Blazing Trail – An Interview with Keith Balfourd, B&C Club’s Director of Marketing

Where does one start when introducing an organization so historically significant as the Boone & Crockett Club? Every single one of us, from East Coast to West Coast and from North to South has the B & C Club to thank for the hunting opportunities we are all fortunate enough to enjoy each and every year. From the brink of disaster, the Club brought many of our most cherished landscapes and game species back to a position that ensured the future of wildlife and hunting opportunities for generations to come.

From the halls of policy both in the US and Canada to regional and local initiatives throughout North America, the Boone & Crockett Club is without question the single most important conservation organization the world has ever seen. Retrospectively envied around the globe for its foresight at the turn of the 20th century, there literally would be no “hunting industry” without the Club and its renowned founders.

It is our belief that every single sportsman or woman is obligated to support and join the Boone & Crockett Club. North America would literally be a different place today if it were not for the efforts of this influential organization and its members. For this, the B & C Club deserves our utmost respect and gratitude and represents the most trail blazing company, organization or entity we would ever consider interviewing for this humble column.

We sat down with B & C’s Director of Marketing Keith Balfourd to get a deeper understanding of the Club’s history and its stance on many of the modern issues facing hunters today. This is without question one of the best Blazing Trail interviews to date!

Realistically Keith, the Boone & Crockett Club needs no introduction but I’m not entirely certain all of our readers will have a full grasp of just how integral the Club has been to North American wildlife conservation and hunting over the past century. As briefly as you can, give us an overview of this truly pioneering institution.

The best way to articulate an organization that is 127 years old is to go back and follow the leader. By that I mean going back to the founders of the Club, primarily, Theodore Roosevelt. Boone & Crockett was his brainchild. He gathered twelve of his closest friends to a dinner party in New York City where he lived in December 1887 and sprung this idea on them. These guys were all sportsmen. They were all hunters and influential in their various careers and came together over a concern over the unregulated pounding that our wildlife was taking. Whether it was commercial market hunting, unregulated recreational sport hunting, or irresponsible land use practices – the sum total was that we were losing many of our big game populations at that time at an alarming rate. Also, we had unfortunately lost several species to extinction already: the Merriam’s elk, Audubon sheep, passenger pigeon, heath hen, great auk – these were all very abundant game species at one point and they’re now extinct.

At that time conservation wasn’t even a word in the English language. In fact, restraint, self-restraint, conserving, or saving something for tomorrow was actually something counter to the culture of the day, which was a culture of abundance. That meant an unlimited take, whether it was forest, wildlife or minerals. The empire builders of the new world landed in a cornucopia of opportunity, so Roosevelt formed Boone & Crockett. He and his compadres, George Bird Grinnell and others, were very keen on the hardy life, self-reliance and the “manly sport” of hunting. They did not want to see this end and they were watching it end because game was becoming scarce. Their initial motivation for forming the Club was to reverse the negative effects of unregulated hunting of wildlife, but very quickly realized that this would have to be a multi-pronged approach. You couldn’t just go out and protect wildlife. They realized that habitat was critically important. They also saw that there were some practices in the day that had to go away, one of them being commercial market hunting. They also knew that sportsmen of the day needed to change their ways. They needed to get off this idea that a successful hunt was how much you could shoot in a day and get them thinking about the quality of the hunt being more in proportion to the quality of the chase – not a full bag.

The very first action of the Boone & Crockett Club, believe it or not, was the protection of Yellowstone Park. Yellowstone Park was the first National Park in the country, but at that time, nobody knew what a National Park was. Yellowstone was days away by wagon and horse from the population centres of the east. Few people had seen it but this national treasure was being plundered by mining, timber and commercial market hunting interests. So the Club set out to pass legislation called The Timberland Reserve Bill, which gave the President the authority to basically grab land under federal control for the public and through that Timberland Reserve Bill, which was the first step of the Club in the legislative process, they were able to expand the size of Yellowstone Park by a million acres. They were able to block the Northern Pacific Railroad from putting a rail line through the middle of the Park and they followed that up with what is called the Yellowstone Protection Act, which actually set in stone the laws to govern and protect and manage a national park.

