Friday, December 31, 2010

Hunting organizations and the Quality Family Time movement: Get Together !

Of the many factors influencing the slow decline of hunting, angling, and other outdoor activties, one of the most powerful is the ever- increasing competition for children's (and thereby families' time) through the paricipation in adult-organized sports, band, and other extracurricular activities. A huge motivation for parents to enroll children in these activities is the feeling that these activities are part of an "achievement ladder" that will help children get better career prospects later in life. Additionally, the collective competitive pressure that both children and families feel to agree to more practices and events, including increasing practices on many days of the week and weekends, makes if hard for many parents to set limits.

There has been a growing movement in opposition to this overscheduling of families by family advocates/family social scientists. Bill Doherty, a family social scientist at the University of Minnesota has been giving presentations on the negative effects of this trend on children and parents. In the Twin Cities suburb of Wayzata, the parents organized a movement for a day every week when there would be NO sports, band, or other extracurricular activities to improve family time.

The intense scheduling of extracurricular activities are greatly influencing the decline in hunting and angling participation. Being involved with recruiting youth to hunting, and a parent of children that are just starting to consider organized activities, it is striking how powerful the pressure is to participate in lots of them. A young hunter I mentored over the past several years missed last season and was only out for opening morning of deer season this year for these very reasons. Luckily, although he hasn't shot a deer yet, he has had several close encounters, including a shot at a buck this past year, that he's hooked.

The issue of overscheduling needs to be addressed collectively, both through a movement and legislation. Given that hunting especially is being negatively effected by this, being the most time-intensive activity of outdoor pursuits, hunters and their organizations should support the Quality Family Time movement. Given that hunting is a great way for families to spend uninterrupted blocks of time together, the family advocates should in exchange actively support/endorse hunting as a positive family activity.

For many hunting and angling organizations, this is "far afield", even though they are acutely aware of the issue through recruiting youth to hunting and angling. Most of what is referred to as the "hook and bullet" crowd usually focuses politically on securing places to hunt and fish, the details of regulations that affect access to places to hunt and fish, as well management of species pursued. There is also frequently "coalition work" with non-hunting and angling conservation/environmental groups to advance legislation that both constituencies consider important. None of this work is off-base, it makes perfect sense. However, broader discussions need to take place about the social trends affecting hunting and angling. If particpiation is low, less of a support base will exist to back up these advocacy groups.

It may be a leap for family advocates as well. I haven't conducted any formal or informal polls, but research by Mark Damian Duda at Responsive Management suggests that higher levels of education in America is associated with anti-hunting sentiment. Typically these advocates are urban and highly educated, which would make them more likely to view hunting negatively or as a value-neutral activity.

But the reality is, both groups have something to gain through such an alliance. We are against powerful social trends, we need all the resources we can get in this fight.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thanks to neighbors combining resources and deep snow, some of the best hunting is at the end

Trouncing through the snow can have its rewards
Photo taken by Therese O'Fallon

The hunting season is drawing to a close. While there is still a couple weeks of deer archery and pheasant hunting left, the chances for getting out again are slim.

After an initial dry run of four weeks of seeing no deer archery hunting, I had some exciting experiences. I finally put it all together archery hunting in late October, only to have the buck jump my string. I put some meat in the freezer during rifle season, nothing dramatic, I shot two fawns in a managed unit late in the season.

Then, the dynamic of hunters bringing different resources to a hunt, and new snow, brought a really great late-season pheasant hunt. On December fourth, my neighbor Eric and I went pheasant hunting at the farm of one of my family friends near Hutchinson, MN. The place is only hunted by neighbors who hunt each other's land and sections of swamp. Eric brought his dog, Brody, who wasn't intended to be a hunting dog, but has turned into one. Eleven inches of new snow brought birds that were holding very tight. After flushing an intial covey of at least fifteen birds, we flushed birds for the next two-three hours in the frozen swamp. The first flush quickly produced two kills, and after working the huge swamp, we had a couple more, and had missed a few others. Working our way back to the woods, a nice flush set up and we had the fifth, one short of our limit. We downed our sixth in the woods where we started.

It was a beautiful day, the fresh, powdery snow making a patch of hardwood forest invaded by buckthorn a mystical place. The dog had to work hard in the snow, but with all the action, Brody was regularly re-energized. We left a bird for our host, who took pictures and served us coffee and brownies before we left. It was a fitting end to a hunt that Eric decribed as something he hadn't experienced since he was in South Dakota as a teenager.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Maureen Dowd vs. Sarah Palin : who's more anti-hunting ?

