NRA Part 1 The NRA, Friend or Foe of Hunters? ©2005 by Pat Wray I am a hunter. Like most hunters, I care deeply about our hunting heritage and our ability to pass it on. Like most hunters, I consider people and organizations who work on behalf of hunting my friends, and those who work against hunting my adversaries. Like most hunters, I am confused when the lines become blurred. And today the lines are blurry indeed in regards to the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA is one of the most powerful and effective lobbies in America. It has protected our right to keep and bear arms for more than 100 years and I have been a member for more than 20 of those. Because I am a gun owner I am thankful for what the NRA has done. More than that, I believe in the NRA. And there’s the rub. Because I and millions of others just like me believe in what the NRA does on behalf of our gun ownership rights, we are inclined to believe them when they tell us they are standing up for our hunting rights. This is a dangerous idea, because where the interests of gun ownership and hunting diverge, which happens more often than they would have us believe, the NRA will always, ALWAYS come down on the side of guns, sometimes to the detriment of our future hunting opportunities. Not that the NRA hasn’t done some good things for hunters. They have helped introduce legislation to allow hunting on Sundays in states which presently prohibit it. They are working to reduce the minimum hunting age in states like Wisconsin. They are supporting No Net (hunting) Loss legislation in several states, which will require states to open state land for hunting when other state land is closed. These programs are a lot like glitter on the window. They are pretty but insubstantial. Their primary effect is to hide the really important stuff behind the window. Behind the window, where issues of real hunting importance are being decided, like the protection of wildlife habitat and land on which our future hunting opportunities depend, the NRA sells out regularly to politicians who care nothing about the land or wildlife, but who will deliver votes against gun control. Politicians like Idaho Senator Larry Craig, who serves on the NRA Board of Directors and has made a career of opening public lands for private exploitation. Craig was a primary supporter of the Bush Administration’s recent action removing Federal protection of 58.5 million acres of Inventoried Roadless Areas in our National Forests and returning their fate to the tender mercies of individual states. There Craig, who regularly scores zero with the League of Conservation Voters for his consistently anti-environmental votes, hopes the powerful hands of logging and mining interests will prevail and open those lands to extractive industries. The NRA regularly parrots Craig’s misleading message about our public land roadless areas, interchanging the terms Wilderness, Roadless Areas and Road Closures, in an effort to confuse the public and convince hunters their hunting access will be lost in those areas, a blatant falsehood. In fact, land covered by any of those three designations is open to hunting; only motorized access is restricted to various degrees. In fact, hunting and fishing are usually better, often much better, in roadless areas. The most exhaustive scientific studies have repeatedly confirmed that elk, deer, bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and trout do better in areas away from active roads. They grow bigger, live longer and reproduce more effectively. This is not under debate. People who contest it will probably also argue that cigarette smoke is good for you. Perhaps the NRA thinks, as President Bush seems to, that if you raise bluegills in a pond, white-tailed deer in a fenced enclosure and feed wild turkeys in your backyard, you are a friend to wildlife. That simplistic approach doesn’t work here in the western states, where our big game and game fish species are far less adaptable to human encroachment. Western hunters and anglers have lobbied repeatedly for protection for wildlife and wild lands, but the NRA ignores them and underwrites Larry Craig and his ilk, no matter what the impact of their legislative actions may be on those resources. In doing so, the NRA shows its true colors. No friend of hunting would support actions sure to decimate wildlife habitat on so broad a scale. The problem is not that the NRA leadership acts aggressively to protect the 2nd Amendment. It is their mission. The problem is that they mislead hunters into thinking their actions will benefit hunting. All too often, hunters are foolish enough to believe them. In effect, the NRA is running one of the most effective scams in the country. They are promoting activities sure to decrease future hunting opportunities …and convincing hunters to help pay for their efforts. Here’s the bottom-line: if the Bush Administration, with the active support of the NRA, builds roads into our previously roadless public lands, the premier hunting and fishing once available there will decline precipitously until these areas will be just the same as places you can drive to now. I know a man who raises snakes. His snakes are very important to him. He raises mice also—to feed to the snakes. He takes good care of the mice, feeds them well and keeps them clean. He wants them breeding regularly because he needs lots of them to support his snakes. We hunters are the NRA’s mice. They want lots of us, too, but they worry because there’s always the outside chance we might start thinking for ourselves. So they keep us scared with enemies, or people they want us to think are enemies. Then we dutifully cough up money to help fight those enemies. The NRA feeds our money and our hunting heritage into the coffers of political snakes who will use their influence to ruin the land we hunt. Think about it; when was the last time you heard of a mouse actually helping a snake? What a scam. What a con. What a load of garbage. *************** In a future column we’ll look at things we hunters can do to start moving in the right direction, both inside and outside the NRA. # Pat Wray is a Corvallis freelance writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. NRA Part 2 Hunters—Take Action! Here’s How ©2005 by Pat Wray In my last column I pointed out inconsistencies