The twilight of one year and the dawn of the next has been the moment to both reflect and plan for as long as we hunters have kept calendars. It’s a time to take stock of the seasons behind us and look ahead to opportunities and adventures.
And to make resolutions that put some intention around good ideas. I’m sure you have your own set of resolutions—places to hunt, waters to fish, buddies to talk with more often and knives to sharpen. But I want you to think a little more broadly about the year ahead, and to plan activities that improve not just yourself, but the broader outdoors community.
With that in mind, here are some far-sighted ambitions for 2020.
MENTOR A NEW HUNTER
You’ve probably heard the news and seen it in your own community—the number of active hunters is declining. In fact, estimates are that, unless we bring more people into the activity, America could lose 5 million hunters over the next 10 years.
Don’t rely on new hunters to find their way into this world on their own. There are too many impediments, from competing activities to the cost to hunt to finding a place to do it. Instead, invite someone. It starts with just that: an invitation. Reach out to someone who didn’t grow up hunting or fishing, or to someone who doesn’t look like you. Show them how you hunt, let them borrow a gun, help them butcher what they kill.
It’s called mentoring, and we’ve been doing it as long as humans have been hunting. But it’s the best way to continue our traditions. If each one of us mentored just one new person a year, we could sustain our hunting culture, keep funding our wildlife management agencies and ensure we have voters to fight anti-hunting crusaders.
JOIN A SHOOTING RANGE
In many towns across the nation, shooting ranges are going away, lost to land-use decisions that favor subdivisions, or because volunteer range officers aren’t being replaced (see above). You can help sustain the ranges we have by simply joining one. The fees for most ranges are negligible and, in exchange for your dues, you get a safe, appropriate place to shoot as well as the chance to meet fellow shooters. Don’t have a range in your town? Then approach your state fish-and-wildlife agency. A law passed by Congress earlier in 2019 allowed more federal excise tax money from the sale of guns and ammunition to be used to build more ranges, so you might just get the chance to help design and build a facility in your community.
DEFEND PUBLIC LAND
Public land and waters, managed by professionals on behalf of everyone, is one of the best and most American ideas we have. It’s also some of the best access we have as hunters and anglers. But it seems like every month or so there’s a new threat to its existence, or at least its accessibility. Maybe it’s a plan to close roads to or across it, or proposals to mine, drill or develop it. Lately, there’s even been talk of selling it to private entities.
Nearly all those ideas are not in the interests of the nation’s sportsmen. Don’t assume someone else will fight for your rights. Get to know the risks to your own patch of public land, then get busy defending it. Because land that no one advocates for is easier to give away or sell than land that has champions.
SUPPORT YOUR CAUSE
This leads into my next resolution. Resolve to speak up more often and more passionately, whether it’s about managing big game in your area or land-use decisions. There will always be someone at the podium for these topics but, more often than not, the speaker is a paid advocate rather than a fired-up citizen with something at stake. But you have much more sway in these decisions than someone who works for an advocacy organization. So, use your voice.
Let the world know how you feel and how the resources you depend on should be used. If you can’t speak up, donate your treasure or your time to helping out those organizations who act on your behalf.
BUY MORE GEAR
This final resolution should be easy to tick off your list, but it’s every bit as necessary as the others. When Americans buy guns, ammunition and archery equipment, we help fund the future of hunting, fishing and shooting. You’ve probably heard of the Pittman-Robertson Act and the equivalent legislation for fishing (it’s called the Dingell-Johnson Act), but you might not know how they work.
Every time you buy a bullet, or a gun, or a bow and an arrow, 11 percent (10 percent for handguns) of the purchase price is collected by the federal government and redistributed to the states to pay for things like wildlife management, fishing accesses and shooting ranges (as we discussed above). The more you buy, the more funds are generated, and they’re not puny numbers.
In 2018, you and I and your neighbor generated $1.1 billion in excise-tax revenue.
If you need an excuse to buy that new rifle or that new fly rod you’ve been coveting, you can use Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson to help justify the purchase, say to a dubious spouse.
“No, honey, it’s not for me,” you might say. “I’m just helping put more birds in the marsh and more fish in the lake. No. No. Don’t thank me. It’s the least I can do.”