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To Save Hunting In The 21st Century

Monday, January 3, 2000

Clinton-inspired politicos and the media elite
would like nothing better than to proclaim
a cultural cleansing--no more hunting.
But not so fast!
NRA is determined not to let that happen.

There was a time not long ago when books by Robert Ruark full of wonderful hunting stories about a boy and his grandfather were in every bookstore, perhaps on the best-seller list. Or when ABC had one of the finest showcases for hunting and fishing ever produced on television, The American Sportsman; where every week we saw celebrities from all walks of life hunting everything from big game in Kenya to woodcock in Maine. This was a time when Ernest Hemingway, a masterful hunter living a legend, was the pride of America`s cultural elite and was featured in national magazines for his pursuits. It was a time when major film and television stars were proud to identify themselves as hunters.

Hunting was popular culture. The anti-hunting, anti-gun movement essentially did not exist, and when its beginnings seeped through the media cracks, it was treated as a weird sideshow.

"The chase is among the best of all national pastimes;
it cultivates that vigorous manliness for the lack of which in a nation, as in an individual, the possession
of no other qualities canpossibly atone."
Theodore Roosevelt,1893

Turn of the Century Presidential Rhetoric

"The real problem is that we have another culture
in our country that I think has gotten confused about
its objectives . . . (the); huge hunting and sport shooting culture."

--Bill Clinton, 1999

This was a time when virtually everyone in the nation had some connection to rural culture, whether directly or through extended family. People knew that chickens were birds, and that beef came from cattle--they were not just types of meat under plastic wrap in a supermarket.

That was America when I was given my first gun and taken in hand by my father to become a hunter and to learn the ethics, lore, and kinship that is part of our heritage.

That America is still out there, but for many it`s hard to see. In recent years, that America has been overwhelmed by media fascination with self appointed social activists whose bizarre agendas dominate popular culture. There are still television and film stars who love to hunt. But America will never hear about it or see them talking about it, because the social movements that begin with the word "anti-" now dominate virtually all forms of mass communication.

Today, any time these militants have something negative to say about our hunting heritage and our tradition of conservation--no matter how ignorant or wrong--it is thrust upon us as news, part entertainment and part cultural education. If 200 members of an anti-hunting group show up to protest a hunting day reserved for youth, it is treated as major news. It makes the networks. If one thousand people protest deer hunting, those people are called an army of protesters.

Yet on a single day unique to each state, peaceable armed citizens gather in numbers that would dwarf the largest standing army in the world.

Opening day of hunting seasons in America this past year saw nearly 12 million men, women, and children take to the nation`s farms, fields, hills, and mountains in active participation in a heritage that is alive and well--hunting. But changes in our society threaten to give the "anti" culture the tools they need to extinguish our hunting and sport-shooting heritage entirely.

Make no mistake--our hunting heritage faces threats from all sides. Its future cannot be taken for granted. At NRA we are doing everything we can to assure it will be passed on to Americans of the next century.

In the East it`s urban sprawl, as more and more rural land is gobbled up every day for development. As the farms and forests are bulldozed to make way for highways and homes and the people that follow, there is less land for hunting and hunters. And while in many cases game populations have never been larger or healthier, public attitudes about those who participate in their management have never been more polluted by media distortions than now.

In the West, the threat is different but the result much the same. Environmental zealots successfully lobbied the Clinton-Gore Administration to close off millions of acres of public land to hunting and sport shooting, or to severely limit access to those opportunities. And animal-rights extremists are pursuing a relentless campaign to eliminate hunting as a tool of wildlife management, one season or one method at a time.

The future of hunting, as we enter this new century, can only be assured by those who live it and practice it. There are enough of us who share the passion for the real outdoors to make a difference, and we need only bear in mind that hunting requires four essentials: a place to hunt, well-managed wildlife resources, the tools to hunt with, and people who participate.

At NRA-ILA we are doing everything we can to assure that there will be places to hunt. We work every day with federal and state agencies to keep public lands accessible for hunting, and we support programs to encourage landowners to open their property to hunters.