Through this process the Club got a taste of what it could do politically through legislative channels and it set on a course to do more in those areas. Long story long, Boone & Crockett Club, the sportsmen of the Boone & Crockett Club, were responsible for the establishment of the National Park Service, which celebrates its 100th anniversary next year. The National Forest Service, and the National Wildlife Refuge System were all products of the Club’s early efforts. Senator John Lacey of Iowa was a member of the Club and he pushed through Congress the Lacey Act, which made it a federal offence to transport illegally taken game across State lines. That essentially dropped the hammer on commercial market hunting, which as we know, was responsible for much of the decline of our bison herd. But, what was happening with bison was also happening with deer, elk, moose – anything that had a commercial value for its hide or its meat was being slaughtered.

The Club was also instrumental in establishing the funding mechanisms for conservation. Conservation has a price and sportsmen should foot that bill, so the Club was involved in passing the Pittman-Robertson Act, which is a tax on our sporting arms and ammunition that’s collected by the Federal Government and distributed to the States.

The Club was instrumental in the Federal Duck Stamp, establishing that funding mechanism, so if you turn back around and look at the first fifty years of the Boone & Crockett Club, its activities were very much focused on what is now the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, how conservation is viewed, functioned and funded in the US and Canada.

And represents the most respected model for wildlife conservation and management around the world – correct?

It’s the envy of the world, actually. Countries wish they were able to go back in time and institute some of the things that were initially put in place. The core of this model, which is absent in many other countries, is the doctrine we call the Public Trust Doctrine, you have a similar principle in Canada. The Public Trust Doctrine is: Wildlife is not owned by the government, wildlife is not owned by Royalty, the wealthy, or by corporations – wildlife is owned by the people at large and it is held in trust. It is managed in trust by expert agencies. In our country, that’s US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior – managed for the benefit and enjoyment of people.

Other countries don’t have this Model. Wildlife is owned by the Crown, Royalty, or by estate owners and the wealthy and they are the only ones who have access to it. Roosevelt’s vision was if wildlife was going to survive for future generations to enjoy, it needed stakeholders. It needed people who would pay into a system and secure wildlife and secure wildlife habitats. Essentially, he nominated sportsmen to be those people. It was a major contradiction. Here you’ve got dwindling wildlife resources, much of it happening because of what we’re hunting, much of it because of commercial market hunting and he was out stumping for the best way to save wildlife is to continue to hunt them. That was a tough sell.

It continues to be a tough sell to the non-hunting public and anti-hunting groups. It’s imperative that new and young hunters alike have a full grasp of the historical context that, truly, allows them to hunt today. But there’s no question that most, if not all non-hunters have a hard time grasping the concept that hunting helps wildlife. How do you personally tackle this question Keith?

You’re 100% correct, Adam. It’s critically important that not only hunters, but also non-hunters know the history of North American conservation for the simple fact of informed decisions. We live in democracies – the majority vote carries – and, as we know, hunting is being challenged and it’s being questioned now more than ever because the majority of people do not hunt. They don’t understand hunting and, obviously, hunting does involve the killing of wildlife and that’s unsettling to a lot of folks. But, those same people who rightfully care about wildlife and want to advocate for wildlife, they need to be exposed to this history. They need to understand how our conversation system works. They need to understand the difference in the application of conservation as opposed to preservation and protection. There are places for all three, but we simply cannot turn back the clock and say, well, we’re just going to preserve everything now. We live in shared landscapes with wildlife, these are working landscapes. Wildlife, in a lot of cases, and in a lot of areas needs to be managed. It needs stewardship.

This lack of knowledge and understanding about what conservation actually is and where it came from and how it’s benefited and how it has brought back many species from the brink of extinction is, to use a cliché, the greatest story yet to be told by the hunting community.

In my opinion, it’s the obligation of the modern sportsman or woman to fully understand and spread exactly that message. We all, myself included, need to make a concerted effort to share this history with the people we know and interact with on a regular basis.