In today's New York Times, liberal columinst Maureen Dowd belittled hunting as an unfair activity to animals as part of a critique of Obama's agreement with the GOP. The agreement extended for two years a Bush tax-cut for the rich in exchange for extended unemployment benefits. Likening Obama to a helpless caribou being shot by Sarah Palin as part of her outdoor show, Dowd laid bare her contempt for hunting.

It was a particularly gross piece of cultural warfare coming from a member of the anti-hunting left, with its caricature of hunters and gun owners as a nutty right-wing monolith. One of the few things that Palin has ever said that I liked was "hunting is a great way to get organic, free-range meat". This was dismissed by Dowd.

While I'll probably never see Palin's show, I couldn't help but think of the irony of her loving caribou hunting in the Alaska wilderness, something a lot of us hunters in lower forty-eight can only dream of, and her anti-wilderness and anti-conservation policies. Palin is a strong supporter of drilling in ANWR, which would lead to a decline in caribou populations by breaking their migration corridor, leading to fewer hunting opportunities.

The entire article got me thinking, whose more anti-hunting ? Dowd, who would protect the environment but greatly restrict or ban hunting, or Palin, whose personal love for hunting has no impact on her broader politics, whose environmental policies would destroy ever increasing areas of wild places to hunt and fish ?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Conservative movement up to its usual anti-hunting politics in Iowa after voters approve conservation amendment

Sixty-two percent of Iowa voters just followed Minnesota's lead, and voted to allocate 3/8th of a percent of the next increase in the state sales tax for conservation. Unfortunately for Iowa's sportsmen and women and the environment, the Iowa state constitution does not allow the people of Iowa to vote to tax themselves more. Only the legislature can increase taxes. Iowans can vote to place in the constitution that a certain percentage of a future tax increase will be allocated to a specific purpose. In the recent election, the Republicans took over one half of the state house and the governorship, and consistent with 2010 anti-tax conservative dogma, are refusing to raise the sales tax. It is contrary to popular will, as most Iowans' understanding was that the tax would be raised would if they voted yes.

Of course, there is talk of taking the money from "other sources". We had that discussion in Minnesota. When people have to choose between their kid's school (or their health care, transportation, and public safety services, for that matter), and conservation, the immediate need of protecting the existing public service trumps conservation. There is this right-wing trick: "I'm for conservation, not tax increases", as one Iowa Republican legislator said in the Des Moines Register. The result of this politics of pitting important and needed public services against a pro-hunting and angling conservation initiative means support collapses for conservation. The conservation initiative has to be a new revenue source, a new tax. There's no getting around it.

Now that the GOP is in power in a number of state governments and controls half of congress, with a rabidly anti-public sector, anti-government tea party movement as a core of its base, we will see new attacks on hunting and angling interests as we are seeing in Iowa right now. We have problems with some progressives, generally in the Democratic party, who view hunting as a value-neutral activity, rather than a positive activity that deserves government support. With the conservative movement, we are dealing with an ideology that will assure hunting's continued decline.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mark Dayton, the pro-hunting candidate, Emmer, the anti-hunting candidate who loves hunting

A recent story in the Star Tribune stated that no candidate in the upcoming governor's election has a lock on the "outdoor vote", although it offered no scientific polling, and reiterated the common belief that the hunters' votes are largely conservative and Republican. It did quote a number of leaders of hunting organizations stating the group is "up for grabs".

If there is really a shift going away from the Republicans on the part of hunters, it reflects that we have a truly pro-hunting candidate in Mark Dayton. Dayton is personally connected to our activity, he continues to like bird hunting, a pastime he grew up with. He owns firearms, and supports the right of private firearms ownership while rejecting the extreme gun politics of the NRA.

These personal connections are helpful, but a long history of support for conservation and environmental measures, as well as a commitment to fund the DNR, unwavering support for the Legacy Amendment "seals the deal". Dayton, unlike some liberals, understands our concerns and the fact that outdoor activities, including hunting, motivate people to give time, money, and political support to conservation. An abstract commitment to the environment doesn't necessarily translate into boots on the ground resources.

Some of Dayton's positions should raise concerns amongst conservationists, such as his unwillingness to directly defend the DNR's new lakeshore protection rules which were nixed by Pawlenty. Dayton instead talks about the need for the DNR to listen to what the community wants. This was a case of just that - advocates of environmental protection and regular lakeshore owners demanding the government take action to protect lakes from a small group of wealthy owners who were destroying shorelines and hurting aquatic life by destroying the natural cleansing of rainwater that shoreline vegetation performs. To his credit, Independence party candidate Tom Horner did defend the lakeshore rules at a forum held at the Game fair in August.

