It`s that time of year. For many of us, hunting seasons are well under way, while others among us are doing our last-minute scouting, sighting in our rifles one last time, or packing and repacking bags for long-awaited trips to new hunting grounds. No matter what you hunt or where you hunt it, the rituals of preparing for the seasons are both timeless and a marker of time`s passage.
Protecting the right to hunt, on the other hand, is a full-time, year-round pursuit for us at NRA -ILA. Anti-hunting groups follow the "divide and conquer" strategy, so they attack hunting season by season, species by species and method by method.
Our counter-strategy has three prongs. First, we must protect the hunting opportunities that exist. Second, we must create new opportunities--whether by opening new seasons, expanding access to hunting lands, or removing needless obstacles that block hunters from going afield. Finally, we must recruit and retain a new generation of hunters to perpetuate our hunting tradition.
In most states, the arrival of fall is marked by dove season. For many, the first dove hunt of the year is as much a social occasion as it is a hunting trip. Opening day dove hunts often see dozens of hunters gather for a sporting afternoon of wingshooting, followed by a barbecue and party. One ritual common to many dove hunts is to introduce the new hunters of the year, children who have come of age for their first hunt. They come with eyes wide, clad in ill-fitting camo, and beaming at their acceptance in the hunting community. Seeing the excitement and enthusiasm of the first-time hunters is an inspiration, and that`s why dove seasons are a critical component for success in new hunter recruitment and retention.
Doves are our nation`s most populous game bird. They enjoy high reproductive rates, out of biological necessity. That`s because their mortality rate is also high, regardless of whether they are hunted. But just as hunting is bound by tradition, the absence of a dove season in many states has become accepted. Anti-hunting groups manipulate those attitudes to prevent the establishment of new dove seasons at any cost.
That`s why it was a major victory this year when the Iowa legislature authorized the state`s first dove season since 1918. Anti-hunting groups tried everything to derail the hunt or make it less popular, including an amendment that would have banned lead shot, forcing hunters to use more expensive and less available alternatives. The amendment was defeated. But when the time came for the state Natural Resources Commission to set the season and rules, the Commission included a ban on lead shot on its own, in overt defiance of the legislature.
I can`t vouch for the motives of state agency officials, but Iowa wouldn`t be the first state where we have seen state game officials abruptly institute a lead ban without any supporting science. Groups seeking to ban traditional ammunition claim that lead is taking a devastating toll on wildlife populations. Yet the species they claim are threatened are flourishing. There simply is no credible science that definitively links the use of traditional ammunition in upland bird hunting to any decline in wildlife populations.
The NRA "does not stand alone in its view that any regulation effort on traditional ammunition should be based on sound science that shows a wildlife population-level impact. The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies has put forward a resolution stating that "state agencies should focus regulation efforts where population-level impacts to wildlife are substantiated." (afwa--2010 Lead Ammunition and Fishing Tackle Resolution; emphasis added.)
An overt, concerted campaign is under way to ban lead in ammunition and fishing tackle nationwide. They are driven by zeal and blinded to fact. And where they have been able to limit the use of lead shot, even without any basis in science, they are able to manipulate other regulatory bodies into following suit, whether out of fear or ignorance. Even state fish and game agencies are riding the political winds at the direction of anti-hunting groups, placing entire sections titled "Get the Lead Out" on agency websites and propaganda materials.
So it`s really no surprise that the Iowa Natural Resources Commission decided to ban lead shot. But they didn`t count on the reaction from the state`s elected officials. If there`s anything that will outrage an elected lawmaker at any level of government, it`s an unelected bureaucrat issuing rules that are openly defiant of the legislature. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad waded into the fray, saying the Commission had overstepped its bounds. A legislative panel quickly delayed the lead ban, and lawmakers will revisit the issue in their next session.
And so, on Sept. 1, Iowa opened its first dove season in nearly a century, complete with all the traditional trimmings. It`s our mission to keep it that way and ensure that wildlife management decisions are rooted in sound science--in Iowa and all across America.