I started hunting and fishing when my stepfather took me squirrel hunting and fishing for bluegill and bass around where I grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to travel all over the world and seen God’s creations in places such as Africa, Argentina, New Zealand, Cuba and British Columbia.
Hunting and fishing has always been a passion of mine. It’s never been just about catching fish or harvesting a bird or animal. It’s about enjoying being a part of nature and the great outdoors. The quiet chill of a mountain morning when the bull elk bugles, the sound of turkeys pitching off the roost, the explosion of a largemouth bass breaking water with a hook firmly set. The peaceful hum of crickets and song birds. The earthy feel of forests and the fields.
Then there were the special times spent with friends and family. Some of my greatest memories come from hunting and fishing with guys like Dale Earnhardt. And spending time with my grandsons and letting them experience the great outdoors just like I did when I was their age. After the day was done, we shared stories around a campfire, at the lodge or even a backyard deck as the grill sizzled with the harvest of the day (if one was so lucky). The outdoor world and all its wonders brought us together.
As I grew older I discovered that as an American sportsman I also played a role for the greater good of our nation’s wildlife and wild places. I learned that every time I purchased a hunting or fishing license, a firearm, ammunition, archery equipment or fishing tackle, I contributed to habitat conservation, the scientific management of wildlife, and sustaining our natural resources. I was part of a century old system, established by fellow sportsmen and led by none other than Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th president of the United States of America. This system, called the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, is the envy of countries around the globe. It has a lot of moving parts. Our public lands, access to those lands, partnerships with private landowners, and our right to keep and bear arms — all are unique to making this system work and ensuring a future for the public trust and our outdoor heritage.
American sportsmen and women are responsible for restoring populations of white-tailed deer, elk, pronghorn, wild turkeys, waterfowl, and native North American fish species, many of which were on the brink of extinction at the turn of the last century. In North Carolina, we helped bring back the elk population from almost being extinct. We now have state and federal wildlife and land and water management agencies doing conservation work that is supported by license fees and Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) program funds. The WSFR, which is the cornerstone of fish and wildlife conservation in North America, brings funding from the sporting arms, archery and fishing industries and sportsmen and women back to state wildlife management agencies. These monies are critical for wildlife restoration and habitat management projects as well as for supporting hunter education, developing and managing shooting ranges, and providing public use and access to our wildlife resources. This strong partnership is the foundation of the most productive and cherished natural resource management system on earth.
It is true that we have faced many challenges and achieved some great conservation successes. America’s sportsmen and women have always answered the call. But today we may be facing our greatest challenge of all and that is a continuing decline in the number of people who are getting into hunting and fishing. This is a serious issue for the future of hunting, fishing and conservation, and every one of us can do something about it.
The focus for this year’s National Hunting and Fishing Day (NHFD), which is held Sept. 23, is to challenge every hunter and angler to become a mentor and actively help get more people into hunting, fishing and target shooting. Please step up to this challenge by visiting the National Hunting and Fishing Day website or by calling 417 225-1162 to join a mentoring program or take the pledge to be an active mentor in your community. By taking the pledge, you’ll have a chance to win a Richard Childress Racing VIP race weekend package for two or the Ultimate Outdoor Experience in America’s Conservation Capital from Big Cedar Lodge and Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium in the NHFD Challenge Sweepstakes.
If you enjoy the great outdoors, I invite and encourage you to become a part of this great outdoor legacy. By Sept. 23, there are two things you can do to take part in National Hunting and Fishing Day: 1) be a mentor and take someone out hunting, fishing or target shooting, or 2) find a mentor to take you hunting, fishing or target shooting. It is time well spent, and I promise it will enrich your life in many ways.
Of all the accomplishments in my life, I am most proud of being an American sportsman and an important part of the past, present and future in conserving our nation’s resources. I sincerely hope to see you out there in the forest, field or on the water. Together we can enjoy the personal and satisfying connection to the great outdoors with friends and family and play a critical part in upholding our fish and wildlife legacy for generations to come.