Dayton also has close relationships with many Northeastern MN legislators who often take positions at odds with conservation and the hunting lobby. This includes the support of Bob Lessard, who to his credit, was a driving force behind the Legacy Amendment. However, he is part of the hunting community that sees wilderness protection and hunting and angling interests as conflicting. In talking about his political career, Lessard told the story of his first campaign for public office, where his opposition to putting a river under the protection of the Wild and Scenic Rivers designation was his primary motivation.

However, the overall package that hunters get with Dayton is very good. His main opponent, Tom Emmer is an avid hunter, whose main appeal to sportsmen and women is "I'm one of you", is actually the anti-hunting candidate. Contrary to the position of every hunting organization in the state, Emmer not only opposed the Legacy Amendment, he tried to repeal it after the voters passed it. His extreme anti-government views will adversely affect hunting in many ways. He will oppose other conservation measures and the aquisition of more public land. Since he wants to balance the massive budget deficit with no tax increases, that will lead to further attacks on PILT, the Payment in Lieu of Taxes that local governments get from the state when land gets aquired by the state. This will put in overdrive the anti-public land aquisition movement that is gaining traction in both parties. Given his allies, especially the NRA, Emmer will push for more unfettered ATV access and use on public lands.

Most importantly, Emmer's tea-party politics would accelerate social trends that are adversely affecting hunting. His attacks on working people will lead to less income for average families, and research complied by Ducks Unlimited from the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show that when family income drops below $40,000, families are very likely to quit hunting. He will weaken trade unions, which will lead to less time off for workers, and hunting is a time-intensive activity. I can say for a fact that my good vacation benefits as a unionized worker have made it possible for me to participate in great hunting opportunities.

No matter who the governor is, lots of hunting organizations internal politics in Minnesota will be influenced whoever that is. Emmer will approach hunting as a question of cultural warfare, with extreme gun rights politics and likely emphasis on animal rights organizations as a main threat to hunting. This will make it much more difficult for us in the hunting community to have the kind of conversations that we need to be having but aren't. Children and their families today are under heavy pressure to participate constantly in activities that are part of an "achievement ladder": sports, band, arts, and other organized activities that will lead to better education and career prospects. This trend is negatively affecting what is often called "quality family time", a rising concern of many, and a movement to stop and/or contain this trend is being lead by prominent family social scientist Bill Doherty and other family advocates. Hunters and their organizations need to be acting in alliance with these advocates, as hunting and other outdoor activities are great ways for families to spend uninterrupted blocks of time together. Under a Dayton administration, such discussions and alliances would be possible and even likely, as his support for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities would be about the benefits to society - family, health, and conservation. Such discussions would be alien under a tea-party, cultural warrior governor like Emmer.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Jensen Family Rocky Mountain National Park Backcountry Trip

Looking grubby after hiking back down Forest Canyon

In early September, our family took a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, which included two days of car camping and two days of backpacking. The backpacking part required almost two miles of a rugged canyon hike to get to our camping spot. Our backcountry stay included fishing the upper Big Thompson River. The trip was successful on pretty much every measure.

In the lead-up to the trip, my wife Paula and I wanted to make sure our twin daughters, Theresa and Natalie, didn't have bad experience, that it wouldn't be too much. We started with non-car camping two years earlier, at age three years and twenty months, but that was much more tame: a half-mile walk on an old logging road to a yurt in the Porcupine Mountains wilderness in the Michigan's upper peninsula. We could carry them for short stretches. For this trip, they would have to carry their own packs 1.7 miles.

I called the backcountry office of Rocky Mountain National Park many months in advance, asking where to take two almost six-year olds in area that included some fishing. They gave me a few options, the Big Thompson sounded the best, so we reserved that early.

Wilderness writers have said this about kids on backcountry adventures: even fairly young children act more mature, not less, once they are out on the trip. That is due to the fact that they have a role, or a job, as well as some freedom to explore. Our experience bore that out.

The main challenge for the girls was that even the smallest packs on the market that I could find, Deuter Fox 30, were a little too big for them when loaded. The packs weren't totally snug to their back the way they should be, but at least they'll be able to grow into these packs. We did lighten their load some on the way down, carrying some heavy rain jackets and other items for them. The way back they carried only their sleeping bag, their plate, utensils, and stuffed animal. Still, even on the way up, in between complaining about the weight of their packs, they said things like "I feel big", "I feel like I'm ten [they're sixth birthday was October 9th]". Of course we stopped in the canyon and they played in massive boulder formations where the girls saw favorable fairy habitat.

Our family overall worked better on the trip. My wife Paula noted that we had only had one argument the entire vacation, and that was on the drive home. We experienced no child meltdowns that we sometimes experience at home.