It is. Folks won’t learn this on their own, we have to tell them and unfortunately, we’ve been remiss in that area: being vocal, being educational, standing up for what we know, sharing what we know. Sportsmen have advocated for wildlife for well over a century. They have been involved at the ground level – boots on the ground – writing the cheques, spending the time, going to the meetings, belonging to various conservation organizations, applying time and resources to the things that they care about. There is plenty of common ground here, it should never be an “us versus them” i.e. hunters vs. non hunters or anti-hunters situation. Everybody has affection for wildlife. We want to see it thrive and to see it flourish. Certainly, sportsmen don’t want to hear the last elk bugle or last wolf howl – we want wildlife with us and we’ve done an unbelievable job, if you think about it. To be able to have the large carnivores like the grizzly and the brown bear, or the polar bear still thriving in many areas is a testament to the success of this conservation system.

In other countries this is not so. Wildlife is poorly managed, if managed at all. The public has no access to it. In many countries the only wildlife that really exists, exists on private estates.

The point you make about the great bears is particularly telling. BC residents are very fortunate to have many draw opportunities to hunt grizzly bears but it’s a highly contentious topic in this Province each and every spring due to its “trophy” stigma. If by comparison, you look at the bear populations remaining across most of Europe, the opportunities here are in many ways living proof that hunting and the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation work as integral tools for the conservation of these important species.

Unfortunately this misconception, misinformation and utter lack of knowledge that we talked about earlier has spilled over into the notion that trophy hunting is a four letter word. This is being promoted incorrectly. There is the belief that trophy hunting is just wasteful hunting. Trophy hunters are just out there shooting game and leaving it to rot and only take their antlers or hides. Here in the States, there are laws against waste of game. That is just not happening.

You’re also dealing with a group of folks who have chosen to hunt selectively. They’re looking for the largest, most mature male that they can find and, if they’re unsuccessful, they’re unsuccessful and they’re okay with that. There are a lot of misconceptions about trophy hunting and that, sadly, is being used as a negative poster child against all hunting. Where bear meat is useable, it should be used and, if we need to change our ways there, we should. We should be sensitive to people’s feeling about wildlife. Historically, (grizzly or brown) bear meat was not something that was recovered from the field, but if it should be and folks feel strongly about it, then we should put that into regulation. But all other game meat is highly nutritious, wild protein, organically grown – deer, elk, moose – these are all species that hunters cherish to bring home and the procurement of healthy food is still a very strong motivation for the majority of hunters. It’s not just to go collect a head the way some folks want to paint all hunting with a negative brush.

This notion of trophy hunting being a less morally defensible kill was something I frankly used to believe myself. I wrote about my “awakening” a few months back in an article entitled Cannibalism. But in truth, what harvest or kill has the greater conservation impact? The young meat buck or doe or the past-prime breeding age, mature “trophy” that many hunters prefer to take?

The best way to answer that question is to first say that regulated hunting is a science informed activity. That’s a mouthful when you start picking it up. Basically what we’re saying here is we have the track record, we have the science, we have highly skilled biologists and wildlife managers doing their best with the resources that they have to determine what off-take should be allowed annually. Essentially, what hunters should be taking and within that, the various age classes that should be harvested. We’ve (the Club) studied this in depth many, many times over the years because there has been concern that if you’re taking a trophy, aren’t you negatively affecting the gene pool? This is the biggest and the largest and you’re targeting and removing these trophies and there was a time when this was definitely a concern until the science came back and said no, that animal that has reached Boone & Crockett calibre size through age, through nutrition, quality habitat and, depending on the species, through genetic superiority, by the time that animal is taken, he’s already passed on his genes to the overall herd health. His DNA is no different at age eight as it was at age two or three, when he first became a breeding adult. So, the idea that trophy hunting is hurting the gene pool and hurting the overall population just doesn’t hold water scientifically.

This brings us to the topic of the Record Books. The Boone & Crockett records follow right back to Roosevelt. This was part of his multi-pronged approach to conservation: if wildlife was going to recover, there needed to be some type of data set, a record of this recovery, where these animals existed, how they’re doing, etc. He enlisted sportsmen to participate in the data collection system. Now, 125 years later the record books unfortunately have been misconstrued as a glorification of hunters and that’s not anywhere near the truth or the original intent of the records program. The records program was initiated to gather harvest information and harvest data: age, location especially – we needed sportsmen to voluntarily participate in this by sending us their trophies, sending us their information. The record book has over 100 years of data of big game hunting in North America and that is essentially what the thing has become. This data tracked the recovery of species. You can see in particular States and Provinces the peaks, the valleys where these animals were taken. Today wildlife managers spend a lot of time wading through our records data testing theories, comparing management actions that they’ve taken, for instance if they liberalized the female harvest in a particular area. Over time, what has that done to the data set? Has it increased the number of Boone & Crockett entries? Has it decreased that number?

