No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
John Donne, 1624
I get it. We hunters are strong individualists. We don’t like anybody to tell us what we should do, and we have our own special interests. We are deer hunters, elk hunters, grouse hunters, quail hunters, pheasant hunters, rabbit hunters, squirrel hunters, turkey hunters, varmint hunters, waterfowl hunters, and more. We are blackpowder hunters, bowhunters, rifle hunters, shotgunners, and still more. Many of us, perhaps most of us, mix up our pursuits depending on time and place, while others remain more specialized. History shows that, by nature, we are not “joiners.”
This is unfortunate, because as a group we almost certainly outnumber the dedicated anti-hunters arrayed against us. According to the most recent surveys there are about 15 million licensed hunters in the United States. Understanding that in many states certain age groups don’t require licenses, certain others have “lifetime licenses,” and many who consider themselves “hunters” don’t participate every year; the total number of American hunters probably approaches 20 million. We could extrapolate this worldwide, but America has the largest and strongest hunting culture on Earth, and we are a large and strong group. Even so, we are a small minority of American society…but I genuinely believe we greatly outnumber the serious and committed anti-hunters.
The majority of Americans are non-hunters, in some cases by choice but in many cases by lack of exposure, often due to an urban environment. The good news: Most Americans are laissez-faire and relatively open-minded. Even though we don’t participate in a given activity, we are unlikely to take an active role against any activity that doesn’t directly impact our own lives…and especially if that activity can be seen as contributing to the common good. Apparently both premises apply to hunting; according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s recent surveys, “general approval” of hunting is very high at well over 70 percent.
Well it should be because, pragmatically, it is we as hunters and anglers who support the conservation and management of our wildlife and fisheries. In this country it is our license fees and the excise taxes on our equipment that provide the primary funding for the bounty of wildlife we enjoy today. Sportsmen and sportswomen pay the freight, and do so willingly…so that hikers, bikers, campers, photographers, tree huggers, nature Nazis, fern fairies, and all citizens and visitors can enjoy the bounty equally. Hunting is an emotional issue, but if pure pragmatism were applied, this is reality, easily followed by another fact: There is no alternative funding. We are unlikely to change the minds of committed anti’s…but we must keep the support of the non-hunting majority.
The anti-hunters, preying upon emotion, have no problems dismissing facts. Unfortunately, they are not only outspoken, but also very well-organized. More organized than we are. As a group hunters are actually a subset of America’s gun owners. The NRA estimates there might be 80 million gun owners in the U.S.; the NSSF’s surveys suggest that something north of half that number are actual participants in the many shooting sports (of which hunting is just one). I respectfully submit that every gun owner in the United States should be a member of the National Rifle Association…and if that’s unrealistic, then every participant counted in those surveys most certainly should be. The reason is simple: The NRA is our largest, most powerful, and most effective body in protecting our Second Amendment rights. Of course we know that not all participants, let alone all gunowners, belong to the NRA. Current membership is about five million, a large group…but think how much bigger, more powerful, and more effective they could be with even a simple majority of that huge pool of American gun owners…who clearly have vested interests in their efforts?
By the same token, Safari Club International—SCI, First for Hunters—is the single largest and most powerful hunting advocacy group in the United States, and in the world. If a person is serious about defining himself or herself as a “hunter,” then he or she should belong to SCI. I realize this is an unrealistic goal, but current membership runs around 55,000, divided into over 190 chapters worldwide. This is just a small cadre of the hunting population, and yet SCI is in the middle of every fight to preserve our hunting privileges and our way of life…and, on the Safari Club International Foundation (SCIF) side, innumerable conservation projects worldwide.
Without question it’s that last word, “worldwide” that throws off a lot of people…that and the word “safari” that is part of the organization’s name. We know that those who travel to hunt are a small subset of American hunters. The vast majority of us never hunt outside our home states, have limited interest in worldwide hunting and conservation issues, and could care less about the “safari scene.”
Let’s go back to John Donne’s famous poem, written nearly 400 years ago. I tend to think he’s correct. A hunter in Maine losing his bear season, or a houndsman in Washington losing the ability to run his dogs, or our inability to import legally taken game from other jurisdictions, may not have direct impact on your hunting, but every battle lost diminishes our sport, erodes our culture, and thins our ranks…and every battle won strengthens us. Although too many of us act as if we are, we as hunters are not islands; we are part of the culture, continent, and main. The antis are organized, and they recognize we are too fragmented and too involved in our own special interests. As is the case with protecting firearms ownership, the only long-term solution is for us to stand up and be counted, together.
In the case of firearms ownership the NRA is our primary spokes-organization; in the case of hunting it is SCI. And let’s not let that word “safari” scare us. It simply means “journey” in the Swahili language, whether a journey to the whitetail stand in your backyard…or to darkest Africa. The beauty of SCI is its chapter system, based on grass roots. Many dedicated SCI members have never been to Africa, and many never attend the Safari Club Convention (which is actually their loss). At the local level every chapter has its own projects that impact the community, state, or region: Youth programs, local conservation projects, education, travelling exhibits like a “Sensory Safari,” presence in local and state legislation, and so much more. And every chapter and every chapter member stands up and is counted as part of the main, supporting legal sport hunting and SCI’s advocacy of hunting at all levels: Local, state, national, and international.
It’s also a fun group to belong to and, as a hunter, a wonderful resource. At the chapter level you’re together with like-minded hunters wrestling with the same problems you face. At the annual SCI Convention, a truly great hunters convention, you’ll meet hunters from around the world, and you can truly be a part of the main. It’s past time more of us stood up to be counted.
Over the past 40 years, Craig Boddington traveled to 56 countries to hunt about 300 species with several hundred outfitters—over 110 hunts in Africa alone. From Kyrgyzstan to Kansas, Mozambique to Montana, no other hunter is more qualified to identify a good outfitter.