You love to hunt. I love to hunt. But the actions of a few taint the reputations of us all. Anti-hunting forces are looking for every scrap of unethical and illegal activity involving the taking of wildlife so they can tout those rare instances as examples of why all hunting needs to be banned. While the story of conservation has been hunters policing themselves from the beginning, from hiring the first game warden in Michigan and instituting licenses and fees to passing larger fines for poachers, like MUCC did last year for trophy bucks, that work is not what the public notices.
They don’t pay attention to the 700,000-plus legal and ethical hunters who take to the woods every year. They only notice the few slob hunters and poachers who make headlines. So stop it. Whether that’s you or someone you know, stop it. If you hear about it, report it. No more “wink, wink.” No more “shoot, shovel and shut up.” Those days are over. They never should have existed in the first place. They have to be over, otherwise no one will be able to hunt in the future.
Here are just a few examples that have come up in the statewide media just in the past few weeks. Keep in mind, these are not examples that we hear of because we’re part of the hunting community. These are what the whole state is reading about; hunters, non-hunters and anti-hunters alike.
Elk poachings increase: November sees large jump in illegal killings, but at what price?
State hunting for wolf poachers
Man shot by deer hunter at Bald Mountain State Recreation Area
DNR: Waterford Twp. man confessed to elk killing
Silence in September: Criminals are killing our trophy elk, help catch them
A young elk in the Pigeon River Country
These examples include multiple elk poachings, two wolf poachings, and an out-of-state hunter who shot a man because he “heard something” in the bushes and thought it was a deer.
I’m sure the hunter feels awful and I hate to pile on, but you have to be certain of your target: that’s the first thing we’re taught in hunter’s safety. And whether it’s the intentional killing of an elk, which basically steals from and cuts in line in front of every other hunter who’s applied for an elk license over the years, poaching a wolf (which is just plain stupid because the DNR will be able to manage them as a game species when the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act goes into effect in March) or being unsafe by not positively identifying your target before you shoot, these few examples hurt the reputation and cause of all the legal, safe and ethical hunters. So stop it.
We, the hunting and conservation community, have spent the past few years working tirelessly to defend our hunting rights from out-of-state anti-hunters like the Humane Society of the United States. And we won. The Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act will take effect around March 18, 2015, at which point HSUS will no longer be able to arbitrarily block a game species simply by spending a lot of money on ads in areas of Michigan where few of the population have any experience with wildlife, hunting and conservation.
But that’s just one battle. You can bet that HSUS will be back to attack another hunting right. They won’t be able to run a referendum on a new game species, but they can try to do an initiative to take away an existing hunting right. That will be harder for them to do than a referendum, but not impossible. And when people poach or use unsafe or unethical hunting practices, it makes it easier for HSUS to convince uninformed non-hunters that they should become anti-hunters. So stop it.
Hunters make up less than 20% of the population. We are and always have been a minority. We’re a significant and powerful minority, but a minority nonetheless. So are the anti-hunters. Our ability to keep our hunting rights depends on the goodwill and reputation we have with the non-hunting public in the middle. And as November’s election results show, we’re on the losing end right now. We can never match HSUS’s money, because unlike them, we don’t trick potential donors into thinking we’re an animal shelter. But we can protect our hunting rights by working harder and smarter than them, like we did to pass the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. But that means acting right in the field, too, otherwise we won’t have the support in the future to beat them again, from citizens or the Legislature.
Just in case you didn’t know, it is a relentless and unending battle to protect our hunting rights from the anti-hunting movement. For every non-hunter who supports our right to hunt because we donate venison to the Sportsmen Against Hunger program, we lose one because someone poached an elk. For every non-hunter who supports our right to hunt because our license fees pay for the conservation and management of wildlife, we lose two because someone poached a wolf. And for every non-hunter who supports our right to hunt because we’re the ones volunteering on the weekend to improve wildlife habitat, we could lose ten because someone shot at a sound in the bushes. So stop it.
Taking the life of an animal is serious business. Our right to to do so as human hunters in Michigan exists because we have established a system where the species, number, methods and locations where we can take them are set by professional biologists making recommendations through the Natural Resources Commission. It is a modern, organized and scientific way to continue a way of life that has existed for at least 400,000 years and possibly as much as 1.8 million years. When people go outside of that system, though, they jeopardize the rights of the rest of us to hunt within it. So treat the wildlife you hunt and your right to do so with the respect they both deserve. Don’t poach, don’t tolerate poaching by others, and hunt safely and ethically.
Michigan’s Report All Poaching (R.A.P.) hotline is 1-800-292-7800.
WildLife Wednesday is the weekly blog from MUCC Field Manager Drew YoungeDyke