Management
Not only does hunting provide most of the monetary fuel for conservation, but it also plays a huge and active role in managing healthy wildlife populations.
As a species, humans have changed the landscape, interrupting the wild flow of nature. As human populations have boomed, we’ve encroached rapidly on wild places, meaning there is far less real estate for wild critters to call home.
As animals within a confined area become overabundant, they use up available resources. Without sufficient resources to support the population, those animals become susceptible to starvation and disease. In many cases, they can impact human health and safety. For example, burgeoning whitetail populations can ravage farmers’ crops. An increase in deer also increases motor vehicle collisions.
Since the human population continues to expand, healthy wildlife management is crucial to the survival of the other plants and animals who share this planet. Wildlife management is by far the best way to maintain healthy wildlife populations within the more confined spaces they are forced to call home.
Hunting regulations, including season length and harvest quotas, are based on field research and harvest data. Many state wildlife agencies require hunters to report the number, size, and sex of animals they take. In some cases, they rely on hunter’s observations in the fields, conducting surveys on the quantity and location of wildlife observed in their natural habitat. Reported by sportsmen in the field, biologists use survey data to evaluate long-term population trends and distribution changes.
Once regulations are implemented, wildlife departments continue to conduct research, monitor the population, and adapt management strategies based on the latest available data.
When the whitetail deer population outgrows an area’s available habitat and resources, wildlife departments may lengthen the hunting season or expand harvest limits to include more female deer, reducing the number of fawns born into the area. Conversely, if wildlife managers recognize that the whitetail population is dropping dangerously, they may shorten the season or restrict harvests to only mature males, allowing females to birth more fawns in the spring to boost the population.
Ultimately, wildlife managers want populations to remain healthy for future generations to enjoy and appreciate. The only way to ensure that happens is to manage both prey and predator species, with a holistic approach.
Busting Common Anti-Hunting Myths
Myth: Hunting is Cruel
Reality: Nature is cruel.
When wildlife populations are left to expand beyond what the local habitat can support, nature takes over. Nature is a heartless manager.
Harsh winters and slow, merciless death by starvation are what Mother Nature typically uses to keep populations in check. Also in her management toolbox are diseases and parasites, which cause more suffering and slower death.
Weakened wildlife is also more prone to natural predator attacks, which rarely bring swift, humane deaths to their prey. For example, wolves kill large prey animals like deer, elk, and moose by attrition. The pack exhausts an animal by swarming in, weighing the animal down, ripping at the animal’s legs, neck, and abdomen until the victim collapses from exhaustion. They often begin eating while their prey is still alive.
Myth: Hunting Threatens Wildlife
Reality: Regulated hunting is largely responsible for the abundance of healthy wildlife we enjoy today.
Hunting seasons, quotas, and procedures are established based on scientific data, including hunter survey information, harvest data, and direct observation. Biologists and wildlife managers develop and implement detailed regulations and harvest limits tailored specifically to each hunting area. Regulations address hunted species, sex of species, quotas, legal hunting times and seasons, and weapons that can be used.
The data is reexamined after each hunting season, and adjustments are made to the regulations for the following season. This science-based regulation is the reason game animals, especially those once considered threatened, exist in sustainable populations.
Hunting is directly accredited for the funding that goes into habitat development, acquisition and restoration. Conversely, Anti-hunting groups focus their efforts and money towards lobbying and directing legislation to take away hunter’s rights. So ask yourself who does more for wildlife.
Anti-hunting sentiments often attack hunting based on emotional arguments, not scientific data. For example, the Humane Society of the United States has criticized Washington’s spring bear season, a season used to regulate problematic bear populations in the Evergreen State for nearly 50 years. The HSUS has called the spring bear season unnecessary and claimed “one bullet can kill a whole family,” citing orphaned cubs as a major concern.
However, an examination of the data shows that HSUS’s assertions are not backed by science or harvest data. During the 2021 hunting season, biologists collected and analyzed teeth from bears killed by hunters to determine age and sex. According to that research data, hunters killed 124 black bears in total, 45 of which were female. Only one of those females was lactating, indicating she was nursing cubs at the time of her death.
Myth: Humans Don’t Need to Hunt
Reality: Hunting provides a major source of meat for many Americans.
