In a recent article by Dean Kuipers, in the autumn edition of my favorite magazine, Orion, the author says, “Hunters and anglers aren’t always thought of as part of the environmental movement, but they are directly engaged in protecting wild creatures and the public lands we all love.” The article itself, and particularly that quote has had me thinking about the impact hunting has had on my life.
Like many of you, I was born into a hunting family. As boys, my dad and uncle grew up hunting on our family ranch with my granddad. My mom’s brother taught her how to hunt for small game on their Ohio farmland when they were kids. I am confident the state’s hunting culture had at least a small part to play in her choosing to move to Wyoming in her early 20s. There was no question as to whether my parents would raise their four children as hunters.
My dad, uncle, brother, sisters and I all learned to shoot with the same Western Field .22; a rifle our dad/granddad bought for himself at 13. To say that little gun is a family treasure is an understatement. As we aged, every fall we hiked miles around our ranch behind our dad, uncle and granddad, hunting for deer. Long before we were each old enough to have a license, we were acquiring navigation skills, exploring every inch of our family property and learning how to safely carry a rifle over our shoulders.
As an adolescent I embraced being a hunter as part of my identity. My best friend and I relished being the only two girls in our sixth-grade hunter safety course, and being a hunter gave me a way to individualize myself during summer camps in Ohio and at my Indiana college. In recognizing how fortunate I was to have family property to hunt on, I also gained a deep appreciation for my great-grandparents and their tremendous homesteading efforts.
Being a hunter has influenced many foundational elements of my life: my connections to my paternal family tree, my ideas about what constitutes organic food, the meats I consume, my opinions about firearms and wildlife management, many of the organizations I support, my land ethic, the list goes on.
As he discusses the national decrease in hunter numbers and the detrimental ramifications this decline will likely result in, Kuipers goes on to say, “Without the passionate season-after-season attention of those who eat from the field and who watch how it changes, there will assuredly be less interest in keeping wildlands wild.” As an outdoor recreationalist that relies on well-managed public lands for all of my endeavors besides hunting, this sentiment really hits home.
There’s no denying that 2020 has been a rollercoaster of a year. I know many of you have been and will be embracing your hunt this season, as falling into our annual tradition is providing a feeling of normalcy and a needed break from the stress of the current day-to-day. If you have the opportunity, I encourage you to take your child, grandchild, spouse, neighbor or friend along for the adventure. For the health of the environment and posterity of all outdoor recreation, we need more hunters.