Bald Eagle
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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By Larry Keane

Some journalists can’t help but shame the very benefactors driving the rebound of America’s bald eagle and other wildlife. They somehow get it backwards and report on the remarkable conservation successes of bald eagles but still blame hunters.

Hunting and recreational shooting sports have experienced a welcomed renaissance with record numbers of Americans heading into the fields and woods over the last 18 months. The impacts of this trend will be long-lasting for generations and America’s wildlife populations are the chief beneficiaries.

Major Money Milestone

More than $14 billion. That figure represents the major milestone surpassed earlier in 2021 of Pittman-Robertson excise taxes paid by the firearm and ammunition industries. The payments are supported every time a firearm or ammo is purchased. The funds go back to states to help fund their wildlife management and conservation projects. Since its inception in 1937, hunters and recreational shooters – America’s original conservationists – have paid more than $14.1 billion.

The funding stream has seen a boost as record numbers of Americans have joined or rejoined the hunting community. That includes scores of younger hunters who may pour hundreds or thousands of dollars each into the industry for decades to come. So many younger Americans have taken up the outdoor shooting sports that Barstool – the irreverent new-age sports media behemoth – even launched their own hunting and outdoor vertical, Barstool Outdoors. A recent article extolled hunters’ contributions to the health of wildlife populations.

Traditional media has reported on the hunting renaissance, too. State legislatures like Iowa, South Dakota, New York and others lowered minimum age limits for hunting to allow hundreds more to head afield.

South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem praised her state’s legislature for lowering the age and put the goal in simple terms. “The goal of this legislation is to get more young people involved in our outdoor way of life at an early age so they continue those experiences long into their adulthood.”

With record hunting (and fishing) license sales, as well as historic firearm sales and ammo shelves left bare, it’s no surprise wildlife management and conservation projects are getting big funding boosts. It’s no surprise America’s game populations are as healthy and numerous as they’ve ever been.

Half the Story

With all the good news happening among hunting, conservation funding and wildlife management, reporters still attempt to shame hunters who are helping the cause. One report praised the remarkable rebound of the American bald eagle from the brink of extinction. It includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announcement that there are more than 316,000 eagles soaring in U.S. skies.

It never mentions, however, Pittman-Robertson, wildlife funding or the fact that hunters support the population growth through their purchases. Instead, it bemoans the ills of traditional ammunition and shames hunters for using it.

California’s San Luis Obispo Tribune joined in with a similarly slanted article, reporting on California condors experiencing lead poisoning caused by hunters. Yet traditional ammunition was banned in the condor’s home region back in 2013 and further banned for hunting in the entire state since 2019.

California condor
A California condor takes flight in the Ventana Wilderness east of Big Sur, California. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Traditional ammunition is practical and provides a less-expensive option for the largest number of America’s hunters, young and old, to continue enjoying the great pastime. Efforts to reduce lead left afield continue as well, including education and emphasizing burying or removing gut piles once game is harvested.

Thousands of new hunters and outdoorsmen and women are joining America’s greatest sporting pastime each month. They are doing their part to help continue the traditions of hunting and recreational shooting for years to come. Those efforts have contributed billions of dollars to ensure America’s wildlife populations reach new heights and have never been healthier. That’s the story to keep telling.


Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.



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