in the way the National Rifle Association (NRA) deals with hunters. On the one hand it actively curries their favor, publishes a couple different hunting-related magazines, and beats its own drum loudly about the many things it does on hunters’ behalf. Unfortunately, the NRA’s ‘efforts’ on behalf of hunting are, for the most part, a smokescreen, much ado about damn little. They are trying to make it legal to hunt on Sundays in the Bible Belt and lower the hunting age in Wisconsin. Not exactly earthshaking. However, when it comes to kowtowing to its political masters, who too often care nothing about wildlife or wild lands, and whose actions will certainly diminish hunting opportunities across a broad portion of the western landscape, the NRA has been effective indeed. The NRA provided critical support to the Bush Administration’s effort to remove federal protection from 58.5 million acres of Inventoried Roadless Areas in the US Forest Service system. This action, the NRA says, will allow construction of roads, which will let people drive to the places they want to hunt. What they don’t say is that new roads will open those areas to extractive industries and all of the destructive effects to follow. They also don’t acknowledge that active roads have a negative effect on our big game animals, as well as on water quality and game fish. In effect, the NRA shilled for the most anti-environmental administration in history, knowing full well what the impact of their actions would be. And why? For administration support of their right-to-bear-arms agenda. Some people might consider it a fair trade but I don’t. I think anything that harms wildlife and the habitats in which they live also harms hunters. I suspect a whole lot of other hunters agree with me. I’d like to think we are the up-to-now-silent majority. The bottom line is this: the NRA is hoodwinking hunters into thinking they are working on our behalf, while they use our money on politicians and legislative efforts which will degrade hunting, now and in the future. Does this mean the NRA is an enemy of hunters? Not exactly. What it means is that they don’t care about hunters except as a cash cow. It means they will sell out hunters as often as necessary, if doing so will give them leverage in the fight over gun ownership rights. It means the NRA considers hunters too stupid to recognize how badly we are being used. Thus far, at least, they’ve been right. Here is the critical question: What can we hunters do to remedy the situation? Here are some answers. 1. Broaden your horizons. Don’t vote based on the gun ownership issue alone. If you do, you are no smarter than people who vote strictly on issues like abortion, social security or immigration. Single-issue politics is stupid, plain and simple. Don’t be stupid. 2. Don’t quit. If you are presently an NRA member, stay a member. Get involved. Make your feelings known. Work your way into leadership positions. Run for the board. Given time and commitment, a single canoeist can turn an aircraft carrier. 3. If you are a hunter and not an NRA member, join. And then raise hell. Let the leadership know that protecting our right to bear arms is not enough. We hunters expect them to protect our wildlife and wild lands as well. If NRA leaders prove unequal to the task, we will need to force them to get out of the hunting business and drop their charade. They’ll have to divest themselves of the American Hunter and Free Hunter magazines and give up all pretense of being a hunters’ organization. The NRA will be much more effective if its efforts are focused, as they were for the first 50 years or so of its existence, strictly on issues of gun ownership. 4. Look around carefully at organizations doing good things for hunters and hunting. Join those. Be active. One of the best is relatively new, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. You have to love an outfit that sells bumper stickers reading “Use the QUADS God Gave You!” You can find them at 5. Look around as well for organizations you know are working for our wild lands and wildlife. These include Trout Unlimited, the National Wildlife Federation, Audubon Society, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Wilderness Society. 6. Don’t hesitate to explore outfits like the Sierra Club. Yes, I know, some Sierra Club chapters have a history of taking part in anti-hunting activities, and because the chapters are essentially autonomous, they may do so again. But the Sierra Club headquarters has embraced hunting and fishing in wild lands, and is actively reaching out to hunters in an effort to create alliances on behalf of wildlife habitat. Such alliances, even if they are short term and on an as-necessary basis, will be the salvation of hunting for our children and grandchildren. Hunters can be an effective political force, but when joined together with environmental and natural resource interest groups, we can be unstoppable. The recent successful dismantling of the slimy measure sponsored by Representatives Richard Pombo (R-CA) and Jim Gibbons (R-NV), in which they tried to put millions of acres of public land up for sale, is one of the best examples on record of what can happen when hunters and anglers align themselves with other organizations on behalf of our natural resources. 7. Get involved at the state level to protect Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRA). The Bush Administration removed federal protection from IRA’s in hopes extractive industry lobbies could convince individual states to allow construction of new roads into those areas. Right now, those lands and the wildlife within them are at much greater risk than ever before. That’s the bad news. The good news is that your voice, and the voices of other hunters, can be heard much more clearly at the state level than at the federal level. 8. Think for yourself. Don’t vote the way any organization tells you to vote without careful, critical consideration. If hunters continue to blindly follow NRA ballot guidance, it may soon be too late. We will get what we deserve. In the end, it’s all about the land. # Pat Wray is a lifelong hunter, angler and gun enthusiast. A 20-year member of the NRA, Wray is a fulltime freelance writer and author of A Chukar Hunter’s Companion, available at He can be reached at [email protected].