Hunting & Heritage  |  09/21/2020

The Rights, Roles and Responsibilities of the American Hunter


Share the outdoor lifestyle to assure that wild places and public lands live on

By Rich Wissink

As I pen this blog, which launches our weeklong celebration leading up to National Hunting & Fishing Day, I can’t help but reflect on the adventure I just returned from a day ago.

It started with an elk hunt with one of my sons, my brother, a couple of old friends and several new ones met along the way. In addition to an elk hunt, the outdoor experience included trout fishing in mountain streams, wildlife viewing and wrapped up with an upland bird hunt on the Great Plains.

I slept in canvas tents, on a cot under the stars, small town motels and a friend’s garage along the way. I traveled through five states, purchased licenses in three of them and nearly each day’s pursuit was conducted on lands open to the public. We chowed on MREs (military grade Meals Ready to Eat), camp cooking, in small town diners and just once treated one of our host couples to a dinner at a “fancy” restaurant.
Each day was a new adventure with a new cast of characters in a new land.

We experienced arid mountain tops, those same mountain tops with 10 inches of fresh snow, mountain streams, the Great Plains and Prairie Pothole country. Multiple times each day, I found myself thankful and appreciative for the experiences I was able to enjoy with those I was with at that moment.

Whether it is our unique American freedoms, wildlife that is held in trust for all of us, vast lands owned by you and I, private lands open to the public through agency programs or private land owners who graciously say “yes” when respectfully asked for permission; the American hunter is truly blessed with rights and opportunities.
National Hunting & Fishing (NHF) Day is observed and celebrated the fourth Saturday in September every year. Launched in 1971 by congress, NHF Day serves as recognition for, and a celebration of, the leadership America’s hunters and anglers have shown for fish and wildlife conservation.  

Whether it is self-imposed taxes on hunting, angling and shooting sports equipment, support for conservation organizations like Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever or cash donations to natural resource agencies; it is the American hunter and angler who cover 80+ percent of all conservation funding. That funding enhances, protects and provides access to millions of acres of fish and wildlife habitat that benefit all Americans. Habitat that provides clean air and water, soil protection, scenic beauty and access to outdoor opportunities that benefit our minds, bodies and spirits.
Ironically, our greatest conservation challenge at this time in history may be the long-term decline in the American hunter. According to the 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting & Wildlife Recreation, put out by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service every five years, the number of individual hunting license buyers has dropped from over 14 million in 1991 to around 11.5 million in 2016. Even more alarming is that hunters now make up only 4.5 percent of the overall U.S. population, whereas in 1991 hunters made up 7.3 percent of the U.S. population.

Not only are our hunter numbers in rapid decline, but our cumulative voice, passion for conservation and relevance has become exponentially less significant.

As American hunters, we enjoy an incredible amount of rights and opportunities. We continue to play a significant role in preserving and enhancing wildlife habitat. It is time to act, it is time to take responsibility for sharing and preserving those opportunities we’ve been given stewardship. 

Not only should this week’s celebration leading up to NHF Day be a time to reflect on our accomplishments and role in restoring and enhancing wildlife populations; it must also serve as a call to action.  

You are the face of the American hunter. Everything you do reflects on our outdoor lifestyle. Please recreate responsibly and insist others do as well.

You must support, demand and participate in professional wildlife management practices. Resource professionals in agencies across the country continue to be undermined by special interests and politics that do not have our natural resources in their best interest. They are essential workers and partners in conservation. 

Support industry partners in conservation who give back to the resources their brands benefit from. Not only do they provide us with great products, but many of them are incredibly philanthropic when it is time to “give back” to the wildlife, habitat, freedoms, and public lands we all cherish.

Become a member of, support and volunteer for, non-profit conservation organizations like Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever. We create high quality habitat, provide opportunity and access, share our passion for the outdoors with others and provide the American hunter a voice and advocate at a national level.
Finally, recognize that our outdoor lifestyle is at risk and commit to doing something about it. Imagine if all 11.5 million of us current hunters provided an inclusive community for men and women of all generations to join. Imagine if each of us shared our passion and recruited a new hunter, retained a novice hunter, or reactivated someone who no longer hunts . . . majority of our problems solved! Those goals are all within our power, and all are attainable. 

Pheasant Forever & Quail Forever has partnered with ALPS OutdoorZ to help ratify your commitment to Save the Lifestyle by taking our Hunter Mentor Challenge. Simply visit the Pheasants Forever Mentor Pledge Page or Quail Forever Mentor Pledge Page and get going to recruit, retain or reactivate a hunter this coming year. 

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate National Hunting & Fishing Day than sharing our outdoor lifestyle with someone else! Please, join me and take the pledge.  

If those of us who care most about wild places and the wildlife that live there don’t do something, who will?

Thanks for all you do.

Rich Wissink is Vice President of Education & Outreach at Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever.
Marissa Jensen took the lead picture for this post. Rich Wissink captured the others.