We are the only group in America who willingly and proudly pay whatever is necessary in taxes to assure that our natural resources are protected and managed. In fact, roughly 10 percent of every dollar spent by hunters and sport shooters on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment is a Federal excise tax used to fund the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, more commonly known as Pittman-Robertson. Since 1937, the Pittman-Robertson program --funded exclusively with money collected from hunters and shooters--has provided more than three billion dollars for wildlife management, conservation, hunter education, and range development.

Unfortunately the anti-hunting and anti-gun establishment and their allies in the White House would like nothing more than to raid these funds to bankroll their social agenda. In recent years, we have repeatedly fought legislation that would divert these funds, and we must also be constantly vigilant to ensure that anti-hunting political bureaucrats do not illegally divert these funds and sweep the evidence under the government rug. Our efforts have been critical in making sure that P-R funds earmarked for wildlife management and hunter education are well spent on their intended purposes, and we will fight to keep it that way.

When it comes to the hardware we hunt with, nobody is doing more than we are doing collectively--NRA and NRA members--to preserve the tools of hunting. The war that has been declared on the Second Amendment since the outset of the Clinton Administration is also a war on hunting. Some may think that this is the same old line, the camel`s nose under the tent, and that no one is going to take away our guns or our right to hunt. In fact, President Clinton went to great lengths to suggest that the anti-gun laws he advocated wouldn`t prevent any hunter or sport shooter from a day spent in the field or on the local shooting range.

But Clinton`s rhetoric concealed a well-planned squeeze play. While he offered assurances that there will always be guns for hunting, his appointees are working to eliminate hunting wherever they can. At the same time, Clinton and his supporters are working to further restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens to own and use firearms whether for sport or self-defense. Clinton often brags that his gun bans have not taken a single gun away from hunters, but then he supports the deceptive efforts of his allies in Congress to ban deer rifles by calling them "sniper rifles," and efforts to ban virtually all center-fire rifle ammunition by calling it "cop-killer" ammunition.

Make no mistake--our heritage faces an enormous threat from all sides. The stakes in this battle are nothing short of the hunter`s way of life. Soon after the Littleton tragedy, President Clinton mocked hunters in a condescending attack on our beliefs. "The problem is, we have another culture in our country that I think has gotten confused about its objectives. We have a huge hunting and sport shooting culture in America . . .when there are no constituents for this movement, the movement will evaporate." In his war on the culture of hunting, Bill Clinton asked for the help of his friends in the media elite, saying, "You change the culture, we`ll change the laws."

And that gets me to the most important single thing we must do to preserve our hunting heritage for the future. It`s something each of us does individually. We need to make sure that our culture survives among ourselves. We need to pass on the knowledge, the ethics, the pure enjoyment, the love for the outdoors, and the passion for hunting to someone else--especially to someone younger. There are countless ways to bring someone new into our way of life, and I`m sure we can all think of at least one we can try this season. Just as certainly, in the future we will all encounter other hunters who aren`t members of the NRA, for whatever reason. Take a moment to explain the work we`re doing to protect hunters` rights, and give them a membership application so they can help support our efforts.

As we enter this new century, the future of our hunting heritage cannot be taken for granted. We--hunters and those who support hunting--must not fail. The stakes here are enormous. Bill Clinton said so himself when he stated, "the heart and soul of America is on the line." Indeed it is, and I plan to do my part. I hope you will join me.

James Jay Baker is the Executive Director of the NRA`s Institute for Legislative Action (ILA), where he directs all of the Association`s political and legislative activities. ILA includes a Conservation, Wildlife and Natural Resources Division that defends hunters` rights in Congress, before federal regulatory agencies, and in all state capitals.

An avid hunter, Baker was raised in Maryland, and was introduced by his father to the many hunting opportunities of Maryland`s Eastern Shore and the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including a wide variety of waterfowl, upland birds, and larger game such as bear and whitetail deer. Baker has hunted in nearly every region of the United States, and recently took this brown bear in Alaska.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.