Ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ensuring Our Hunting Heritage

David Allen
Excitement, anticipation, impatience, and a feeling of longing—all wrapped up into one sleepless night. It wasn’t Christmas Eve, but it sure felt like it. It was the night before my father took me into the woods of South Dakota’s Black Hills to go on my first “real” hunt. It wasn’t my first time. He’d toted me along in his backpack when I was too young to keep up, and I’d been tagging along ever since. But it was the first time I could accompany him as a hunter myself. I tried to match his long stride through brush standing as tall as me. I remember drinking from a thermos of hot chocolate as he downed his thermos full of coffee. It was truly grand sharing the sights, the smells, and the beauty of the backcountry as we solidified our relationship and I started to develop my own “hands on” love of wildlife and the outdoors.

Sometime later I shot my first deer on my grandparents’ ranch. It snowed the night before and I will never forget working my way through the silence of the woods on the freshly fallen snow and spotting a spike whitetail. It all happened before breakfast, and Grandma didn’t believe me until I delivered the heart and liver to her. I still consider that little spike my greatest trophy.

As a father, I’ve worked hard to create those same kinds of bonding memories with my two children. My sons started to accompany me hunting when they were just 4 years old. But I fear those memories, those experiences that tie us to the beautiful land around us, are no longer kindled for many. A recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation found children age 8 to 18 spend an average of 71/2 hours every day connected to a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device. As one pediatrician said, media use among youth is so prevalent that it is “like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.”

Katniss Everdeen
I don’t have anything against today’s electronic gizmos as I, too, am seemingly attached to my cellphone and laptop. But this shift from an active lifestyle connected to nature to more sedentary behavior really concerns me. Still, there is hope. The Hunger Games really opened some eyes and stirred some emotions among young people. The heroine, Katniss Everdeen, learned to bowhunt to provide food for her starved family. The books and movie promote adventure, survival skills, the right to bear arms, and the importance of hunting and fishing. 
Father & son in Colorado
 This is an important time for all of us. We need to take advantage of this growing interest in outdoor-related activities and extend our love of the outdoors and wildlife to the next generation. Now is the time to do it! It is not vital for a boy or girl to shoot something, but it is vital to get them engaged. If you value your hunting heritage, then seek to extend it by showing the next generation what it’s all about. Take to the woods or the hills or the mountains. Go hiking, floating, fishing, shooting, hunting or camping. Your efforts will form strong bonds and lasting memories.

Randy Newberg
I feel so lucky that my dad helped me come to know that passion. And I’m not alone. Here’s how Randy Newberg, longtime RMEF life member and host of On Your Own Adventures, put it, ”The father-son part of hunting is the real trophy for me. No TV. No faxes. It is kind of simple stuff to build a fire and sleep out under the stars. But it is true freedom."

With apologies to Andy Williams and his classic Christmas song, I contend “the most wonderful time of the year” is actually the start of hunting season! More than 95 percent of RMEF members are hunters, so you probably anticipate opening day as much as I do. We’ve planned and deliberated. Worked out. Practiced shooting. Broke in a new pair of boots. Packed, unpacked and repacked our packs. And at some point during the year, by attending a banquet or renewing memberships or volunteering for an on-the-ground habitat project, together we’ve made sure that elk country is ready for hunting season, too.

For without habitat, there would be no game. Without game, there would be no hunting. Without hunters, there would be no conservation, and thus, no habitat. RMEF recognized this circular truth recently by adding three key words—our hunting heritage—to our mission statement. It now reads, “To ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.” Adding that little phrase merely formalizes a priority that RMEF has always supported. Since 1984, RMEF has invested more than $3.5 million in nearly 2,000 hunting heritage projects in 49 states. Still, it’s a small change that’s significant. It means the enthusiasm that you and I share for hunting is not reserved for us as individuals, but an official part of our organization.

Here’s hoping your hunting season provides you the perfect topper—great times in great country with great friends and family. From all of us at RMEF, good luck this fall!

(Above is a sneak preview of the President's Message in the upcoming issue of Bugle magazine from RMEF President and CEO David Allen.)

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