No, The NRA Isn’t to Blame for the Decline of Hunting in America

A Quad-City Times article falsely scapegoating the NRA as the primary actor for the decline of hunting is off-target.

It’s seems like the National Rifle Association (NRA)’s is the left’s favorite punching bag. Now, this malice has transferred to those who allege to speak for the hunting community, as well.

Jon Alexander, editorial page editor for Quad-City Times, recently authored a piece entitled “NRA is a threat to hunting.” Mr. Alexander couldn’t be more off-target with his premise.

He begins by writing, “The best thing for hunters would be the erosion of the National Rifle Association’s clout, which suddenly looks possible amid widespread protests calling for new gun laws.”

He goes on to suggest that since he goes hunting, he knows how the majority of hunters feel about gun control. Huh? He shouldn’t claim to speak for all hunters, as many hunters—both Republicans and Democrats—belong to gun rights groups like NRA, Gun Owners of America, and National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Alexander adds:

“The precipitous decline in hunters poses a very real issue for all of society as conservation funds dry up. It’s no coincidence that the public face of NRA shifted from your kindly hunting instructor to something much more menacing as the number of hunters dropped nationwide. Like any organization, the NRA’s primary goal is the promulgation of its own existence. And the growing economic frustration particularly among rural Americans was begging to be tapped.”

And more:

It’s the NRA that’s politicized guns. And it’s doing long-term damage to hunting in the process, the primary means through which states fund conservation programs.

He goes on to barely brush the surface on the problem related in declining participation numbers, then launches a full-on assault again on the NRA:

The various reasons most cited for the decline are many and complex. Americans are more urban and less involved in processing their own food. The old gender roles have collapsed, too.

But I can’t help but believe that the weaponization of gun politics acts as a barrier to would-be new hunters. It’s hard, after all, to enter into a new culture when inclusion demands complete and total adherence to a strict set of beliefs, even at the point-of-sale.

Is Mr. Alexander aware that excise taxes from firearms purchases—including semi-automatic shotguns and rifles—go directly back to conservation efforts that support wildlife and habitat rehabilitation efforts? Does he know the firearms and ammunition industry pumped back $51.3 billion into the economy, as recently as 2016? ​He didn’t read that excellent NPR piece closely enough. Nor can one surmise he’s greatly attuned to the efforts of organizations like Council to Advance Hunting and Shooting Sports (CAHSS), which has launched their R3 initiative to combat this decline. R3 is an initiative geared towards recruiting, retaining, and reactivating (R3) participation in hunting and fishing that’s gained major steam among major stakeholders in both respective industries.

Briefly perusing through Mr. Alexander’s past columns, I was able to find gems like “Deer blinds and the patriarchy“—where he describes his struggle in contemplating “the inherent oppressiveness of my machismo.”

Mr. Alexander then concludes his column “about my own buy-in to a system that, for eons, rendered women property to be bought and sold for the enrichment and political gain of the men who dominated them.”

In a separate column responding to Trump’s endorsement of teachers arming themselves (if they choose), he expressed dismay for it and accused the president of dodging instead of “blaming the very tools designed explicitly to inflict maximum damage.”

This greatly explains the animus he has towards the NRA. Not a shocker.

Here are the factors ACTUALLY contributing to the decline of hunting below:

Increased Urbanization

With approximately 80.7% of the population residing in urban counties, opportunities to fish and hunt have become more limited. That is not to say partaking in these activities is impossible in urban outposts. (I’ve gone fishing in the heart of Washington, D.C. before, though I wasn’t successful in catching anything. However, I have more success fishing and hunting in Maryland and Virginia.)

Outdoor enthusiasts will have to typically travel a minimum of 30 minutes to find the nearest body of water or traverse private land hunting opportunities to get their fill. Many conservation organizations have been grappling with this very trend and are seeking ways to lure in existing and new participants into hunting much like fishing. Events like Pint Nights, fly tying events, and private organizations like Outdoor Access are catching urbanites’ attention and fueling (or refueling) their love for the Great Outdoors.

While it was just reported that rural counties are making a comeback, it’s not wise to ignore city-dwellers who partake in hunting (like fishing) or who are curious to learn.

Hunting is Seen As Too Costly and Low-Priority

If you’re hunting out of your home state, the costs you’ll rake up are quite burdensome. Want to go on a public elk hunt in New Mexico? The cost of a guide, non-resident license fees, travel, lodging, food, and insurance will average in the thousands. Heck, even going next door to North Carolina, for instance, you’ll pay $110 for a 10-day non-resident fee to go duck hunting if you live in Virginia or pay $60 if you’re a non-resident hunter coming from Georgia.