When we first arrived at our Moraine Park car-camping site, the girls talked about the views, the steepness, which they had never seen before. The second night, as we were getting to bed, I heard what I thought was a bull elk bugle, over the ridge. Then another, I was sure, and it was closer. He came over the ridge, with a cow, finally stopping fifty yards from the campground to tear up the ground with his antlers.

Theresa and Natalie had seen this many times on elk hunting videos, but now saw it actually happen, which they can describe in detail.

They asked to go fishing at a river near our campsite. The second time out, they were successful, and each bagged native cuttthroat trout, fish you have to release in Rocky Mountain National Park. Their only disappointment was not being able to catch a trout that they could eat, such as a brook trout. The water is so clear, Theresa was able to observe this beautiful fish rising from the bottom to snatch food and resume resting in slower current.

Natalie handling her first cutthroat

It is true that kids get homesick after awhile, so it's a good idea to not make the trip too long. However, when we returned home, one of their teachers called at the end of their first day back, to say that they talked about their trip all day, and that it was all positive. My wife Paula prepared a small booklet of pictures for each of them, which they enthusiastically showed to their classes.

Theresa fishing the Big Thompson with her dad

A really important foundation has been built - the seed for future outdoor adventures, the idea of enjoying oneself without the luxuries that even car camping has to offer, the skills and knowledge for hunting and fishing in more difficult places to get to, places that hold bigger fish and more game, the knowledge of topography and climate and how it changes with the landscape. Confidence and self-reliance. An appreciation of quiet places and their value whether one is pursuing a huge elk or trout, cross-country skiing, or just walking through and enjoying beautiful country.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Michelle Bachmann's flip-flop on the Legacy Amendment displays the conservative movement's anti-hunting politics

It is a major contention of this blog that the conservative movement of the present is anti-hunting. Michelle Bachmann, the sixth-district right-wing congresswoman, just proved it better than anyone could with her recent flip-flop on her previous public support for the Legacy Amendment. According to the Star Tribune, she told outdoor journalist Ron Schara in a public questioning forum in August at the Game Fair that she supported the Legacy Amendment, the fractional increase in the sales tax passed by Minnesota voters in 2008. One-third of the revenues go to wildlife habitat projects, and a large share of the money goes to cleaning polluted lakes and rivers, a major concern of hunters and anglers. Her campaign booth had a large "vote yes" signs in 2008, according to leaders of hunting and outdoor groups. Bachmann in fact stated she supported the amendment because of the involvement of family members with hunting.

Now, following a typical line of conservative Republican attack, she is labeling her Democratic opponent, Taryl Clark, "taxing Taryl", in part for Clark's support of the Legacy Amendment. Bachmann is denying that she ever supported the Legacy Amendment, despite the statements of prominent Minnesota sportsmen Don McMillan and Ron Schara that she had made supportive public statements. Neither McMillan nor Schara could be counted as liberal from their past public record.

The Legacy Amendment is already at work, restoring prairies and wetlands, cleaning polluted waters, and stopping vast tracts of forests from being developed and subdivided. All projects are open to public hunting and fishing under the state constitution. Lack of access to good habitat to hunt is a major factor in the decline of hunting across America, it's even starting to affect Minnesota hunters, a state with lots of public land and a high hunting participation rate. Public money is needed to reverse this, private efforts won't be enough. But don't tell that to today's conservative movement: they hate taxes and any government action more than they love hunting. Teddy Roosevelt, America's greatest conservationist President, whose actions were driven largely by his love of hunting in wild places, would be a pariah in the Republican party of today, labeled a socialist along with Barack Obama.

Friday, August 20, 2010

ATV abuse, the scurge of our hunting community

Watch this YouTube video, "America's Backcountry", from Backcountry Hunters and Anglers that includes a powerful indictment of ATV abuse and oversuse on America's public lands

If there is anything about hunting in America today that is inconsistent with the entire tradition and every argument that hunting is a positive activity that has environmental, health, and social benefits, it's the ATV overuse and abuse that is rampant among a certain set of hunters.

ATVs are often used by young, able-bodied hunters to transport themselves to their deer stands. ATVs are even used as part of the actual hunting experience, turning it into a mechanized and sedentary activity.

ATVs are taking over our hunting culture. ATV advocates in Minnesota state government have crafted regulations that created large loopholes in the law against shooting at animals from ATVs, mostly by allowing uncased guns on ATVs in areas where you are hunting. The machine is now being used to hunt grouse by some hunters. Due to complaints from non-motorized grouse hunters, the DNR tried to tighten up the rule this last year, only to meet legislative resistance.

