United We Stand, Divided We Fall: A Message for Sportsmen

For some reason, as hunters and anglers, we tend to “eat our own.” And we waste a lot of time and energy fighting among ourselves.
Image design by Jerry Neal/CPW.

Unless you’ve been living in a galaxy far, far, away, you’ve probably noticed that we are a nation divided. We’ve become a country of Republicans vs. Democrats, conservatives vs. liberals and Red vs. Blue instead of the collective Red, White and Blue. And if you made it through the 2016 election without losing at least half of your Facebook friends, well done. Yet, politics aside, there is a common thread that binds us all as Americans, and I believe great things are in store for our nation’s future despite our perceived differences.

Although not as dramatic or polarizing, I see a similar division among sportsmen these days. I see fly fishermen who berate those who spinfish; hunters who attack fellow hunters (especially women) for harvesting mountain lions or bears; archery, muzzleloader and rifle hunters who bicker about which method of take is the most noble; and catch-and-release advocates who bash someone for legally keeping a fish or two for the dinner table.  

For some reason, as hunters and anglers, we tend to “eat our own.” And we waste a lot of time and energy fighting among ourselves. Perhaps it’s ego or maybe just human nature that drives us to attack each other. Unfortunately, this “us-versus-them” behavior seems even more prevalent in the modern era of social media where it’s easy to join in the mudslinging and then hide behind a Facebook profile.

As a lifelong hunter and angler, I’ve always believed that conducting oneself legally, ethically and safely in the field and following the regulations is all that really matters. After all, bag limits, season dates, license quotas, etc., are in place to ensure sustainable fish and wildlife resources while providing opportunities for a wide variety of users to enjoy the outdoors. Yet, in addition to collectively supporting and obeying fish and game laws, there’s a broader theme that should unite all of us as sportsmen and women: Conservation.

We all have a shared passion for fish and wildlife and in protecting habitat and our public lands. The conservation of these resources is the common denominator that we all can agree upon, regardless of our individual pursuits.

Historically, hunters and anglers were always the biggest proponents and champions of conservation. In fact, most 19th century sportsmen and early big-game hunters like Theodore Roosevelt placed conservation above all else. While this strong conservation ethic is still paramount in some circles today, many of us have become so focused on our individual pursuits that we’ve lost sight of this larger collective identity and mission.

Roosevelt enjoys a hunt in Colorado’s backcountry.

So, why does this matter? It matters because hunting and fishing and our rights as sportsmen are under attack. Animal right’s activists and environmental extremists are always hard at work trying to take opportunities away from us. And, unlike the trivial reasons that often divide us as hunters and anglers, these groups and organizations are unified under a common goal: to restrict or to stop hunting and fishing altogether. Additionally, the loss of habitat and the degradation of our public lands are some of the greatest threats to fish and wildlife populations and to our hunting and fishing heritage.

As sportsmen and conservationists, we all share the same path toward a common destination. Photo by Wayne Lewis/CPW.

As we begin 2017, now’s the time for us to unite as conservationists and to take action. If you haven’t done so already, now’s the perfect time to join a conservation organization that advocates for sportsmen’s rights and practices science-based wildlife management. Now’s the time to volunteer with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and contribute to boots-on-the-ground projects that benefit wildlife and habitat. Now’s the time to get engaged and to participate in public meetings that influence hunting and fishing regulations and natural resource policies. Now’s the time to educate yourself about the North American Model of Conservation and to understand the critical role hunters and anglers play in funding wildlife conservation programs. Now’s the time to support increased funding and to explore additional sources of revenue  for wildlife management and conservation programs. And, regardless of your political affiliation, now’s the time to support legislation and policies that protect our public lands and defend hunting, fishing and shooting.

We all need to work together to ensure that hunting and fishing opportunities and our wildlife resources remain viable for future generations–regardless of our method of take or how we personally choose to enjoy and experience the outdoors. We must see ourselves, first and foremost, as conservationists, focusing on what we all have in common, instead of attacking each other over our petty differences.

As hunters and anglers, and as Americans, our strength lies not in our diversity but in our unity — despite our diversity. The future of hunting, angling and outdoor recreation depends on all of us recognizing and embracing the common thread that binds us all: conservation.

Written by Jerry Neal. Neal is the editor for Colorado Outdoors Online and is a media specialist and videographer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.    

7 Responses

  1. This is a great message. I hope sportsmen take this to heart. Complacency and infighting is hurting us. I have hunted colorado for 40 years as a archer and rifle hunter. It made me appreciate both methods.

  2. I am not an outdoorsman by any means. Sitting outside freezing my balls off only to shot an animal and have to go through the hours and hours of work to harvest it sounds like a monumental pain in the ass when I got a King Soopers down the street and a sweet flatscreen at home. That said, I love you guys. It is outdoorsmen who, in many ways are the last line of defense in conserving our state and country’s national beauty. It is you guys that respectfully and humanly keep elk and deer populations in check and it is you guys who are helping fight to keep so many treasures around for future generations – a task that this bleeding heart liberal appreciates.
    So, thank you.

  3. Ryan, Thanks for your thoughtful and well-stated comment. I appreciate your perspective. And if you ever want to give hunting a try, CPW has plenty of clinics to get you stared–even for “bleeding heart liberals.” 😉 I hope your New Year is going well thus far. Thanks again for reading and for chiming in on this.

  4. Jerry, Nice article. I like the spirit and the message you are conveying. I have tried to express this many times but it always turns into a political battle. I can’t lie, I have been part of said battle. To be clear, I am on the side of conservation and on the side of protecting our rights to hunt, fish and shoot. As you explained, protecting our resources is part of the equation. Where I struggle is, so few are willing to bend at all from their complete political platform in order to accomplish a more complete solution. I have never understood how a sportsman wouldn’t support less privatization of public lands. I have never understood how a sportsman wouldn’t support cleaner air, less pollution, fewer developments and more freedoms to use the waters we have.

    I don’t want to turn your effort into a mess, which we both know happens so often in this platform. What I hope is, that folks reading this article, and these remarks, might consider that protecting our environment rationally (bending) is something that helps us sportsman in the long run. It protects exactly what you are trying to protect with an article like this. To be united, there has to be some give and support from both sides. When folks refuse to bend, it breaks down all efforts to unite and shows a selfishness that ultimately destroys caring.

    Thank you for the effort here. I hope the legislation you support isn’t just the obvious.

  5. Jason, Thanks for your thoughtful and well-articulated comment. I appreciate your feedback.

    Some of the most avid hunters and anglers that I know are staunch conservatives and Republicans. Likewise, I know just as many liberal Democrats who are equally passionate about hunting and angling. Yet, in most instances, partisan politics divides us on most issues. However, my hope is that we can begin to embrace our collective identity as sportsmen and conservationists where we can start working together, despite our political affiliation, etc. If we can find common ground among ourselves, we can begin moving in the same direction on issues that would otherwise separate us. No doubt, this is no easy task. But, the first step is to develop unity among ourselves. And my hope is that blog pieces like this help to move us closer toward that goal or, at the very least, generate a more open dialogue regarding this issue.

    Thanks again for chiming in. Have a great 2017!

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