Given these exorbitant costs, people start to lose interest naturally. Who can afford to prioritize hunting if it breaks one’s budget? As a result, the costs and even lack of access will prompt hunters to phase out and prioritize other things more in their lives like family, finances, or schooling.

It’s An Old Boy’s Club In Need of New Blood

While I won’t go as far to blame the male gender for machismo like the aforementioned columnist, for too long the hunting and shooting sports industries didn’t know how to effectively deploy outreach programs to reach new demographics and non-traditional participants. Despite the neglect placed in outreach efforts, the industry is seeing a surge in female hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts. There is untapped potential to seize upon this, and major stakeholders in the industry already recognize this.

Upon learning that I’m new to hunting, a leader in the hunting industry remarked it’s rare —but encouraging —to see those in their mid-to-late 20’s pick up hunting later in life. If the right tactics are employed through R3, for instance, we can see more urban-dwelling Millennials learning to hunt.

Are white men—who comprise the majority of hunters today—opposed to women and Millennials hunting? Quite the contrary. Only 5-10% of traditional hunters, in my experience, are patronizing or wholly opposed to growing the sport beyond the echo chamber. Major conservation organizations, fishing tackle companies, firearms manufacturers, and other players in conservation circles want to grow participation numbers.

There is hope in increasing our numbers.

Social Media Vitriol Against Hunters

Unlike Mr. Alexander, I believe the blame on hunting’s decline should be attributed to the attacks leveled against hunters on social media. Groups like Humane Society and PETA juice up their base to strategically and viciously target those who hunt across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and elsewhere.

When Instagram flags pictures of wild game meat being prepared or outright bans accounts that tout hunting, there’s a great problem at hand. (That’s why apps like GoWild were created to supplement existing social media platforms.)

When the anti-hunters hurl attacks at new hunters or female hunters, many become deterred and dismayed—and may choose to leave the sport altogether due to unfair attacks and threats hurled their way. In fact, one hunter last year was bullied so severely by the likes of anti-hunters, she sadly took her own life. This is unacceptable and disgusting.

But yes, pin the blame on the NRA…

Fact: The NRA Actually Plays an Indirect But Important Role in Promoting Conservation

Much to the dismay of Mr. Alexander, the NRA not only juggles legislative efforts related to promoting and protecting the Second Amendment. They concentrate their legislative efforts on supporting pro-hunting legislation across the country—including Right to Hunt and Fish (RTHF) amendmentspublic access to private hunting, and Sunday Hunting bills, just to name a few. The NRA also partners with esteemed conservation organizations like Safari Club International and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, among many, to promote conservation. (In 2012, a White House petition labelled all three groups “domestic terrorist groups.”) The petition, which has since been deleted, stated this:

“Groups like Lobo Watch, Big Game Forever, Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, NRA, Safari Club, etc., are a menace in our midst. Not only do many of them want our native predators like bears, wolves, wild cats, and the like decimated to the brink of extinction, but some of them have the nerve to harass, threaten, and downright intimidate anyone who dares to oppose them, even the government. And they’ve got some powerful people in their corner, too. They throw their mammoth monetary weight around, and think they can buy their way into power in America and put down anyone who’s got a backbone and might provide resistance. It’s time to put these groups in their place and strike them down. Time to protect our carnivorous wildlife from those who seek to decimate them!”

Since Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke took charge of his respective department, funding for hunting and fishing has increased to great heights—with more than $20 billion total funding conservation efforts for thanks in part to involvement from NRA and similar gun rights groups.

More importantly, its charity outfit — NRA Foundation— has awarded grants totaling $369 million since 1990 to advance firearms safety, shooting sports, and hunting:

  • Promote, advance and encourage firearms, shooting sports and hunting safety
  • Educate individuals with respect to firearms, firearms history, participation in the shooting sports, hunting safety, and marksmanship
  • Conduct research in furtherance of improved firearms safety and marksmanship facilities and techniques

To suggest the NRA is killing hunting participation is not only downright inaccurate, it’s insulting to conservation efforts. You may not like the NRA, but to castigate them in this unfair light brings down the whole conservation movement.

Hunting and shooting sports go together like bread and butter. Not every hunter belongs to NRA, but that doesn’t mean their role in conservation efforts should be diminished.

Leave the hunting outreach to the real professionals please, Jon Alexander.

About the author

Gabriella Hoffman

Gabriella Hoffman is a young conservative blogger and columnist based in Northern Virginia.

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