There are constant reports in the outdoor press from the Rocky Mountain west of ATV abuse. The most outrageous I've read so far was that a number of ATVs were used in a bison hunt, to surround the animal and then shoot it execution-style. This was in an area in Utah that was off-limits to ATVs, a bowhunter who had drawn this rare permit to hunt wild bison went to an area seeking solitude and a great hunt with traditional bowhunting equipment. He met noise, environmental destruction, and "hunters" who might as well have bought their meat at the grocery store.

Hunting as an activity that strengthens families and creates community is destroyed by this, as riding a loud machine is not exactly quietly walking through the woods with your dad or sibling, whispering and talking about where to look or what route to take to find birds. The argument that hunting is an activity that fights obesity is true, but not when it's motorized. Riding an ATV isn't exactly cardiovascular exercise. Creating an ever-expanding lattice of trails for loud machines that tear up woods and fields and disrupt wildlife and emit pollution runs counter to a strong conservationist tradition that many hunters are rightly proud of. Last, but not least, is fair chase. Not only has this been a principle of hunting ethics for decades, it maintains hunting's public support.

ATVs are negatively affecting the habitat of many animals, including those we love to hunt. A number of studies by wildlife agencies have been conducted on radio-collared elk, and elk will avoid, year-round, areas that are regularly frequented by motorized traffic. One study showed that an area as large as a half-mile from such trails is avoided on a permament basis by elk. This is a lot of habitat for prime game animals to destroy all because someone wants a thrill or doesn't want to walk, ride a horse, and/or use other pack animals such as donkeys or lamas.

The same studies show that hunters on foot or horseback don't disturb elk the way ATVs do.

One study has been conducted on mule deer that concluded there are fewer large mule deer in the west due to ATV overuse.

Powerful economic interests and many ATV riders have stifled action by public land managers that would rein in these abuses, even though the vast majority of public land users are non-motorized. Fortunately, there is a new, growing, and energetic organization of sportsmen and women organizing for needed reform of motorized use and for protection of wilderness and roadless areas, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers ("BHA"). I'm a proud and active member. BHA successfully fought for reforms of financing of Colrado's ATV program to allocate more money for enforcement, not just increased trail construction. In Minnesota we lobbied and brought attention to the grouse hunting rule that the DNR proposed during the last legislative session.

Other actions include BHA helping pass legislation protecting Montana's Rocky Mountain front from oil and shale development. In MN, we are lobbying for stricter regulation of a proposed copper mining project near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

We are working with other wilderness hunting advocates to establish a late October rifle deer hunt in the interior of the Boundary Waters. The interior is often inaccessible during the regular rifle season in November, as the lakes freeze early that far north.

If you want to preserve good hunting and fishing opportunities, join BHA at If you use an ATV, limit your use. Save some greenhouse gas and burn some calories and walk to your stand if you are physically able. Only use your ATV to retrieve downed animals or haul heavy stands or equipment, and stay on established trails. Use one ATV per group, instead of one for every person, as I've seen in some camps.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A "grand bargain" on guns ?

After many years of involvement with hunting and shooting, as well as following debates over gun control and gun rights, I think when you cut through all the smoke, there are four general pre-dispositions or political positions people have regarding guns. The main two we hear a lot about in the media, whether they are ever accurately described or reported, are: "pro-gun", and "anti-gun". As far as I can tell, being pro-gun means you believe guns are morally good things, regardless of place, political or social context, or who is allowed to have them. If criminals, terrorists, or mentally unstable people have them, the answer is to bring in more guns to the situation, simply arm the "good guys" more, rather than focus on restricting access to firearms for certain people. The result of putting this belief into law would be an increasing weaponization of more and more aspects of daily life.

Then there is being "anti-gun". This position is that guns are made to kill, thereby it is best to restrict them extremely or eliminate them from society, and only allow the military and police to have them. They are morally evil things as they are an instrument of death. They are used by murderers, terrorists, and unstable people to more effectively inflict harm. Parts of the Chicago and Washington, D.C. gun ordinances are anti-gun, as they seek to so severely restrict the use of firearms, through imposing significant extra costs and inconvenience for their use, in addition to background checks and licensing requirements. This position has in common with the "pro-gun" position that its judgement about the nature of guns cuts across time and space and social and political contexts. As an otherwise intelligent person told me recently when I consider guns a tool, but a powerful one that not anyone should be allowed to have : "Guns aren't a necessity, so they are not like a jackhammer or a drill".

Another is pro-gun control that is not anti-gun. This position views guns as dangerous to society if not properly regulated, but that guns are not in and of themsleves morally evil. While it is distinguished from being anti-gun, it also doesn't in particular see benefits to society from private firearms ownership and shooting sports. It is something you can personally choose to do as long as you follow the proper rules.

