What IS a Legitimate “Outdoor Interest?”

At some level, the conversation is almost fascinating. At another, it seems downright silly. Still, in the context of America’s biggest headlines today, I understand why it has come up. So, what does, or does not, belong.in a column like this “Inside the Outdoors” post?

I’ve been writing this weekly piece for various newspapers and online since 1988. From the beginning, my goal has been to touch on virtually anything relating to outdoor activity and working to ensure that it is still an attractive option for our grandchildren’s grandchildren, and theirs after that. Column topics have ranged from treatises on fish, birds, animals and weather phenomena to raising outdoor kids. Others have run the gamut from fishing and hunting to shooting and firearms. I like laying out opportunities for the reader to decide for him- or herself what makes sense in one or another context. A couple times over the decades, I may have expressed an opinion strongly enough to land this piece on one or another editorial page.

What lodged this conversation in my mind was a brief back and forth with a politically active colleague. I was picking up some supplies at the Student Union and Recreation Center on the campus of Central Washington University. She wanted to chat about a recent column concerning firearms built on the AR platform.

“Look,” she said, “I’ve told you before how much I appreciate your writing and your take on the outdoors – especially the kids outdoors stuff – but the fact is that, today, stuff about guns and gun ownership and gun rights just has no business in your column. There are so many things you can, and do, write about that inform and fascinate us. The gun stuff doesn’t belong. We are all so upset about guns, guns, guns that it just stirs people up. Stick to your outdoor focus, like the wildlife we all enjoy seeing, that sort of thing.”

My responses about the need for inclusion of ALL outdoor interests, outdoor tools and the role of federal taxes on sporting goods – particularly firearms – fell on deaf ears. Still, the conversation lasted long enough to get me thinking about my whole philosophy of “outdoor interests.”

As a kid many decades ago, I heard the term “outdoorsman” applied to men and women who hunted, fished, trapped, hiked, camped, skied, boated, trained hunting dogs, rode horses, played various sports or carried on with recreational shooting of any type of firearm or archery gear.

As an adult, I headed up the United Sportmen’s Council of Colorado, representing more than 50 organizations from shooting clubs to fur trappers. In another role, I helped raise – and spend – large amounts of money on youth outdoor education, which always included learning to handle firearms safely and responsibly. I also helped determine how funds might best be spent to support wildlife and the habitat it would need to continue producing viable populations in perpetuity. I don’t ever recall trying to divide or rank those outdoor interests. I have long argued that people who have found “their” outdoor connection (whatever that interest might be), become ever more likely to commit themselves to ensuring that the outdoors will be available for future generations.

I would never argue against the importance of any of those aspects of the outdoors my colleague highlighted. Indeed, I have devoted many of these columns to each of them. Still, no matter how I toss it around in my mind, I see firearms and their uses as a fundamental “outdoor interest.”

In many ways, sales of firearms (and to a lesser extent other outdoor gear) are responsible for the habitat and wildlife – the outdoors – we all enjoy today. A hundred years ago, wild turkeys, Canada geese, most waterfowl species, elk, and white-tailed deer – all of which are over-abundant in one or another part of North America today – were almost gone. Dedicated hunters started a movement which led to the creation of the 1937 Pittman-Robertson excise tax on firearms and other sporting goods. That tax supported the development of professional game management agencies in America. To date, those P-R funds have produced well over seven billion dollars for wildlife management. Some 70% of state wildlife agency budgets today come from those taxes and license fees paid by hunters, even though only six percent of Americans actually hunt.

The “outdoor” firearm discussions about which my colleague was fretting are stirring up hunters and shooters, also. Nearly everyone I know is in frequent and serious conversation about all the firearms proposals and how they will likely affect legitimate outdoor recreation. They regularly fret over the – to many of them – serious mis-perceptions of firearms deaths compared to other causes. If anything, it seems to me, we need more of these conversations; we should not be avoiding them.

And it seems to me that an inclusive approach to “outdoor interests” must include discussion, data and analysis of the legitimate role of firearms.


Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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