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Who is a “sportsman”?

Sportsmen were the nation’s first conservationists, advocating in the 1890s for sustainable harvests of previously unregulated birds, fish and animals like deer and bear. Acting against their own individual self-interests, they banded together to place limits on wildlife and habitat so that future generations would have opportunities to fish, hunt, camp, skinny dip, sight-see, wildlife watch, and help wildlife recover from 300 years of unregulated market hunting and industrial exploitation.

By the 1920s, a culture of stewardship and natural resource conservation was cemented into the sporting ranks by leaders like Gifford Pinchot, Teddy Roosevelt, and Aldo Leopold. Hunting clubs across rural America incorporated stocking programs, tree planting, and facilitating public land purchases to improve and increase wildlife habitat.

Fast forward to today, where wildlife populations are largely stable, wildlife habitat is not in crisis mode, and hunters and anglers are experiencing the best opportunities to harvest trophy fish and game in many decades. We are living in a golden age of the outdoor lifestyle.

Riding on the successes of past generations, today there are some grumbling guys with guns, crabbing that they don’t have anything to hunt. The real shameful behavior is the recent abandonment by some of these men of the sportsman’s stewardship ethic and the conservation pledge that made the hunting community highly respected among the larger society. A group of disaffected users, takers, and malcontents calling themselves “sportsmen” recently endorsed HB 1576, a proposed Pennsylvania bill which would gut the very state agencies charged with protecting Pennsylvania’s natural resources, and remove from state protection those plants and animals necessary for healthy hunting habitat.

The question on the table is, Are these men sportsmen? Are they sportsmen like Aldo Leopold was a sportsman?

While I wait to hear back from others, my answer is No, these men are not sportsmen. They are simply men with guns, freeloaders, spoiled children living off the hard work of both past and present generations, while complaining it isn’t enough and they want more, now, dammit. Their behavior is short-sighted and embarrassing, nothing like the visionary selfless sacrifice of their forebears. They should be publicly shamed and drummed out of the ranks of sportsmen.

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“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”
― Aldo Leopold

Pennsylvania Hunters: Army of The Republic

Pennsylvania Hunters: Freedom’s Bulwark
By Josh First

Like it or not, the Obama administration’s failed gun-running scheme, “Fast and Furious,” is viewed by tens of millions of Americans as the tip of the administration’s ice berg aimed at sinking the American tradition of gun ownership.

You’d only be kidding yourself if you stated that the Obama administration supports Second Amendment rights. This administration has done everything it can to hamstring legal gun ownership. Growing up in Central Pennsylvania, where Democrats strenuously, overwhelmingly, even defiantly promoted Second Amendment rights, it saddens me to see the party having lost so much ground on this issue. To tens of millions of Americans, with many regional exceptions across rural Pennsylvania, that political party increasingly represents a direct threat to the greatest Constitutional right we have, the one right that guarantees all the others.

Last week marked the beginning of another two-week Pennsylvania deer hunting season, using firearms, and about 750,000 licensed hunters are afield here during this time, down from a high of over one million twenty years ago.

Every year I am one of these licensed hunters, toting around a Remington 700 BDL in .30-06 in our steep, majestic mountains. It is extremely accurate out to hundreds of yards and it has taken countless deer, and one bear, when called upon at a second’s notice. Its open sights are designed to acquire the target quickly.

Having my rifle across my shoulder, cradled in my arms, slung over my back, clutched in my hand, or at my shoulder, ready to fire, is one of the most natural and comforting feelings I know. Along with my beautiful custom hunting knife made by John Johnson (JRJ knives, in Perry County) and bullet wallet on my belt, and a pack on my back containing food, water, drag rope, and survival essentials, I feel as ready to hunt as Oetzi the Snow Man of the Alps felt the day he died while hunting over 5,000 years ago. As we modern humans are essentially dolled-up Pleistocene hunter-gatherers in fancy clothes, it is as natural a feeling as a human can have. It is who we are at our core, like it or not.

Like many guys out there now, I enjoy hunting alone, stealthily reconnoitering remote cliffs and washes, or with one or two other friends stalking independently of one another, knowing that any of one us could connect with our quarry, or bump them to a buddy. About a zillion years of programming goes into this heightened sense of anticipation and satisfaction when it happens. Until a hundred and fifty years ago, failing to kill a deer meant the family went to sleep hungry, so there should be no surprise that successful hunting evokes the strongest feelings of pride, and happiness. Eating and living to see another day is pretty much the happiest thing a person can do. Today, we just take it for granted, and contract out the inconvenient killing to a hitman, more or less.

However, most of my deer and bear hunting is spent in the company of many friends, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Disaffected. As we move around and across the landscape, carefully coordinating with one another in long lines designed to drive game forward and to stay out of one another’s shooting lanes, I am re-amazed every year at the proficiency with which our guys move across that rough terrain, at the way they safely handle their high powered rifles, at the way that they snap that rifle to their shoulder and kill a far-off deer in only a second or two, before the window of opportunity closes. These folks are shooters, serious, excellent woodsmen. Focused. Formidable. Impressive. I’m proud to be among such company.

These are real men out there, and real women, challenging themselves to succeed in ways that most modern humans have no idea about, sadly. However, there is another group out there that can somewhat relate to how we live during this period, and that is the men and women in combat uniform.

If Pennsylvania hunters were an army, they would be the fifth largest in the world behind China, North Korea, India, Russia and the United States, the last of which has an army only fractionally made of actual shooters. Although I did not receive military training, and although most of my experience with firearms has been rooted in hunting and target shooting, my attitude about my right to own an assortment of firearms is pretty damned militant. And that same attitude is shared among the other 749,999 licensed hunters here, not to mention the other few million Pennsylvanians who stopped hunting years ago but who retain homes full of firearms and bullets. We are a bulwark of freedom, a silent army that need not say anything nor give word to what it represents. Its shadow is faint but long.

In that context, and in the shadow of “Fast and Furious,” one of the thoughts that repeatedly crossed my mind over the past few weeks in our beautiful mountains was, “Mr. Obama, if you want our guns, then come and take ‘em. Really, give it a try, pal.”

It ain’t happening. Our army is bigger than yours.