Without habitat, there is no hunting, no fishing, no foraging. Such a simple statement, seemingly obvious to all. But it isn’t, apparently.
If you are reading this, chances are you are a hunter, an angler or a forager. Our very way of life — or at least our favored avocation — relies on wild places that are clean and not yet blanketed by subdivisions or strip malls. Those who know me know I am fond of saying that nature is not a museum, but our home. It is a fitting analogy. No house can stand for long without care. Without our active help, our natural home will fall again into disrepair, as it did in the Bad Old Days of DDT and smog, acid rain and rivers that burned.
We are living in an age of renewed interest in the pursuit of wild food. Fishing is as popular as ever, and the surge in new hunters and foragers in recent years is nothing short of astounding. Hunting, fishing and foraging for food — as opposed to antlered trophies or a fiberglass marlin for your wall — has always been the primary impetus to get out into the field, and a new set of people seeking a direct connection to the food they feed themselves and their families is in no small part responsible for this surge. I don’t go a week without getting an email from someone asking me advice on how to get started as a hunter, angler or forager, and my post on how to get started as a hunter is one of the most popular on this site.
This has been going on for several years. But as I’ve talked with literally hundreds of new hunters, I’ve noticed something glaring: Many seem to spurn their cousins in what I call the “traditional” hunting community. Politics certainly plays a role. Many of the new hunters I meet are left of center on the political spectrum, and they view the hook-and-bullet world as reactionary, or little more than tools of the National Rifle Association. And on the other side of the coin, the largely rural “traditional” hunters view the newcomers as Prius-driving, liberal dilettantes. The truth is of course far more complex.
Beyond that, there is a myth among new hunters that long-time hunters merely eat the choicest bits of an animal, leaving the rest to rot — if they eat the animal at all. I freely admit I used to think this way, a decade ago. While I’ve never had a problem getting along with people of all political stripes — I was a political reporter for nearly 20 years, after all — I certainly held my nose high when I heard about how this hunter or that angler cooked his or her quarry. But as I met more and more “traditional” hunters, and actually listened to them, I began to realize that even though they might not make a liver creme caramel from that whitetail they just brought home, they might still just cook up that liver in some butter, or grind it into sausage. And isn’t that the point? To eat it, and not to waste. Everything else is aesthetics.
It is this culture clash that lies at the root of a much larger dilemma. In my experience, the vast majority of the new hunters, or as my friend Tovar Cerulli calls them “adult-onset hunters,” either have never heard of the various habitat organizations organized around the animals they seek, or reject them as right-wing old boys’ clubs.
This is a grave error.
These groups, and there is one for almost every major game animal or fish out there, are a vital force for restoring, maintaining and expanding the habitats we hunt, fish or forage in — yes foragers, remember: We pick our wild plants and mushrooms in the grouse woods, or the hedgerows pheasants live in, or the duck marsh. Chances are that at least some of the time you pursue your game, fish or plants in a place maintained or created by one of these groups.
What’s more, many of these groups actively help new hunters and anglers acquire the skills they need to take to the field, educate children not only about hunting and angling, but also about the natural environments where these pursuits take place, and lobby state and local governments to protect and defend natural habitat against both the pressures of industry and big agriculture.
I might also add that because our pursuits are consumptive — we take animals and plants from the environment — it is doubly important for us to give back to the habitats we hunt or fish or forage in.
Think about it: To not become a member of one of these groups is analogous to listening to public radio without pledging. And yes, I know most of you fall into this category. But I am betting that many of you who don’t give to NPR feel just a little bit guilty come pledge time. As it should be. Thankfully, joining a habitat group is considerably cheaper than the typical public radio pledge.
Almost every group out there offers a basic membership for $35, and Delta Waterfowl ($30) and the Ruffed Grouse Society ($25) are even cheaper. Basically it’s the cost of one or two boxes of shells, or a reel of good braided line. A small price to pay to help the ducks, or grouse, or trout, or pheasants.
I can hear what some of you are thinking: You are leery of giving money to a charity because you aren’t sure that your money will actually be spent helping the animals. I was, too. So I did some digging.
According to Charity Watch, the watchdog group of the American Philanthropic Association, “most highly efficient charities are able to spend 75 percent or more on programs.” So I looked into Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, the Ruffed Grouse Society, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Trout Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl Association, California Waterfowl and Cal Trout: Every single habitat group except for Cal Trout meets that criteria.
In terms of money spent on programs versus administration and fundraising costs, according to Charity Navigator Cal Trout was the “worst” at 72 percent, and at the other end of the scale Pheasants Forever (which is also Quail Forever) scored 88 percent, the Wild Turkey Federation 89 percent and the Elk Foundation 90 percent.
But joining these groups is more than just dollars and efficiency. It’s about joining a community. Anyone who has ever been to a Pheasants Forever banquet or a Cal Waterfowl dinner has witnessed an amazing conglomeration of people all united in their desire to help the pheasants or ducks or whatever the animal in question is. I’ve seen lawyers and butchers, pastors and construction workers, teachers and nurses all sitting next to each other at these events, chatting it up and telling stories.
Make no mistake: I hunt, fish and forage to feed myself. But these pursuits are far more important to me than mere calories. They are a way of life. A way of life that needs all of us to take an active part in its preservation. So if you are a member of one or more of these groups, as I am, I thank you. If not, I humbly ask you to consider joining one.
Here’s how (links take you to the sign-up page):
- California Waterfowl Association
- Cal Trout
- Delta Waterfowl Association
- Ducks Unlimited
- Mule Deer Foundation
- National Wild Turkey Federation
- North American Grouse Partnership (for prairie grouse)
- Pheasants Forever (note, I have a special joining page with PF)
- Quail Forever (note, I also have a special joining page with QF)
- Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
- Ruffed Grouse Society
- Trout Unlimited