The position that I hold is to support a system which regulates private firearms ownership AND supports the shooting sports. This position is never discussed in the mainstream media. It recognizes that there can be dangers to society from private gun ownership that is poorly regulated, but also strongly supports shooting sports, especially hunting, as there are benefits to society from these activities.

This position forms a unique program, which I have been referring to as a "grand bargain" politically. It would require that advocates of stricter gun control support measures that help the shooting sports, such as money for shooting ranges, firearms safety education in the public schools, and affirmation of shooting sports as positive activities. In exchange, gun owners would have to actively support stricter gun control, or more accurately, regulations to keep guns from some people that shouldn't have them.

There is potentially a large constituency for this approach, and Minnesota is the place to try. We have a high firearms ownership and hunting participation rate, with a history of progressive politics. A large swath of gun owners here have pragmatic views about guns, aware of the satisfaction they gain from their proper use, as well as the death and mayhem guns can be used for in the wrong hands or from unsafe practices and storage.

Then the question is, what should be in the "grand bargain" ? On the "control" side, I'd say closing the gun show loophole is a no-brainer, strong state authority to close crooked gun dealers who allow repeated straw purchases, and possibly a system of licensure to be a firearms owner. The license would be a training requirement, people who took their hunter safety training would be covered. Lastly, tougher safe storage regulations, especially in homes where there are children. A possible rule would be that ammunition be locked, which would be an affordable requirement. On the "support" side, a short mandatory firearms safety course in all public schools, with full firearms safety as an after-school program where there is interest, run by the DNR. Money will be needed for the the safety training, and to support access to shooting ranges. A tax should be levied on the firearms industry's profits. It should be put into a dedicated fund controlled by the DNR to pay for the classes and give grants to shooting ranges for upkeep, as well as even buy ranges that go on the market or get offers from developers. This could have stopped Moon Valley range, my former favorite shooting range, from being sold off. The fund could also help boost 4-H and high school shooting leagues.

This is a starter, and any such arrangement would be be the result of lengthy negotiation and discussion. There will be sticky issues which require a lot of research and debate. A perfect example is : when should people be allowed to sell or lend guns privately, with no background check ? One bill authored in the legislature closed the gun show loophole and required all guns be sold through some institution that requires background checks, with only immediate family exempted. What about friends or people you know or more distant relatives ? There are cases of people lending or selling guns to people they knew, confident the person was not unstable, and the gun was then used in a murder or suicide. On the other hand, I recently lent a gun to someone I have hunted with for several years who I know already owns firearms. This is a common activity amongst hunters who would feel unduly restricted if it were prohibited or forced to go through some time consuming process. Responsible gun owners and anti-gun violence activists who see the importance of shooting sports will have to craft proposals that address both these situations.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The most pro-hunting law in at least a decade, and conservatives voted no

One of the most interesting questions raised by the 2008 Minnesota Legacy Amendment was: what does it mean to be "pro-hunting"? Historically, it has meant believing going into the woods or marshes to kill animals and then eat them is morally acceptable, part of the chain of life. Access to places to hunt was assumed to be a non-issue, a given. However, increasingly, lack of access to good places to hunt is a big factor in the decline of hunting. At this present time, when evaluating a a group's politics or a law on whether it is pro-hunting must also include whether the group or law supports access to places to hunt.

By this measure, the Legacy Amendment, a fractional increase in the sales tax passed by Minnesota voters, was the most pro-hunting law passed in Minnesota in at least a decade. It has provided a huge boost to future hunting opportunities by dedicating millions of dollars to wildlife habitat every year. Another part of the Legacy Amendment, the clean water fund, is also helpful to hunting and fishing, by cleaning polluted waters. The parks and trails funding is related to hunting in that those areas provide opportunity for outdoor activity. Both consumptive and non-consumptive outdoor enthusiasts are likely to use these areas. The only part of the Legacy Amendment that did not directly help hunting was the arts section. I would argue that the alliance was politically necessary, and that the arts and hunting actually share something in common, but that is a topic for another day.

The amendment passed by 56% of the vote (voters who don't mark that section of the ballot are counted as "no" votes), and it is telling looking at where the votes came from. The most liberal areas of the state gave it the largest "yes" votes. The 5th congressional district, Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs, the most liberal, passed the amendment by well over 2 to 1, the 4th, Saint Paul and the surrounding suburbs, was close behind. The general pattern was that conservative areas of the state gave it the least support, with general vote totals right around 50% support. The sixth district (Michelle Bachmann's), the 2nd (John Kline's), and the 7th (represented by Collin Peterson, a conservative Democrat) gave the amendment the least support. The one interesting difference was that the 8th district, always solidly Democratic, was also one of lowest levels of support. One explanation may be that that area contains massive tracts of public land, and numerous beautiful lakes, many probably thought the spending might not benefit them or wasn't needed. It is hard to say. The 1st district, the southern part of state that includes Rochester, and the 3rd district, the western Twin Cities, both historically moderate politically, gave the amendment solid support, but well behind the more liberal areas. Statewide exit polls showed Democratic voters gave it overwhelming support, three to one, independents split 50-50, and Republicans voted two to one against. The Republican party officially opposed the amendment, as did the Taxpayers League, a right-wing outfit run by an ex-GOP legislator.

