I’ll never know how many guns I haven’t won on raffle-ticket drawings at local duck-and-buck club banquets, but it’s way more than the firearms I’ve acquired in more conventional ways. But my lack of success doesn’t stop me. Every year, I peel off more $20s for a chance at a Mossberg or a Kimber or a Winchester.
I do it only partly because I want more guns. The main reason I attend these banquets, and optimistically contribute to these 1-for-$10, 3-for-$20 raffles, is to help raise funds for conservation, whether to put more ducks in the marsh, pheasants on the wing or public access improvements in elk country. I do it to share a meal of rubber chicken (or double-tough steak) with fellow hunters, happy in the knowledge that we can do a lot more and larger good works together than alone.
In that way, I’m expressing one of the characteristics of a sportsman. We all give something back to the activities that enrich us. Our actions behind the trigger or bowstring may take ducks from the marsh or elk from the mountain, but our actions in the off-season should also give back.
Purchasing a hunting or fishing license to help fund resource management is only a small part of our contribution. We also give back to the things that define us by helping local biologists with game surveys, by reporting poaching or suspicious behavior to game wardens, by advocating for local and national habitat and access projects, or by contributing $35 for an annual membership in a “critter” conservation group.
Or by participating in that gun raffle down at the Legion hall.
Undoubtedly, you’ve heard the successful conclusion of a hunt described as a “harvest” of game. It’s not a perfect term, largely because it implies that wildlife is a commodity that can be predictably reaped like a crop of wheat or soybeans, and if you’re like me, the best hunts are anything but predictable. But I like the term because it also suggests that the kill is the culmination of intentional actions. If we plant the seeds of cultural tolerance for wild places, social tolerance for the wild animals that depend on it, and political tolerance for the tools hunters require to pursue them, then the harvest of a deer or a duck or a trout is not only a logical consequence, it’s something to be celebrated as a quintessentially American product of hard work.
Bagging game not only closes the circle of life, but also the circle of purpose for those of us who contribute our time and funds to the things that enrich us.
That circle has many beginnings, but it’s on each of us to find a way to start the arc. National conservation groups are only the most obvious and simplest places to contribute. How you give back is as personal as the way you hunt and fish. Maybe you volunteer your time and knowledge to teach hunter education in your hometown. Or maybe you help clean up a local stream, or participate as a citizen volunteer for a pheasant crow count or at a game check station. Maybe you are a landowner who opens your gates to hunters every season.
Anything you do that benefits wildlife and the places they require is an act of conservation, but there’s a larger beneficiary to these intentional acts of charity. They are noticed and appreciated by our larger communities, those friends and neighbors who may not hunt or fish themselves but who tolerate our ability to do it because they recognize its social, ecological and economic value. Anytime they see us giving back to wildlife, it confirms their sense that we are not a tribe of takers—taking deer from the forest or fish from the stream for our own use or egoistic satisfaction—but that we are givers and caretakers.
That’s the real benefit of conservation: healthier communities for people as well as wildlife. It’s something I consider every time I fail to win a gun raffle. I haven’t lost at all. I’ve won by contributing my money to a cause that’s much bigger than myself and my own interests. Just as the power of compounding interest builds monetary investments, every time we contribute to conservation, we enlarge our ability to continue to hunt, fish, own guns and recreate on the public’s land.
That’s why, as much as I want to win that banquet gun, I clap hard for the person whose raffle ticket is drawn. I clap because I know a gun is a lot more than metal and wood. It’s a seed that will culminate in a harvest that benefits us all.