Hunting and Management: Ways to Avoid Conservation Tunnel Vision

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In honor of and in the wake of Earth Day, I’ve been seeing the topic of conservation discussed even more than usual across hunting media, Facebook, Twitter and the like. And when I think about conservation from a deer hunter’s perspective, I can’t help but think that we occasionally get conservation tunnel vision.

Let me explain.

Many of us whitetail guys and gals are hunting some kind of private land, and with that comes the mindset of “my property,” regardless of whether we actually own that ground or not. In many whitetail conversations you’re likely to hear people mention that term, “my property” quite a bit. “I’m concerned about improving the habitat on my property,” or “I need to improve the fawn recruitment on my property,” or “I’m trying to grow big bucks on my property.” But when it comes to the neighbor’s or a public parcel five miles down the road or a habitat or conservation issue in some other state—a lot of us just don’t think it’s our concern. And I can understand that. Heck, I’ve been guilty of it too. But it’s still a mistake.

The deer hunting landscape has been wracked with change over the past few years, as many whitetail populations are declining, habitat is disappearing, and access to ground is getting ever more difficult for the average hunter. And while each and every one of these issues might not be impacting you right now, it certainly could in the future. But even if it doesn’t, the big picture impacts are trickling down to all of us one way or another.

If we want to change the story, it’s going to take a concerted effort by all of us deer hunters to look beyond our own property borders and start paying attention to larger conservation issues across our own community, state, and country.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation likes to say that “hunting is conservation,” and there’s a lot of truth to that. But it’s not always enough: We can’t just sit on our haunches and assume that our tax dollars and license purchases will get the full job done. It’s time we become more than just hunters, and reclaim the mantle of hunter-conservationist that Theodore Roosevelt so vividly embodied.

So what can you do? First and foremost, keep doing what you’re doing on your own properties. That’s important. But also start looking for opportunities to make a difference in the community around you. Volunteer to improve habitat on some public ground. Help a neighbor improve bedding cover. Get involved in local community meetings that might impact nearby wild spaces. And then think about what you can do on an even larger scale. There are an incredible number of volunteer opportunities across the country for those wanting to help.

You can also make a difference with your voice. There are numerous pieces of legislation and other government activities that impact wildlife and habitat—and you can make sure that conservation is being kept in mind by making your voice heard and by voting for representatives that will make conservation a priority.

And finally, at the very least, consider joining a conservation organization that can keep you apprised of important issues, direct you towards opportunities to volunteer, and use your membership funds to work on larger scale efforts to protect wild places and animals. Take a look at groups like the National Deer Alliance, the Quality Deer Management Association, Whitetails Unlimited, and non-deer hunting groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Hunters are the original conservationists. But with that legacy comes the responsibility of carrying on this great tradition. So if you’d like your kids and grandkids to be able to enjoy the beautiful country and animals you hunt today, remember to avoid conservation tunnel vision and think outside of just your own piece of ground. Because as Teddy Roosevelt himself said, “There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country."