Hug a hunter

Written by Jim Ward for The Observer August 26, 2011 08:14 pm

Like many other species, wood ducks suffered from the loss of habitat and over-gunning in the early 1900s. Later, concerned sportsmen vigorously lobbied for stricter hunting regulations and taxed themselves to provide funding for habitat enhancement. Today, America’s game animals are some of the most un-endangered species on the planet. JIM WARD / photo
Like many other species, wood ducks suffered from the loss of habitat and over-gunning in the early 1900s. Later, concerned sportsmen vigorously lobbied for stricter hunting regulations and taxed themselves to provide funding for habitat enhancement. Today, America’s game animals are some of the most un-endangered species on the planet. JIM WARD / photo

Hunters often get a bad rap. To some, all we do is tromp through the woods, shooting holes in everything that wiggles. Without any regard for the forest environment, we throw our beer cans everywhere, leave all the gates open and poke 4-wheeler ruts through every meadow. Indeed, there are slobs in our ranks, but it’s not the norm and it’s not condoned.

In fact, sportsmen and their organizations have made a great effort to distance themselves from wrong-doers. We’ve lobbied hard for stiff fines to punish those who defy ethical hunting practices. We’ve spent huge sums of money to help train our youth — teaching them to be safe hunters and better stewards of the land and its wildlife. And we won’t stop.

Some suggest that we kill wildlife only for recreation. In truth, many of our families were raised on venison and fowl. It feels good knowing our families are eating clean, unadulterated food — no growth hormones, preservatives and toxins. One estimate suggests that more than 2,000 tons of elk meat alone goes into Eastern Oregon freezers every year. That’s not counting deer and all the pheasants, grouse, waterfowl, turkeys and partridges. The food that comes from our forests, marshes and uplands is often overlooked by others. Before the guns of autumn enter the forest, the herds and flocks will have regained their losses from the year before — proving to be a great renewable resource. 

“Our hunting is decimating wildlife populations” — One only needs to look at current game numbers in this country. America’s hunted animals are some of the most un-endangered species on the planet. And it’s no accident. When European settlers first embarked on our continent, it seemed this onslaught would wipe out everything edible. Many wildlife species suffered terribly. Elk, deer, pronghorns, wild sheep and many other huntable critters were pushing extinction. It was mostly concerned sportsmen that turned their numbers around — lobbying for sensible wildlife management and crucial hunting restrictions.

It’s not common for people to wholeheartedly tax themselves, but in 1937, sportsmen fought to enact a law that would tax their recreation. The Pittman-Robertson Act put an 11 percent tax on all firearms and ammunition. In time, this simple gesture would pump millions of dollars into wildlife programs. Currently, this act brings $700 million annually to aid wildlife. This buys wildlife refuges, enhances big-game winter ranges and provides funding for a multitude of other programs. The buck doesn’t stop there.

A recent study conducted by the independent Dean Runyan and Associates and Travel Oregon discovered that hunting-related activities puts more than $1 billion annually into Oregon’s economy alone. In 2008, Oregon hunters spent more than $104 million just on travel expenses. Politicians don’t seem to grasp this economic boost to our economies.  We buy SUVs from local lots. Come September we start filling them with camo-garments, sleeping bags and tents, shotguns and bags of groceries. We poke tires under the frame, stuff a new battery under the hood and pour gas in the tank. We eat pizzas and Big Macs.

But, what likely troubles sportsmen the most is that few people seem to realize the effect that hunting-related dollars has on non-game species. Some suggest our efforts only help the creatures we hunt. Wow, nothing could be further from the truth. Take our own Ladd Marsh Wildlife Management Area. This vital wildlife haven was first purchased with Pittman-Robertson dollars. Since then millions of dollars have been spent on wetlands enhancement, wildlife research and countless other Ladd Marsh programs. Hunting groups like Ducks Unlimited, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Oregon Hunters Association, to name a few, have poured their wallets out to benefit all the critters on the management area.

In truth, many more non-game species have prospered from hunting-related efforts than hunted species. Gouge out a pond for mallards and you benefit the pelicans, blackbirds, turtles and dragon flies. Put in a windbreak for pheasants and here come the hawks, rabbits and foxes. Ladd Marsh has well over 200 species that visit and live on the wildlife area. Actually, only a small fraction is hunted creatures.

So, rather than scorn the next fellow you see clad in camo, you might consider embracing him for all the contributions he’s made toward his family, the economy, environment and the wild creatures we all love. Actually, on second thought, you may just want to tip your hat as hunters often smear some rather foul-smelling goop (game attractant) on their clothes at this time of year.


Jim Ward is a La Grande hunter, sportsman and wildlife photographer.