The liberal urban districts who voted overwhelmingly for the amendment obviously didn't only do so because of the pro-wildlife elements that helped hunting. They did so because of the general pro-environmental package, and that progressive voters are more willing to pay higher taxes than moderates and conservatives. Progressive voters are also more likely to be in favor of arts funding.

The political right in the hunting community are quick to label progressives as "anti-hunting". While a number of avid hunters with conservative-leaning politics campaigned for the amendment, (Bud Grant is a prime example) the election results reveal that as an overall group, conservative voters aren't willing to do what it takes to keep a thriving hunting culture. While elements of the progressive base don't like hunting (demographic studies indicate a smaller majority of the liberal base is supportive of hunting as an activity than conservatives), as an overall group, the progressive voters are the most pro-hunting group of voters when the considering the complete definition of being pro-hunting.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Pass on the hunting culture !

Theresa and Natalie Jensen their first day at the gun range in June,
shooting their Red Ryder BB gun. Natalie had the quote of the day
"Dad, your fire gun [.50 cal muzzleloader] made my tummy shake !"

Picture taken by Erik Jensen

I've been raising my twin daughters, Theresa and Natalie, who turn six this fall, in the hunting culture. They have eaten deer meat since they were just past their first birthday, and seen deer butchered every year since they were two. They have watched many hunting videos, mostly for deer and elk, and Natalie has been out hunting with me. I did have to use unorthodox methods to get her out in the field. Two years ago this fall, we were staying at a family friend's place near Hutchinson around halloween, a great time for bow hunting for deer. The girls then and now love everything to do with fairies, and Natalie liked wearing her pink costume with wings. She wanted to go out on the evening hunt, but refused to take off her fairy costume. I realized that an adult male's camoflage shirt, (I had a couple extra) is twice the size of a four year-old, with room for fairy wings to boot. The pink was concealed, problem solved. Natalie stuck it out for 45 minutes in the blind, working the bleat call and watching and listening. She saw my elevated awareness, and my eyes "playing tricks" when I honed in on something I hoped was a deer but soon realized it wasn't. She heard the pheasants, other birds, and distant shotgun fire from duck hunters on a nearby lake. She said "Dad, when are we going to do that ?"

Recently, I took them to the gun range for the first time. As you can see I had to stick with the pink theme. I am having trouble with one of Natalie's future wishes for a deer rifle: a purple stock. I do hope she grows out of it, only time will tell.

Last year, the same weekend and same farm, the girls didn't want to go out due to colder fall weather. But they did come out midday on the day we left, helping me take down my deer blind and we looked at buck scrapes. This fall, Theresa, Natalie, and my wife Paula are starting a new family tradition as the girls enter kindergarten: MEA weekend is "family hunting weekend". It's in the latter period of October, when bow hunting for deer is good, as is various kinds of bird hunting.

In 2005, I started taking a friend's son hunting when he was thirteen. After coming with to support his son a couple years later, the father started hunting.

Recent research led by Mark Damian Duda for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, suggests that an adult, usually a parent, investing their time in helping a young person learn hunting skills is one of the most important factors in whether a person becomes a future hunter. The study suggests that a large swath of us hunters who don't think it is "worth it" to invest their time in teaching youth in their lives to hunt. While there are many factors in the decline of hunting that need to be taken on through political alliances and social support structures, the lack of mentoring is something that we can have an impact on easily, right in our own immediate or extended family or circle of friends.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Why I'm Starting this Blog