Although archeological evidence suggests humans have hunted animals for at least 400,000 years, modern hunting critics point to fully-stocked grocery store shelves as evidence that humans no longer need to hunt for food. When choosing from neatly packaged selections in the meat case, it is easy to forget that those steaks, hamburgers, pork chops, and buffalo wings were once living breathing animals. Ultimately, purchasing your meat from the local grocer is just a way to pay someone else to do the dirty work so that you can enjoy a flavorful finished meal at the end of the day. Whether you’re eating venison, beef, wild turkey, or chicken, an animal has to die first. Many hunters find deep satisfaction in taking responsibility for harvesting their own meat. A recent poll shows that hunters not only prefer game meat but it is the most important part of the whole hunting experience.
The truth is millions of hunters across the country rely on hunting to put food on family dinner tables. If suddenly those hunters were forced to quit hunting, and instead rely on grocery store beef, pork, and chicken to replace that game meat, it would create a food security crisis, potentially crippling our country’s agricultural system.
To put it in perspective, during the 2020 hunting season, Colorado hunters alone tagged 39,014 elk. Although yield varies by animal, a single elk provides approximately 200 pounds of lean red meat. When you do the math, Colorado hunters harvested over 7.8 million pounds of meat, or well over 20 million meals (factoring six ounces of lean meat per meal).
That is one animal in one state. When you multiply that by the number of elk taken in other states and then add the whitetail deer, mule deer, pronghorn, moose, wild turkey, ducks, geese, and small game animals, the amount of meat that hunters provide families is quite significant.
And one of the best things about wild game meat is its minimal impact on the environment. It is all free-range, organically raised, and sustainably harvested.
Myth: Nature Can Take Care of Itself
Reality: Humans are part of Nature.
In 1776, when the United States was born, there were roughly 2.5 million people living here. Today, the US is home to almost 330 million people. The human population stretches from coast to coast. Although American cities have high population concentrations, human presence has touched even remote areas.
For some, it is easy to think we should step aside and let Nature take care of itself. However, human presence has already had a huge impact on wildlife and the natural world. Unchecked populations, including both prey and predator animals, ultimately spread disease, alter the landscape, and destroy human property.
Predator populations (including wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, and bears, among others) can be particularly problematic in areas shared with humans. As wild habitat dwindles due to urban and suburban sprawl, many species are forced to live in close proximity to people, which increases human-wildlife conflicts, including attacks on livestock, pets, and people themselves.
The notion that the predators will keep the prey in check is no longer a reality, often what will result if gone unchecked predators will decimate a prey population to near extinction and the natural phenomenon of the predator pit will occur.
Myth: Hunters Don’t Care for Wildlife
Reality: Hunters care for wildlife in a fundamental way.
Hunting develops an understanding and appreciation of wildlife like no other outdoor activity. Because hunters immerse themselves in those ecosystems and become active participants in them, they develop deep love and respect for the wildlife that lives there.
For this reason, hunters take their sport very seriously. They spend countless hours studying wildlife behavior and anatomy. They also hone their marksmanship skills to ensure they kill game as cleanly as possible. They also go to great lengths to follow wounded animals to end suffering quickly.
Hunters also willingly donate their hard-earned dollars to support organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimted, and National Wild Turkey Foundation. These groups do much of the groundwork that keeps habitats and wildlife populations healthy, so future generations can continue to enjoy and appreciate them.
Myth: Hunters are Dangerous and Trigger Happy.
Reality: Hunting is less dangerous than most outdoor activities, even those that don’t involve firearms.
According to National Safety Council statistics, hunting is one of the safest activities in the United States. The data indicates a person is far more likely to be injured riding a bicycle, playing a round of golf, or shooting backyard hoops. In fact, a baseball game is 30 times more likely to end in injury than a day spent hunting with a firearm.
Mandatory hunter safety courses are at least partially responsible for hunting’s impressive safety record. Most states require new hunters to take a course detailing safety and pass a test before they can receive their hunting license.
Hunting has its share of careless lawbreakers. However, most hunters follow the rules and act responsibly and ethically in the field. Hunters even created Turn In Poachers (TIP), a non-profit organization that provides hotlines and rewards for information leading to the arrest of fish and game law violators.