The other aspect here, and we haven’t talked about hunting ethics or fair chase yet, but the records program was also one tool the Club used to advance its principle of fair chase. We talked a little earlier about the ‘anything goes’, no game laws, no hunting seasons, no bag limits culture that existed at the turn of the century. That had to change. Through the Club’s promotion of fair chase, elevating the pursuit and hunting for the experience not the animal, gained traction through our records program. We insisted that some of these practices that were used at the time, like herding deer at night with lamps and driving them into lakes and ponds and shooting them, or hunting deer and moose bound by heavy snow were unacceptable. There were commercial harvest practices still employed by sport hunters deemed inappropriate by the Club. When people think of the Boone & Crockett records book, fair chase is synonymous with the Club and its records program because that was the tool we used to promote the concept of fair chase. But let’s clarify something now: hunting is not fair, that’s a major misconception about the word fair chase. In the English language, fair is used all kinds of ways – fair haired, fair ball, fair play, fair-weather – that implies that hunting is fair. Hunting is not fair. We have the upper hand based on our intellectual capabilities and technological capabilities, so the definition of fair in fair chase is actually the alternative definition. If you look it up in the dictionary, where fair means pleasing, acceptable in the situation, appropriate in the situation – that’s what fair and fair chase actually means within our context.

We also hear the term sport hunting used a lot. That also has some origins that date back to the turn of the 19th Century when sport hunting was used as a label to separate hunters from commercial market hunters hunting for commercial or economic gain. Everything outside of that was a sport, but the sport and sport hunting—and this is important for people to know—only refers to a sporting approach. It does not infer that hunting is a sport. It’s not a contest between other hunters. It’s not like a field sport where there is a referee and established rules that both parties have agreed to – the animals haven’t agreed to anything. Their best option is to avoid the hunter. So again, sport refers to a sporting approach and this is very much a cornerstone of the principle of fair chase.

We published a chapter from one of the Club’s recent publications Keith, Big Trophies, Epic Hunts to be exact that outlines the significance of the B & C records program. If any of our readers have not read that article, I absolutely implore them to do so because it is such an important article. It informs this discussion about records and what they really mean. To hear you describe it strengthens the importance of a records keeping program relative to applying science to conservation. Historical data allows us to really drill down on theories or decisions like the liberalization of a season. It’s truly integral to ensuring the future of wildlife.

It is, absolutely. That’s one of the reasons our minimum entry scores are so high. It’s really a reflection of quality habitat and a balance of age classes to given populations. If you drill down a little further into that – what does all that mean? Well, a trophy is something that has matured. You’re not going to find a two-and-a-half-year-old Boone & Crockett bull or ram or buck, they just don’t exist in the wild. Age is a major factor and age can be a reflection of a lot of things. Primarily, it’s a reflection of the quality of habitat and also the management of that population through the off take (hunting). When a particular population is being overhunted or being stressed through environmental events – drought, harsh winters, etc. – you’re going to lose that age class very quickly. How many times have you gone to an area to hunt and all you’re seeing is immature bucks? There is none of this larger age class present. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll likely find that there was just too much hunting pressure at one point. There was too liberal a harvest, whether it’s does, bucks, bulls and that is reflected in the data. When we publish a records book and we hold our triennial awards, it’s really a celebration of what’s working in conservation. We have the misconception that trophies are a thing of the past – back in the day, there were huge bucks and huge bulls and huge rams behind every tree and that simply was not the case. We actually are seeing more high-ranking trophies taken by sportsmen today than at any time in recorded history and I’m pretty confident when I say recorded history because we recorded the history.

Straight from the source itself!

So that tells you, “By golly, we’re doing something right!”