I'm an avid hunter and angler with progressive politics who is deeply concerned about the decline of hunting and the signs that fishing is on a downward trend as well. Lately I've read lots of analysis on what it will take to counter these trends, and it won't be easy. Powerful economic, social, and demographic forces are working against the future of hunting especially. As a progressive outdoorsman, I've long felt that the insular, sometimes highly conservative politics projected by numerous hunting publications, businesses, and organizations, and of course the NRA, as well the mainstream media's embrace and sometimes caricature of that projection left out a significant base of hunters - progressives. There are many good conservationist hunting organizations, I'm a member of a couple, but due to corporate funding and a diverse membership, or a "niche" focus, they have to be too cautious in their broader politics. After getting more involved in efforts to fight for hunting interests politically, as well as helping others take up the tradition, it has also become clear to me that the insular and/or conservative politics not only don't speak for many of us, they are also the enemy of the future of hunting. It is not that we shouldn't be concerned about the animal rights movement, or certain segments of the population, often liberal-leaning, that disparage hunting as an activity. We should be unapolegetic in our advocacy that hunting is a positive activity in so may ways. Hunting is an excellent means for families to spend quality time together away from the distractions and hyper-competitiveness of modern society. Hunting builds a political base for conservation efforts, probably the greatest example of this was the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, who protected 320 million acres of forests and prairies from development. His action was primarily motivated by his love of hunting in wild places. Even conservative hunters will put money and time on the line, even going so far as to raise their own taxes, however reluctantly, to pay for conservation projects that benefit hunting, other outdoor activities, and the environment as a whole. These projects often are an important source of support for rural communities. Hunting is especially beneficial for kids, as it teaches them patience, observation, safety skills, self-reliance, and how to not be physically comfortable and still enjoy oneself. It teaches them to appreciate and understand the natural world and the inter-connectedness of all life.

Hunting has health benefits as well, especially done with little or no motorized assistance. Wild animals are a healthy source of lean, organic protein.

Having said all that, what research exists shows the Ameican people overall need little or no convincing. The American public overwhelmingly, in general, still supports hunting. However, even with that support, fewer of us are heading into the woods or onto the waters to hunt or fish. The decline is driven by urbanization, lack of access to places to hunt, lack of time, and competition from other activities, especially amongst youth. Most hunters take up hunting as youths. Our media-drenched and commercialized culture that teaches quick gratification and a need to be stimulated all the time are clearly working against hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities.

All of these problems are either created or made more difficult to counter by insular, conservative politics in our ranks. We need access to quality habitat for hunting, such places cost money for the government to buy or get easements for, as well as manage and/or restore. However, the fundamental core of conservative politics in 2010 is hatred for collective action and solutions to problems, in particluar, hatred for government and taxation. On this fundamental level, conservatism is anti-hunting. Urban sprawl is also lengthening the time it takes for many of us to get to places to hunt. Controlling urban sprawl through planning and public transportation draws the delusional cries of socialism or communism from the tea-party base. Yet any slowdown in urban sprawl would help preserve places to hunt and fish. These are more obvious examples of conservatism's anti-hunting policies. Research I've read by rural sociologists and a consultant to wildlife agencies also conclude that hunting is a not an activity that just happens, it is a tradition that needs a social support structure to be continued and passed on. Present American conservatism is almost sociopathically individualistic, rejecting the idea of social support structures. Such an ideology being influential within our ranks makes it hard for us as a hunting community to forge alliances with other groups that ultimately have a common interest with us. This goes beyond forging alliances with non-hunting and angling environmentalists. There is a history of such alliances, we have a recent successful example here in Minnesota with the Legacy Amendment. We need to go beyond that and be reaching out to advocates for quality family time, youth advocates, educators, and nutrition/wellness advocates. There is already an encouraging effort of reaching out to slow food advocates and bringing them into hunting. Jackson Landers, who lives in Virginia, runs a blog called "The Locavore Hunter", and is soon coming out with a book called "Deer Hunting for Locavores".

As odd it as it may sound at first blush, we also need to be reaching out to some gun control advocates who may be willing to support firearms safety education being offered in public schools, access to affordable and accessible shooting ranges, and affirm the mainstream shooting sports as positive activities in exchange for hunters' support for stricter gun regulations. The NRA's outsized influence within hunting publications, businesses, and organizations make such a "grand bargain" on gun politics difficult or impossible to achieve - even though fundamentally necessary for the future of hunting. While the NRA continues to win political victories, fewer Americans are engaging in recreational shooting, be it for the purpose of hunting or the enjoyment of mastering the skill of handling firearms.

It's not that you'll never read a hunting, angling, or other outdoor adventure story here. My main interests are hunting for members of the deer family, normally whitetails, with bow, rifle, and muzzleloader. I have participated in one wilderness moose hunt, one of the great experiences of my life. I now have a special affection for wilderness hunting based on that experience, and am working on a wilderness elk hunt for next year. I love fly-fishing for trout, but of course pursue other species with spinning gear. I also have spent many hours in the marshes pursuing waterfowl, and walked the woods with a shotgun pursuing grouse. However, the main focus here is giving voice to progressive sportsmen and women and applying our thinking to preserving and advancing hunting and angling. I hope to bring in various sources and voices from here in Minnesota, but also from "far afield", even from outside the United States.