October 18, 2021
This column was written by Russ Mason and me. Russ is the former Wildlife Chief for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and presently is the DNR’s Executive in Residence at Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
I currently serve as a Director on the Board of The Nimrod Society (nimrodsociety.org), and Russ serves as an adviser to The Nimrod Society. Our Know Hunting column is about that Society. Russ’s perspective on many issues, especially the values of hunting and the future of hunting are unexcelled, and it’s an honor to work with him on this column.
Two major issues should concern all hunters about their future. One is pretty obvious: The decline in hunters. That decline became evident 20 years ago, and it has continued ever since. State wildlife agencies have tried numerous programs to recruit and retain hunters. Although those programs all have merit, in general they have not succeeded. Even our mandated Hunter Education programs don’t bring in as many hunters as you might expect. In Michigan, for example, only 40 percent of Hunter Education program graduates are active hunters four years after taking the course. True, the pandemic has increased hunting license sales in some states, but that will end and the downward trend will continue.
A second issue that should concern all hunters is how susceptible the general public is to anti-hunting messages. For example, in Michigan, 25 percent of the general public doesn’t know if hunters generally follow the regulations. So, if an anti-hunting group says they don’t obey the laws, a quarter of the public buys into that. In Michigan, 61 percent don’t know or do not believe that wildlife requires management to thrive, and 45 percent believe that legal regulated hunting can lead to the extinction of a species. Anti-hunting groups love to spread the myth that hunting leads to extinction. Sad to say, 45 percent buy into that, too.
Anti-hunters portray hunters and hunting as threats to wildlife. When coupled with public misperceptions such as those mentioned above, it isn’t hard to imagine why anti-hunting messages hit home. If hunting is to continue, we need non-hunters to know the facts and support hunting. This is where The Nimrod Society comes in.
The Nimrod Society was organized in 2003 by Alan Taylor, a Michigan bowhunter who I (DS) met via the Pope and Young Club. He created The Nimrod Society with a goal to “educate the general public on the positive role anglers and hunters play in society through accurate and factual education and media programs.”
Back in the late 1990s, there were problems brewing in Colorado. There, organizations like the Humane Society of the United States were bringing up various anti-hunting issues, such as stopping bait hunting for black bears. Their misconstrued “facts” were being accepted by the public. What the public really needed to hear, especially via television, was factual messages about hunted species, but that required organization and money.
The Nimrod Society assisted a coalition of hunters, anglers, and other conservationists to create a Council in 1998 that is now known as the Colorado Wildlife Council. Nimrod and the Council led a campaign, the result of which was the creation of a small 75-cent surcharge placed on hunting and fishing licenses. True, hunters and fishers were being asked to foot the bill again, but it was a small price to pay when the future of hunting was at stake. Once the money source was created, what was the best way to get our messages out to the public?
The Wildlife Council started their “Hug a Hunter” program by retaining an advertising agency that was responsible for planning and executing a media strategy to reach the public. Their program began as a series of 30-second ads targeting the general public and running on the major television channels during the morning and evening news, and during primetime in major Colorado cities. There was also a website, and a social media push, along with radio ads. Sounds like something every state needs to do, doesn’t it?
Subsequent surveys demonstrated that the campaign resonated with the intended audience. The general public became more aware of the conservation benefits of hunting license sales (64 versus 51 percent in precampaign surveys). Even more important, the “Hug a Hunter” campaign influenced more of the general public to express negative attitudes toward ballot initiatives that restricted hunting.
Because of The Nimrod Society and Wildlife Council action in Colorado, we now had a model for other states to follow. In fact, The Nimrod Society led efforts that established, via law, the Michigan Wildlife Council in 2013. Funded by $1 from every hunting and fishing license sold (doesn’t sound like much, but it generates an annual operating budget of $1.5 million), the Michigan Wildlife Council adopted a “Here for Generations” messaging strategy to drive home the importance of hunting and fishing to Michigan’s economy and natural resources management.
That campaign highlighted that, in Michigan, fishing and hunting generates $11 billion of economic activity, supports 171,000 jobs, and provides $96 million for wildlife conservation. It also emphasized the fact that conservation is funded mostly through hunting and fishing licenses, and not state taxes. There is a common misperception in most states, if not all, that conservation is paid for by tax-based state general funds. Citizens need to know that hunters and anglers pay almost all of those bills.
Nimrod is not done. It is now supporting efforts in Oregon where House Bill 3150 would establish an Oregon Wildlife Council. Things are happening, and what we hope this column does is to encourage our readers and state conservation organizations to explore the benefits of establishing Wildlife Councils in your own state.
There is a lot more happening because of Alan Taylor’s Nimrod Society. Nimrod is aligned with the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum, an organization that also prioritizes general public outreach as essential to protecting hunting as something that is socially acceptable and a useful activity in the 21st Century.
The Nimrod Society has also created the Nimrod Conservation Program at Hillsdale College in Michigan. Supported by a generous endowment from Alan Taylor, this program aims to reach talented undergraduates in wildlife, pre-law, business, teaching, and other professions that impact conservation law, government, the judicial system, and elementary and secondary education. Both Russ and I are involved as advisors in this new, exciting college program that promotes the values of hunting. More about that in a future column.