Absolutely.

The hope, the dream of a trophy is still very much alive. There is another misconception that only rich guys hunting private land on guided hunts are taking all the trophies. No, sorry! The same data set proves that wrong. The majority of trophies are still taken by lucky hunters, hardworking hunters, that self-reliant guy who is putting on the backpack, lacing them up and going deep, hunting hard, hunting selectively and doing his homework. That said, there are some species that are a limited supply species like desert bighorn sheep that’s not an over the counter tag option in many places. So yes, it’s true, the trophy coming in from a desert bighorn sheep is likely to have been taken on a guided hunt. Pretty much everything else, be it caribou or moose or deer species or bear species, or antelope and right on down the line—unless it’s required that you hire an outfitter or guide, which it is in a lot of places in Canada and Alaska—the majority are taken by that self-reliant hunter that was in the right place at the right time.

That’s incredible and yet again proves the value of solid records data. I’d like you to clarify something: the concept of fair chase is not as well understood as it could and should be. In the age of technology, the concept is quite often lost in translation; the idea of fair chase is something very important that new and young hunters should understand. What is B&C’s definitive view on this?

It’s critically important. The first thing to understand is that the overwhelming majority of hunters hold themselves to high ethical standards, and if they did not, hunting would simply disappear. Society would not tolerate it. That means the procurement of food and other motivations for hunting, they’re factual and true, that’s in place. But, hunting is not and, is never meant to be a guaranteed outcome. A lot of hunters hunt for the experience. They hunt for the memories and the experience and the memory is often the longest lasting trophy they’ll ever own.

Bow hunting has received a huge influx of people, mainly because of the advent of the compound bow, but here is another example of choosing a limited range weapon, honing your stalking skills and honing your glassing skills to be able to get close to take the shot. I would imagine that your folks who are primarily mountain hunters, they’re probably our biggest fair chase advocates whether they know it or not. It’s how they conduct themselves. They would not look to cut corners, cheat themselves, so to speak. If you’re a selective hunter, the chase becomes more important than the kill. The kill can actually be anti-climactic which is hard for a lot of non-hunters to understand. When you fill that tag, the hunt is over, you’re done. Fair chase is just a subset of ethical hunting. Ethics are the overarching umbrella, if you will, fair chase is just the subset of that. It’s the thing that drives people individually and it’s important to know that fair chase is really based more on the spirit of the hunt, not the written rules. We have game laws, we have regulations and unfortunately, that book seems to get thicker and thicker every year.

There are many aspects of fair chase and hunting ethics that cannot and should not be legislated. That’s the beauty of it. It should be left up to the individual to decide what makes them feel good, what actions they’re taking, how they conduct themselves so that they have no regrets. They don’t feel bad about a decision they make and, unfortunately, everybody makes a poor choice now and again, but most people self-correct. If they take a risky shot and it doesn’t turn out well, whether they miss that animal or lost that animal, or wounded the animal or had to follow up with a second shot, they won’t do that again. They’ll start getting closer. That’s the core of fair chase – do right by the animal. A lot of that gets back to the reason why people got involved in hunting in the first place. If you interview a lot of hunters, it began with an early fascination and appreciation for wildlife. How many youngsters like seeing wildlife films? Like going out into the field observing wildlife, seeing what they’re doing, where they’re living, how they interact, who’s preying upon who – and with such an appreciation, their lives become our lives. Their suffering becomes our suffering.

People don’t understand that when hunters see a dead deer on the road, that’s disturbing. It doesn’t disturb us because we didn’t get a chance to shoot that deer, it’s disturbing to sportsmen because of the waste. That animal probably suffered unnecessarily. The core of that fair chase ethic, if you will, is that initial appreciation for wildlife to where do no harm becomes a very important and driving force. Nobody likes to see animals suffer. There is a responsibility to kill quickly and that guides a lot of the fair chase ethic. Don’t take a risky shot. Don’t force a bad opportunity. Stalk closer. Walk away. Pass. Come in from a different angle. Better luck next time. That becomes a badge of honour for the majority of sportsmen and, as I said at the top of this, we’re hunting today because the majority of hunters hold themselves to an ethical code.