Myth: Hunters are Only Interested in Trophies.
Reality: Even when hunters keep antlers, hides, or heads as trophies, they also harvest the animal’s meat. A recent poll suggests that the meat is just as important to 100% of hunters and 75% who answered indicated it was more important to them then the “trophy”.
In many states, the law requires hunters to process the meat from their big game kills for human consumption. Removing only the hide, antlers, or head and leaving the meat behind can result in felony charges. Most states enforce wanton waste laws which make it illegal to leave meat in the field or let it rot.
Beware of Anti-Hunting Propaganda
Popular “animal lover” groups often push an anti-hunting agenda, even though their desired result would spell disaster for many wild areas and wildlife populations. These groups heavily rely on emotions rather than facts to make sportsmen and women look like villains.
Recognizing Propaganda Techniques
Sorting out fact from fiction isn’t always easy when anti-hunting proponents rely heavily on propaganda to manipulate those unfamiliar with all the ways hunting keeps wildlife flourishing. However, it is important to research the facts instead of forming opinions based on emotional headlines. Here are just a few methods “animal lover” groups use to gain sympathy from the general public while tarnishing the reputation of hunters.
Technique #1 Testimonial
This propaganda technique uses a respected celebrity who claims hunting is destructive. The idea is to persuade based on the figure’s alleged integrity without any examination of the facts. To prevent falling for this propaganda technique, do not base your opinions on important matters based on the public viewpoints of your favorite actor, athlete, or musician. Celebrities rarely have any expertise in wildlife management. Let’s not forget known dog killer and convicted felon Michael Vick was one of these respected celebrities.
Technique #2 Bandwagon
This approach attempts to convince the audience that an idea is accurate or noble because it is believed by the vast majority of people. If you hear phrases like “despite overwhelming public opposition” or “X% of Americans oppose hunting for sport,” it’s a form of bandwagoning. Like your mother always said, “You wouldn’t jump off a bridge just because all your friends are doing it.”
Technique #3 Card Stacking or Cherry Picking
Card stacking and Cherry Picking are methods of building a highly biased case by showcasing only evidence that supports the anti-hunting argument. This strategy usually omits important information that doesn’t support the cause. In some cases, opposing evidence may be discredited using one of the other propaganda techniques. Anti-hunting campaigns regularly fail to acknowledge the important roles hunting plays in conservation.
Technique #4 Misuse of Statistics
This is a technique that seems to use cold hard facts. However, the campaign doesn’t provide the whole story behind the statistics. For example, a percent is presented, but not the sample size. If the statistics show 80% of those polled oppose hunting, but only ten people were polled, the statistics don’t have much weight. Small sample sizes, limited polls in areas known to agree with the campaigner’s viewpoint, or misleading questions are often used to skew statistics in favor of an anti-hunting stance. Another tactic used is altering the original context of questions and misrepresenting their meaning. Anti-hunting groups will put out a poll using questions that no human would agree with, hunter or non-hunter Example: Would you support the killing of bear cubs? Would you support killing an animal just for its head? Of course, you would be opposed to both those things! They will then present that data as 90% of Americans are against trophy hunting. Even though that is not what trophy hunting means or what a hunter would do, or the fact that both killing cubs and leaving meat are both illegal.
Technique #5 Guilt or Transfer
This tactic seeks to tie positive associations to unrelated concepts, often to promote a feeling of guilt. Anti-hunting camps often use the humanization of animals to evoke feelings of guilt about hunting. Discussions of intelligence or mothering practices are common techniques used to provoke an emotional response to hunting those animals.
Technique #6 Name Calling and Stereotyping
When anti-hunting campaigns use terms like “killers,” “cold-blooded,” or “cruel,” they are labeling hunters as bad. These are nothing more than pejorative labels used to paint all hunters in a negative light.
It takes critical thinking skills to recognize deceptive propaganda. The first step to understanding propaganda for what it is is to understand and recognize the tactics mentioned above. When presented with an argument, especially if that argument elicits a strong emotional response, locate the claim and the evidence that supports it. If possible, trace the evidence to its source and assess the credibility of both the source and the claim. Always remember that hunting seasons, quotas, and regulations are based on a thorough scientific analysis of data. Any anti-hunting arguments should do the same