What are the Biggest Threats to Bowhunting?

Do you fear the squirrel squeezers?

We all know our hunting heritage is under constant scrutiny and attack. But what is the real threat? Who, or what, should we fear first and foremost? Anti-hunting organizations like PETA and HSUS?

Take the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for example. They have so badly mismanaged their movement with such idiotic PR campaigns that they've left the general public with the not-so-off-base impression that most animal-rights advocates are nut jobs.

After all, they do claim animals have rights, which is, of course, ludicrous. When a coyote rips the head off a squealing rabbit, does it first consider the rabbit's rights? When a black bear dines on a half-dead elk calf, can the calf's mother file a wrongful death lawsuit? Just exactly how do animals exercise their rights?

The "flower sniffer" movement is also rife with hypocrisy. They rail about porpoises getting caught in tuna nets but nothing is said about the poor tuna. They champion the cute, brown-eyed deer; the fuzzy, white polar bear; and the mystical wolf but care nothing about rats, bats, snakes, and mosquitoes. Do they believe there's a tier system when it comes to rights? Does a bull moose have more rights than a bull mouse?

Then you have the Humane Society of the United States, an organization that has callously ripped off the trademark of the "real" Humane Society (the one that focuses on the welfare of dogs and cats). Few realize these are two very different organizations. If I had Bill Gates' money I'd help the real Humane Society fund a trademark lawsuit against HSUS, the world's largest anti-hunting organization. This group bilks the uninformed masses but doesn't spend that money "on the ground," where animals need it. Instead, it's spent on useless ad campaigns and even on research into the use of contraception to control whitetail deer populations.

What? An animal-rights organization is intentionally depriving a brown-eyed doe of the wonderful joys of motherhood — against her will? It's the height of hypocrisy.

Truth is, animals don't have rights, but they do deserve to be treated with respect. I have great respect for elk, both when they're bugling on a frosty September morning and when they're sizzling on my grill.

The primary goal of animal-rights organizations is to take hunting away from us. They have learned to use the courts to stand in our way so they should be closely watched and aggressively opposed, but they should not be feared.

What I do fear is far more insidious than the anti-hunting movement. I believe the greatest threat to all hunting is declining access to hunting land. The well-to-do hunter will always have a place to hunt because he'll pay for it by leasing or buying land, or hiring an outfitter who has done that for him. It's the vast majority of hunters, the blue-collar types, who bear the brunt of this problem. A father who just wants to take his two sons out pheasant hunting for a couple weekends is often met with nothing but posted signs or having to pay an access fee. If it's too much for him, he gives up, sells his shotguns, and we lose him and his sons as fellow hunters, likely forever.

No type of hunting is immune to this threat. The vast majority of bowhunters depend on gaining access to private land. This is especially true from the East to the Midwest because of the lack of public land. In the West, where public land is abundant, you can find a place to hunt, but you'll have lots of company.

To make matters worse, leasing is rampant. Outfitters are leasing prime properties, and hunters who never dreamed of leasing land are now doing so in self-defense. Others are even buying land, but most of us are left out.

There's no singular solution to the access problem. However, I believe one of the most effective solutions is for state wildlife agencies to develop land access programs. A good example is Montana's Block Management Program, which compensates landowners for allowing hunters to access their property. A few other states have similar programs (see Dave Samuel's article on page 14), but those that don't need to get on board in a big way. Why? Because as it is now, hunters gladly pay for the wildlife management that all citizens enjoy. If hunters go away, the general public will have to assume that burden with their tax dollars. That, or those state agencies will go away.

You might say you're getting your share of hunting done, but what about your sons and daughters? Or your grandchildren? If they can't find a place to hunt, they'll barely have a reason to look up from their computer screens.

If you're looking for something to fear, that should be it.

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