Naturally, fair chase begins with following the game laws, but fair chase extends well beyond game laws. There are things that are legal, but not ethical.

There are laws and due process to follow and we must start there. But, like I said, if you asked me if I know an unethical hunter, I can’t say that I do. There are some folks I know who push the line a little bit and that doesn’t work for me but, again, we’re a pretty ethical, law-abiding lot and unfortunately there are others that would like to tell folks the opposite. There are things that are happening now around the world and on social media that are really throwing hunters and hunting under the bus. It gets back to the preservationist model and people thinking we’re going to stop hunting and that’s going to save wildlife and they think that’s the same as conservation, and it’s not. Conservation is wise and prudent use without waste. Preservation is protection from use and there are areas where preservation is needed but not blanket preservation. Let nature take its course.

Absolutely.

Preservation typically does not take into account any ecological realities and it’s very short-term thinking. History has proved that, as well. We’ve had areas where we’ve tried to go in and say we’re going to protect this entire herd and this was a hard lesson learned by the Boone & Crockett Club as we were involved in it. The Kaibab Plateau in Arizona was an area that was heralded for its mule deer hunting and the thought was well, we’re going to shoot all the predators, kill all the mountain lions and coyotes, get rid of all the cattle – we would just have this dream place to hunt big mule deer. Guess what happened? The mule deer population exploded there with a lack of predators and there was a vast die off. This is where Aldo Leopold, who was the considered the father of game management, crafted his philosophies about managing entire ecosystems and entire biotic communities. You can’t just take one species and put it up on a pedestal and forsake all others in that ecosystem – that throws everything out of balance.

That’s one of those really acute examples of the unexpected outcomes when humans try to overtly control a multi-system environment that we don’t necessarily fully understand. It’s highly difficult for us to predict exactly what’s going to happen given all the permutations and connections within even a small ecosystem. Again, it speaks to the need for science in our conservation strategies.

Science has got to guide our decisions and, unfortunately, emotions are trumping science too often. That gets back to more education. People who are opposed to hunting need to take an honest look and ask themselves where the wildlife they cherish would be if it was not for science based, wildlife conservation supported by hunting. Would we have the abundance of wildlife today? History plays that out and that simply wouldn’t be the case. We’ve got, unfortunately, again too many folks thinking that everything is a National Park. Right here, close to Missoula, Montana we’ve got Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park. These were two things we talked about, Boone & Crockett’s involvement in Yellowstone and a Boone & Crocket member, George Bird Grinnell, who was instrumental in establishing Glacier National Park. The point I’m trying to make is: those Parks get massive amounts of visitors every year and they see the wildlife that lives there and they unfortunately think, well, everything should be like a National Park. If we left everything alone, all this wildlife would thrive. What they’re discounting is the fact that we live here too. The human population is not shrinking, it’s growing. We’re losing upwards of 4,000 acres a day in the US to some form of development.

Wow, I didn’t know that statistic. That’s alarming!

History also proves that our needs will come first. If we need water, we’re going take it. If we need land for grazing or crops or to put a road in, we’re going to do it. If we need minerals, or if we need natural resources from the ground we’re going to take them. We only hope that wildlife is given the consideration it deserves in those areas and that’s where sportsmen are the most vocal and the biggest advocates. We’re fighting for habitat security and making sure that our wildlife, that we’ve been able to recover, does not fold under the weight of human development any further than it has. Look at what’s going on with the Pebble Mine in Alaska and how hunters and anglers have rallied to say this is just not good, period! If we can say yes to something like the Pebble Mine that has the potential to destroy miles of pristine salmon spawning habitat, what are we going to say no to?

Absolutely. It’s such a good example of, I hope, how we can collaborate with other outdoor organizations in the future. We’ll need it.

