September 23, 2010
Good hunting opportunities may be dwindling and antihunters may be putting more pressure on hunters these days, but according to Jim we can actively make sure hunting has a bright future.
Some of the fondest memories I have of my childhood were the times I spent wandering the hills and creeks of central Texas with my single-shot Stevens 20 gauge. Back in those days (you'll notice I'm not being real specific about exactly how long ago that was) we longed for the weekend to arrive so we could pack up our gear and hit the woods.
At first, of course, my parents were reluctant to let me take a gun and go out on my own. I had to show them that I knew gun safety and was grown up enough to practice it. This was the first inkling I had about serious responsibility and promises. But since there were so many creeks that needed exploring I figured that I could make a deal--and keep it. My friends and I hunted squirrels and rabbits and doves when they were in season. We supplemented our fare with fish from the creeks and wild grapes from the creek banks. The deal I made was about gun safety, not eating a balanced diet.
My family moved to San Antonio, and my buddies and I would tie our guns to the handlebars of our bicycles and ride down Babcock Avenue to the edge of town. I don't recall any of us carrying our guns in cases on those jaunts. They were just fastened to the handlebars for the world to see. Nobody much cared. A policeman stopped us once, but what he wanted was to mooch a few of the cottontail rabbits we'd collected. We fixed him up, assured him that our guns were unloaded, and he let us go on our way.
Texas has very little public land, so our hunting trips were always on private property. Back in those days it wasn't difficult to get permission to hunt and camp on private land. You simply went up to the ranch house, introduced yourself, and asked permission to traverse the land. It was amazing how many landowners were happy to have us on their places. In return we often shared our game with them and always left our campsites spotless. Those were the unwritten, important rules: Always leave a campsite spotless and be very careful of fire, clean your own game, and eat what you shoot. Those rules stick with me even today, and I tend to judge a hunting party by the kind of camp they keep.
But as with many other things, the face of hunting in America is changing. Public land is seeing more and more use, and game, especially trophy animals, is getting harder to find in these areas. I'm sure there are still places in this country where hunters can hunt on private land, but that aspect of our sport is fading.
When I was a kid my home state of Texas reported having some two million deer. Rio Grande turkey, which had just about died out in the drought of the 1950s, were small in number. In the intervening years, however, that picture has changed considerably. Latest reports indicate that Texas has in excess of four million deer, and the wild turkey has made a remarkable comeback. Due to the lack of public lands, this comeback could not have happened without the cooperation of farmers and ranchers. This is just another indication that the American farmer and rancher are the greatest conservationists in our time.
Unfortunately, another change has affected hunting during these intervening years. We have become a nation of litigation-happy citizens. Landowners are reluctant to allow hunters onto their lands for fear of being sued should someone be injured. In addition, landowners are weary of finding trash that hunters have left behind and fires that have been poorly attended. Family enterprises are having a tough go of it financially, and many landowners are simply realizing that charging a hunting fee, or trespass fee, is another source of much-needed revenue. Many of today's ranchers spend as much time outfitting and guiding hunts as they do tending to their cattle. These folks are proud and independent, and I certainly don't begrudge their finding alternative uses for the land to support their families.
I think the days of free hunting are numbered. In its place will be fee hunting and guided hunts. This isn't the bad deal it might seem. While we may have more money to spend on such things as guns and hunting, our free time has become more precious simply because there's less of it. With a good outfitter who knows his game and the area, you can move in to a hunting camp and often achieve a higher success rate and do it in less time. Around the world, paid, guided hunts are the most common method of hunting. It's also the type of hunting with the highest success rate and the best chance to collect a trophy animal.
Get In The Fight
One of the greatest problems the modern hunter faces is the antihunting movement, which wants to reduce hunting seasons and bag limits. In some cases, spring bear hunting as an example, they want to outlaw traditional hunting techniques altogether. People smarter than I have established that the ultimate goal of these groups is to do away with all hunting. And for some of them the end of hunting will then do away with any justification for the private ownership of firearms. What worries me is that these antihunting groups are very well organized and have a large war chest to use in carrying out their goals.
And they may be far better organized than we hunters are. For example, this past year between 14 and 15 million hunting licenses were issued across the country, yet the National Rifle Association has only something like four to five million members. Where are those other 10 million hunters? Do they just not care, or are they content to ride on the coattails of the few who provide financial support to protect our sport?
I've had a life membership in the NRA for years. But I decided recently that just wasn't enough. I joined Safari Club International (SCI). SCI has a splendid reputation for fighting the antihunting crowd. It also has numerous programs that teach young people safe, successful hunting techniques. The way I have it figured, the NRA is primarily focused on protecting our Second Amendment rights and SCI is focused on defending our hunting rights. What's more important is that both organizations respect and support each other.
You know, folks, this isn't football. In the hunting sports you can follow more than one team. The National Rifle Association and Safari Club International are my choices. But if you aren't on any teams to protect your gun and hunting rights, isn't it about time to change that?