I am a hunter. I care deeply about our hunting heritage and our ability to pass it on. Like most hunters, I consider organizations that work on behalf of hunting my friends, and those that work against hunting my adversaries. Like most hunters, I am confused when the lines become blurred. And today the lines are blurry indeed in regards to the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The NRA is one of the most effective lobbies in America. It has protected our right to keep and bear arms for more than 100 years, and I have been a member for more than 20 of those years. I am thankful for what the NRA has done. More than that, I believe in the NRA.
And there’s the rub. Because I and millions of others like me believe in what the NRA does on behalf of our right to own guns, we are inclined to believe it when it tells us it’s standing up for our right to hunt. This is a dangerous idea, because where the interests of gun ownership and hunting diverge, I am seeing that the NRA always comes down on the side of guns.
Not that the NRA hasn’t done good things for hunters. It helped introduce legislation to allow hunting on Sundays in states that presently prohibit it. It’s working to reduce the minimum hunting age in states like Wisconsin. It supports No Net (hunting) Loss legislation in several states, which will require states to open state land for hunting when other state land is closed. But this is a lot like glitter on a window.
Behind the window, the NRA aligns itself with politicians who care little about the land or wildlife, but who will deliver votes against gun control. This includes politicians like Republican Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, who serves on the NRA board of directors. Craig was a primary supporter of the Bush administration’s action removing federal protection of 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas in our national forests and returning their fate to the tender mercies of individual states. The NRA regularly parrots Craig’s message about our roadless areas, interchanging the terms wilderness, roadless areas and road closures, which confuses the public and convinces hunters that their hunting access will be lost in all of these areas.
In fact, land covered by any of these three designations is open to hunting; only motorized access is restricted to various degrees. In fact, hunting and fishing are usually better in roadless areas. Exhaustive scientific studies confirm that elk, deer, bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and trout do much better in areas away from active roads. They grow bigger, live longer and reproduce more effectively. This is not under debate. People who contest it will probably also argue that cigarette smoke is good for you.
Perhaps the NRA thinks, as President Bush seems to think, that if you raise bluegills in a pond, white-tailed deer in a fenced enclosure and feed wild turkeys in your backyard, you are a friend to wildlife. That simplistic approach doesn’t work here in the Western states, where our big game and game-fish species adapt poorly to human encroachment.
The problem is not that the NRA leadership acts aggressively to protect the Second Amendment. It is their mission. The problem is that they mislead hunters into thinking that this helps hunting. All too often, hunters are foolish enough to believe them
Here’s the bottom line: If the Bush administration, with the active support of the NRA, builds roads into our previously roadless public lands, the premier hunting and fishing once available there will decline until these areas will be just the same as places you can drive to now.
I know a man who raises snakes. His snakes are important to him, so he raises mice to feed to the snakes. He takes good care of the mice. He wants them breeding regularly, because he needs lots of them to support his snakes.
We hunters are the NRA’s mice. They want lots of us, too, but they worry because there’s always the outside chance we might start thinking for ourselves. So they keep us scared of enemies, or people they want us to think are enemies. Then we dutifully cough up money to help fight those enemies. Think about it. When was the last time you heard of a mouse actually helping a snake?
Pat Wray is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is a writer in Corvallis, Oregon, a former Marine helicopter pilot, and an avid hunter and fisherman with a wife and three dogs.
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