Everything that we have currently that has sustained human development to this point has done so because of champions. Somebody championed for it. A lot of our National Parks and National monuments here, yes the government waved their hand and this is now a National Park, but individuals championed that. They lobbied for it. There are just endless examples of where people have come to together, championed to preserve or protect something to advance something, to manage something and we’ve got too much of this “us vs. them” going on. Wildlife and their habitats, which are essentially our habitat because we live here, too, need all the advocates we can get. Now, there are some folks who aren’t going to play nice no matter what, but there is plenty of common ground out there. If we can just put down this divisive nature and get some folks on the same page. Otherwise we’re just constantly battling and butting heads with each other and that’s not going to do us, or the wildlife, any good in the long run. That might be a very rose-coloured glasses way of looking at things, but hunters and hunting should not be attacked like it is. It should not be vilified quite like it is. It’s certainly misunderstood, which is leading to a lot of this, but hunters themselves need to step up. This notion that hunting is a right and not a privilege is a slippery slope. Privileges can be taken away and there are certainly things that the hunting community is doing to help fan these flames.

We’re allowing these canned hunts to go on. That’s giving hunting a black eye. There are a number of things giving hunting a black eye that are happening on our watch that most hunters feel are unacceptable. Unfortunately, there is going to be a documentary on canned lion hunting in Africa that MSNBC is going to air in the aftermath of this whole Cecil the lion mess. That has the potential to throw hunting under the bus even further and this is folks over in South Africa, somewhere, who are raising lions to be turned loose and shot and they’re calling it hunting. That’s not hunting. I guarantee you that the majority of your readers will look at that and say this doesn’t even resemble hunting. Yet, this is being portrayed to the non-hunting public as hunting. Well, where are hunters? Where are we being vocal? We can’t be quiet on some of this stuff. We get what we deserve in some aspects relative to what’s the low ground out there. Certainly canned shooting – shooting something in small enclosures or pens – that’s where some of this trophy hunting misconception is coming from. There are people out there growing trophies to be shot in these bogus hunting situations and non-hunters get exposed to that and think, “If this is hunting, I can’t support this.” You can’t blame them.

No, you can’t.

To go one step further, you start looking at how we market ourselves, the nomenclature that we use, our television shows – these aren’t doing us any good. This blood sport mentality and the whack ‘em and stack ‘em, make no apology kind of culture that has bubbled up mainly through television and morbid product names and brands isn’t helping us. I’ve got a lot of friends who are non-hunters and they stumble across this stuff and I can’t defend it. I don’t blame them for being upset by what they see: guys dancing over a dead deer and high fiving. Yes, it’s a celebration and should be a joyous moment, but there is way too much disrespect displayed and it’s certainly not helping. We’ve got to do some stuff internally and nobody likes talking about cleaning your own house or singling out a certain segment of the hunting community and saying you’re doing something wrong, but we allow some of this nonsense to continue at our own peril.

Absolutely. It speaks to the spirit of the hunt as you mentioned earlier. Steve Rinella wrote an excellent piece on his website after the Cecil fiasco, tackling the idea that as hunters we shouldn’t be outspoken against the acts of other hunters. To paraphrase his point, we may all be in the same boat but if someone keeps shooting holes in the hull I’m damned sure going to throw them overboard!

He’s 100% correct. Boone & Crockett is on the firing line with this because we promote fair chase and ethical hunting, and increasingly we’re seeing a number of folks on social media saying that all this ethics stuff just divides hunters and hunters should be united, a one brotherhood kind of thing. These fringe elements that Steve is referring to, he’s right. If someone keeps shooting a hole in the bottom of the boat, and shooting ourselves in the foot in the process, we have to step up and single these folks out. It’s hard to sell and to maintain any type of credible stance within the community, to say we advocate for wildlife, yet we turn a blind eye to this. Shooting wild hogs from helicopters with semi-automatic guns and calling it hunting, sorry! Some might say this is population control and there are places down here (in the US) where wild hogs are certainly a major problem and need to be controlled – but let’s not call it hunting, let’s call it what it is.

I couldn’t agree more. I plead our readers to inform themselves fully on what a “record” or “trophy” really represents and how it relates to the spirit of hunting and the science of conservation. And within this context don’t be afraid to defend who we are as a major contingent of the hunting community, despite what people may see on TV or in social media.

We face an information and publicity issue. For non-hunters who might stumble across a TV show sponsored by a number of blood thirstily named companies and see high-fiving and dancing etc., we need to show them the other side of it, the more spirited side of hunting.

