I have always been a scholar of the old hunters. Be it Corbett, Selous, Wally Johnston or Ruark, I wanted to drink from their fountain of knowledge and yearned to experience life the way they had. Those were different times. Times that will never be repeated. I revere, and envy them in the same breath, and yet I wonder how much of the way they portrayed themselves laid the foundations for the current challenges we face; convincing the wider public that hunting has a place in the modern world.
As I browse the black and white, sepia tones of those great old pictures, I can only stare in wonderment of what it must have been like. You can almost smell the richness of the soil through the shades of washed grey, but it’s easy to get carried away in nostalgia. Remove yourself from the immersion of the great hunters and look from the outside. Men, primarily, often standing beside piles of game, or a handful of lions, or proudly displaying the fleshed skulls of their kills after a lengthy safari. Rifle, cigar and flag flying as if having conquered a country, and we see the beginnings of a mis-understanding in perception.
I don’t blame them. They were exploiting a resource that seemed endless, and indeed it probably would have remained that way if human populations hadn’t increased exponentially around the world. However many of the great hunters, with their magnitude of experience and knowledge of the land became some of the greatest conservationists in history. Often towards the end of their lives they began to see the need for a structured approach to wild game management, and we see the remnants of this today with names like Selous and Corbett prefixed to some of the most well known conservation areas on the planet.
There is something I will dwell on, all but briefly, as it achieves very little. In the last 30 years, be it hunting in Africa or much closer to home on our hills for stags or grouse, the strong voices of education and reason were quiet. Deathly quiet. Where were our spokesmen ensuring that we preserved not only a way of life, but more importantly disseminated the wonderful success stories of how hunting has helped to return species from the brink. Where were the initiatives to promote the fact land managed for hunting benefits species far beyond the quarry we pursue. Who was emphasising the fact that in a world where people ever encroach on the limited wild places, active wildlife management through hunting is the most ethical and sustainable example of success.
If it did exist, it didn’t work, despite some of our shooting organisations being in existence for far longer. In America on the other hand they have been far better at a positive public narrative fronted by the major organisations. Fast forward to today, and in the last couple of years more has been done to promote the benefits of hunting in the public domain than was done in the previous three decades. I look at the previous generation, steeped in the most incredible catalogue of knowledge and yet I ask why they didn’t do more. That may be unpopular, but this wasn’t suddenly a surprise. The challenges we face today as hunters have been building, and very little was done to counter it. The exception there in the U.K. may be the GWCT who as an organisation may have not had the public fronting face, but have certainly maintained the voice of reason and respectability. Their research and studies should be a first port of call of all hunters.
"Those who sat and watched should
feel guilty they didn’t do more"
Those who sat and watched should feel guilty they didn’t do more, and now it is for my generation to pick up the mantle and fight what seems to be a losing battle, even with the science of evidence on our side. We have to convince the greatest audience, the ignorant masses, through no great fault of their own, that we not only need to be listened to, but that we are custodians of and for the wilderness and the wild animals of this planet. Yes we have a gun, and yes it often involves killing.
We must no longer treat our passion, past time and insatiable love for hunting as only that. As a hunter in the modern world we need to be much more. Conservationist, public speaker, debater, wildlife expert. The burden lies on us to have those conversations, one by one, articulately explaining what we do and why. Single conversations turn into thousands of single conversations, turn into tens of thousands. Introduce people to game meat. Take a friend who doesn’t hunt out to experience it. Listen to those great ambassadors of our sports such as Diggory Hadoke, Jim Shockey, Donnie Vincent, and learn from those who have passed such as Aldo Leopold. Make it your business to educate yourself. Listen, read and learn. Beyond all, question everything and you will understand enough to impress upon those less fortunate to understand the greater reality. One day they may too embrace just how important hunting is to the fabric not just our country and wildlife, but global populations.
So where to start. No single aspect can justify what we do. No population saviour or economic success, but collectively they add up to an impressive arsenal.
In this article let us dip into the economics of hunting from the country which embraces it probably more than any other. Of course I am talking about the United States.The history of wildlife management in America is complex, and one I am only now really starting to understand, but it serves as a great case study. Certainly in terms of statistics, we are not short of them.
Most famously the American National Parks are heralded as one of the greatest wildlife conservation success on the planet. Of course this was put in place by one of the great hunters in our history -former American President Teddy Roosevelt. Across America, State wildlife agencies facilitate and fund conservation and monitoring programs to the tune of $40million a year per agency. It’s estimated that around half of this money comes directly from the sale of licenses and fees to hunters and fishers. That equates to $821million in 2015 across America just in licenses and tags.
"wildlife agencies have received
$56.9billion directly from hunters and fishers"
What is probably more interesting than that is discovering where the wildlife agencies source the rest of their money from. Indeed it comes from the Federal government, but once again hunters are at the source. The vast majority of this money comes from the Pittman-Robertson Act, which imposes an 11% excise tax on the sale of all firearms and ammunition. Last year this amounted to $823million. For fisherman there are similar taxes in the Dingell-Johnston Act of 1950, further contributing to help fund wildlife conservation initiatives to a sum of $624million. If that sounds impressive, try this. Since the 1940’s State fish and wildlife agencies have received $56.9billion directly from hunters and fishers.
Of course this doesn’t take into consideration memberships to the array of organisations in America including SCI, Wild Sheep Foundations and the Dallas Safari Club, all of which plough money into conservation projects every year. I would like to see numbers from anti-hunting animal rights organisations that come even close to this. The simple, cold and unequivocal truth is that they are so far behind in funding conservation, it’s frankly embarrassing. They should be ashamed at their meagre efforts, and consistent derailing of hunting and all it contributes.
If we side step the importance of conservation for a moment and instead focus on hard economics, we can show some pretty impressive numbers. This world runs on money, and it’s very clear how hunting stacks up in terms of wider economic contributions. Here we can also add a little perspective on these rather large figures.
A report published by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, based on publicly available figures, shows that Retail Sales alone on shooting related items in 2011 amounted to annual sales of $48billion. This would rank it 57th in the Fortune 500, ahead of Coca Cola, Fed Ex and Twenty First Century Fox. It’s also estimated that shooting sports employ about 886,000 jobs solely in North America. If we look at publically traded companies’ worldwide, this would rank the shooting industry as the second largest employer in the world behind Wall Mart. That’s without taking into account those people employed outside the United States in shooting sports.
Quite obviously when we look at U.K. statistics, the numbers are considerably less staggering owing to our population and reduced participation compared to the U.S. but it is non the less important, relevant and one more arrow in your quiver of defence. Equip yourself with knowledge and we will all be in a stronger position.
Note: Byron Pace is a qualified Economist, having previously worked for global leaders in risk analytics before devoting all of his time to field sports.