One of the most fascinating things I learned when I first started hunting was the conservation history we’ve had in our country and the animals that have been affected. In the 1800s, market hunting was practiced in order to utilize bones, feathers, or pelts of wild animals for profit. Since this was not a regulated practice, market hunters decimated numerous wild species in North America, including great auks, heath hens, labrador ducks, and passenger pigeons, all of which are now extinct. Other species like bison and deer were almost hunted to extinction until conservation laws and regulations were enacted. Essentially, hunters realized there would be no more wild animals to hunt if nothing changed. This led to the birth of many conservation efforts geared toward sustaining the tradition for generations to come.
Look at the conservation story of the wild turkey in New Jersey, for example. During my first turkey hunting season, I learned the state’s turkey population was non-existent in the mid 1800s. Through the conservation efforts of the National Wild Turkey Federation, a small group of 22 wild turkeys relocated in 1977 has exploded into a healthy population of over 23,000 across New Jersey.
The most popular question I see non-hunters ask is, “How are you conserving animals if you’re hunting them?”. The answer is simple, you’re not conserving the one or few animals you may harvest every year, you’re contributing to the conservation of the entire species and larger ecosystem with money generated from license fees, tags and excise taxes on guns and ammunition.
What happens when a housing development is constructed? Habitat is repurposed to fit human needs. When farms are established, and stores constructed, wild animals have to find new habitat, which is more than likely already occupied. So, what happens when there are too many animals and not enough habitat? Mother Nature steps in to restore balance which can lead to disease, ecosystem destruction, and famine, to name a few.
The most impressive concept of conservation is the 50+ million acres that have been protected due to the efforts begun by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901. One of the most embarrassing things to admit now as a hunter is the lack of education I had about public land. As much as I had hiked and swam and enjoyed WMAs and state parks, I didn’t know how they came to be or how they were managed. It was like electricity, you don’t understand the whole process of a light switch, you just know it works.
This may sound ignorant, but not too long ago I didn’t know that the pronghorn is an indigenous species to North America. I didn’t know the U.S. had an elk population, or the diversity of species of deer. Thankfully, now I can say I’ve learned a considerable amount about hunting as conservation, although I am much prouder to say I contribute to it as well.