“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” Shakespeare, from the play Julius Caesar
Most of the time we keep it pretty light here at this little weekly clam bake. I try to inform you about something in the hunting, fishing, and outdoor world and maybe even entertain you a bit; and on a good day you may even be forced to chuckle! But sometimes I feel it is my duty as your somewhat humble outdoor scribe to let you know when everything is not all sunshine and roses in the outdoor world.
My brothers and sisters in camo, are you awake? It doesn’t seem like it.
We live in a time when the sport and our heritage of hunting is threatened as never before; most of you know this, yet it seems that we as hunters do very little about it. Here are some of the major threats to hunting today.
Well-funded and organized animal rights groups. I’m sure we could argue for days as to whether animals actually have “rights” or not but that’s not why I bring this up. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has long been an advocate of stopping hunting. I think most folks believe that HSUS funds animal shelters all over the country; they don’t, but they do spend a lot of money pushing an anti-hunting agenda. PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, while not as big or well-funded as HSUS, still pushes the anti-hunting cause. These are but two groups that would like to see hunting come to an end.
Urbanization. Many hunters east of the Mississippi will tell you that they have lost much of their hunting ground in the past several years. As cities and neighborhoods expand, rural areas and farmland decrease, which means less hunting areas. Public hunting land helps with this but there is not enough public land to take up the slack, so hunters suffer. All kinds of other collateral damage can occur as areas where people are still legal to hunt exist in close proximity with residences and other areas where people are exposed to the hunter. Even though the hunter may be entirely legal to be in an area, sometimes they figure the hassle is just not worth it. The result? We lose another hunter. (More on loss of hunting ground later.)
Increasing lack of unity among hunters. No doubt you are a little tired of me talking about this one. For some reason known only in Heaven, hunters and fishermen (that means men and women) seem to be their own worst enemy. Bow hunters tend to feud with gun hunters and many of them still argue against cross bows, (I have given up trying to understand that one), deer hunters may not want to recognize the rights of small game hunters to be in the woods, and hunters who don’t use hunting dogs often gripe about those who do. Bring up baiting in some circles and you will probably be sorry.
The really big problem here is all of these sportsmen failing to see that we all on the same team. I have tried to analyze this phenomenon and it seems to stem from many hunters don’t like or respect the way others may hunt if it differs from them. If someone doesn’t hunt exactly like you, but it is legal, don’t berate this person and be ready to defend his method of hunting if it becomes an issue. Remember that Ben Franklin told the other signers of the Declaration of Independence “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.
Media woes. For many years the message about hunters on TV and in the movies has not been good. Hunters are usually portrayed in general as bad, evil, and often incompetent individuals. Rarely is a hunter portrayed as a good guy or hero. Add to this the personification of animals in movies and cartoons where woodland creatures are made to talk, reason, and have many human characteristics. (See my earlier column The Problem With Bambi.)
The problem with this is of course that this is just not real. As I brought up in the Bambi article, deer and skunks and rabbits don’t get together and discuss the day’s events and what they are going to do tomorrow. Little kids love this movie and that is OK, but you also leave the movie with a slanted view of hunters in general. Lots of movies and TV have come down the pike since Bambi with a less than cordial view of hunters.
Loss of hunting opportunity. As noted in these pages before, the first thing that a person who wants to go hunting must have is a place to go. With the loss of much private land for hunting, the average hunter can ill afford to lose any areas that are public hunting. By way of example of this, a bill has been proposed for the United States Congress that would change the designation of a large portion of land in southern West Virginia in the New River Gorge National River, administered by the National Park Service. This area has been open for hunting since its establishment in 1978 and I might add that hunters were assured at the time that it always would be. The New River Gorge National Park and Preserve Designation Act would change the status of four areas along the river and give them, as I understand it, the same status as a National Park, which also means no hunting.
Three of these areas may not be much of a problem for hunters; the fourth area takes in much of the lower New River Gorge and consists of thousands of acres, a big problem for hunters. Proponents of the bill of course say having National Park status in the area will be a boon to tourism.
Is the loss of thousands of acres of public hunting land worth it for what may be gained in tourism? I don’t know, you tell me.
Do most of our hunters in West Virginia even know about this issue? Not from what I have seen. It has not been very well publicized.
All of us hunters can continue to sleep about this and many other issues, but if we do, we may not like what we awaken to.