TAB’s take on the dark side of R3.
Most folks in and around the hunting community have feelings about the number of hunters in America. I’m sure some of this translates to other places but I’m sorry, Canada, I’ll be talking specifically about the U.S. here. With all of the bullshit floating around the internet lately, I figured I’d poke some holes in this R3 thing.
R3, for those who aren’t aware, refers to Recruit, Retain and Reactivate efforts primarily being taken by non-profits and government agencies. The idea is to recruit new hunters, retain the hunters we have and reactivate hunters who’ve given up. It sounds noble, but it ain’t. I particularly hate that our tax dollars go towards supporting this crusade.
The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 – known as the Pittman-Robertson Act – is funded by an excise tax on firearm and ammunition purchases. These funds are distributed to state wildlife agencies to be used for “hunter education programs and projects to restore and manage wildlife habitat.” Sweet! BUT, it was “modernized” in 2020 and now allows funds (collected primarily from recreational shooters, by the way) to be used for R3. What’s so bad about that, you ask? LET ME TELL YOU.
You’ll often hear supporters of R3 claim that participation in hunting and fishing has been on the decline since the 1980’s. But, referencing the study above, we see the number of hunters in America has remained relatively constant since 2006. The whole “declining numbers” thing is starting to sound like an old wives’ tale your grandmother used to tell you. STOP CRACKING YOUR KNUCKLES OR YOU’LL GET ARTHRITIS!
You’ll hear folks counter this data by pointing out it doesn’t account for population growth (i.e. the number of hunters should be rising because the population is rising). They don’t mention, however, the growing amount of habitat loss, declining mule deer numbers, climate change, difficulty of private-land access, CWD, new man-made developments or anything else that might hinder the success of hunters.
That’s because proponents of R3 don’t really care about a hunter’s success, nor do they take into consideration the specific needs of particular states. If you live in Michigan, you’ve probably heard hunter numbers have been dwindling for over 25 years – the state is down 270,000 hunters since the mid-1990’s. But, if you remember, in the mid-90’s Michigan had nearly one million hunters running around and opening day seemed like the Battle of Gettysburg. The first documented pair of wolves in the Upper Peninsula had pups in 1991 and now there are more than 700. Young folks in Michigan have found new things to do, like biking, hiking and kayaking. These are all issues that should be addressed at the state level, not by a nation-wide R3 campaign.
I say that because, while Michigan may be experiencing a dip in hunter numbers, states in the Mountain West have seen their number of hunters explode. Go ask someone from Colorado what they think – that state gives out tags like they’re COVID tests, and now their OTC elk season resembles something from Lord of the Flies. We don’t need more hunters out West (and I’m sure Southeasterners feel similarly) but, we’re getting R3 rammed down our throat regardless.
There’s only so much backcountry. There’s only so much high country. We only have so many publicly-accessible swamps and backwoods. Have you ever wished there were more hunters in your area? Do you really think there’s enough wild game out there to feed the entire country?
And, therein lies the fatal flaw in R3 – by focusing so much on hunter recruitment, the initiative works against itself in the retainment category. This “we need more hunters, existing ones be damned” mentality will assuredly backfire as long-time hunters begin to notice the degradation of their rights and the quality of their hunts. Want to make someone give up hunting? Blow out their hunting area with a gaggle of idiots that don’t know what they’re doing. Nobody wants a bunch of locavore, organic meat-chasing hippies in their backyard.
Yep, R3 doesn’t only create hunters – it also creates apologists. Oh, I don’t like killing anything. I only hunt to provide clean, ethical meat for my family. WELL GUESS WHAT, KAYDEN? YOU CAN STICK TO THE FARMER’S MARKET AND STAY OUT OF THE F**KING WOODS. I’m not going to apologize for the antlers on my wall.
This idea that we need more hunters “in order to preserve our hunting heritage” is one of the core tenants of R3, but it’s an idea that’s built on a false premise to begin with. Think about it – there are roughly 234 million U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote. If we really wanted to guarantee our right to hunt was preserved, you’d need more than half of those voters to be “pro-hunting.” Even the most star-struck worshippers of R3 don’t want to see 117 million hunters out there, so what’s end goal?
DOLLA DOLLA BILLS, Y’ALL.
It’s about money and has always been about money. The market size of the hunting and trapping industry is roughly $890 million – up from $888.5 million in 2020. And, that doesn’t include the tertiary dollars spent on travel, lodging, etc. For and non-profits alike are clamoring for their piece of the pie (a pie they’d like to see, whether they admit it or not, become much larger). Don’t get me wrong – I understand there’s a business side to all of this, and that business is important, but is it everything?
As non-profits continue their push to bolster their membership ranks and wildlife agencies try to sell more tags, you’ll hear one consistent message: These new hunters will directly support conservation efforts and the North American Model of Wildlife Management. Eh, maybe. But, is that all they do, though?
Locavore apologists likely aren’t inclined to vote or be active in a way that truly protects the rights of all hunters and trappers. They don’t eat bobcats, so they probably won’t mind if trapping them is outlawed. They don’t eat wolves, so why would they care about the downside of reintroduction efforts? Why are we so concerned with creating more hunters without giving any consideration to the types of hunters we’re developing?
I’m not saying NWTF doesn’t care about turkeys. I’m not saying RMEF doesn’t care about elk, or that Ducks Unlimited doesn’t care about ducks. These organizations have done amazing work over the years. There’s nothing wrong with “filling your freezer,” and I’ve used a Rinella recipe or two, but we can’t continue to ignore the harmful side-effects of this “more hunters at any cost” frame of mind. Look at the NWTF’s rebranding efforts: “Healthy Habitat. Healthy Harvest.” We hunt and kill those birds; we don’t “harvest” them! How many miles of riverine habitat could’ve been restored with the money they used on the third-party agency that came up with that shitty tagline?
The reality is this: you’re either pro-hunting or pro-R3; you can’t be both. That’s because if you’re pro-R3 you’re also pro-whatever else comes along with it. Urban-dwelling socialites don’t eat, breathe and sleep this shit like we do, and that’s just fine. We can’t afford to live in a world where everyone wants to hunt. And, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out recruiting left-leaning, hunting-curious folks might shape our pastime in a way we don’t want.
If you’re really interested in preserving our way of life, skip R3 and start being active yourself. Attend local “feedback” sessions and speak up about issues affecting you. Check out howlforwildlife.org and learn how your signature can impact legislation across the country (no affiliation). Understand that hunter’s rights are to be protected and kowtowing to “woke” hipsters isn’t going to help us in the long run. And, just because an issue affecting hunters rights isn’t directly impacting you, that doesn’t mean it won’t show up in your backyard next.
Hunting doesn’t have an image problem. It doesn’t have a numbers problem. It has a spine problem, in that too few of us have a backbone and will actually stand up against the shit that threatens our way of life. I’ve said it before; we need better hunters (not more hunters). Better doesn’t mean more successful; it means more knowledgeable, more active and more respectful of fellow hunters.
Call me selfish. Call me an asshole. I don’t care. I don’t want to fashion myself a gatekeeper, and anyone has the right to hunt if they so choose. I just hope enough of these new hunters are on our side.