You’re absolutely right. Working for Boone & Crockett, I have been exposed to this long history and get to look at a lot of the early journals of hunting, not just Boone & Crockett members but sportsmen around the world. There was a time when our writings were very much focused on the romance of the hunt, the romance of the wilderness, the interaction with wildlife, seeing wildlife – not necessarily just game but other species.

The back country mountain experience you described before we started the actual interview – somehow we got away from that and everything is about how to, or trophy stories but I think that spirit is still out there. It just needs to be nurtured. People want to share this and we’re seeing it more with social media and Facebook. People are coming back, not only with pictures of their game if they were fortunate but as you said, landscapes, sunsets, mountain jays, marmots, the other things that take place on a hunt.

You talked about your most memorable experience earlier. I’ve hunted for a long time have had some unbelievable memories, but they were completely overshadowed last year when I took my youngest daughter on her first deer hunt. Her experience: the drive, the game, the camp, the camaraderie, and our strategies – she was fortunate enough to take a deer – that was my trophy. I’ll have that always, and we’ll have that together always. However her life pans out, we’ll always have that. For a parent, you relish those things.

You talked about memorable hunts or memorable experiences in general, that’s unmatched. When it was all said and done, on the drive home I asked her as she was sitting in the backseat of the truck doing her homework, “You’ve been looking forward to this since you were a little kid, we did and saw lots of things, what was your most memorable part of this hunt?” Without hesitation and right out of the backseat a 13 year-old girl answered, “Spending time with you, Dad.”

Wow.

I just about drove into the ditch. I raised her. I go to her athletic events, her school plays. We have holidays together and interact on so many different levels, but I can’t put my finger on anything that compares to that type of connection or experience. Our relationship since that day is on a different plane. Kids today, they’re involved in the mobile devices, they’ve got screens all around them and iPhones and Apps etc., but this breaks through all of that. We’re planning her hunt this year. She’s looking forward to it and doing the menus and meals and looking at maps, and how we’re going to approach it, spending time at the range, getting her comfortable again with the gun. She’ll go off and be a woman and a wife and a mother someday, but we’ll always have that. It’s irreplaceable.

Absolutely.

I could literally decide I’m going to go fishing more now and call it a hunting career just based on that experience.

I don’t doubt it, that’s enough to put a bow on the hunting career!

I’d be totally fine with that. There are aspects of hunting that are deep down and have rust on them that we have to shake loose and bring to the surface. Not only for ourselves but for the continuation of our system of conservation that looks after wildlife. I get it that there are people who don’t hunt and never will hunt, but hopefully they will still be supportive of hunting once they see the value and what it means to people who do hunt, and what it means to wildlife. The folks who are out there being very vocal against hunting – where’s the alternative model besides just shutting humans off from wildlife and shutting humans off from the backcountry? That preservationist model – at some point the environmental revolution of the seventies and eighties that was in response to water and air pollution and things like that, somehow that good movement that brought us recycling and environmental consciousness has turned into preservation and anti-hunting. That’s disturbing.

How it got there is quite a history and I would again implore our readers to dig deep on that subject because there was a lot of common ground at the initial founding of this, as it were, environmental movement. That gap has widened significantly – we could point fingers at a lot of things both internally and externally but we need to focus on the future. That historical context is integral to being able to focus forward with valid science-based, rational strategies. Which segues into my next question.

Boone & Crockett is involved across an unbelievable number of projects and the organization has many facets, what are some of the most integral initiatives for the Club, let’s say over the next decade?

That’s a great question. We didn’t go too deep into the structure of the Club but the short answer is, Boone & Crockett is very diverse in its actions and its activities. We’re not a species-specific type organisation like the Wild Sheep Foundation, or the Mule Deer Foundation and the Wild Turkey Federation – they are very focused on one particular species – they’re necessary and critical for those species. Boone & Crockett is not that type of conservation organization, so our activities are very diverse.

To answer your question, one of the things that are a top priority for us is the upcoming Canadian Wildlife Congress. They held one two years ago and there is another one coming up in 2016. The Club is very engaged in collaborative conservation works with Canada, so that’s something that’s very high on our radar screen. I know Shane (Mahoney) is a member of Boone & Crockett – he’s spearheading this thing and he spearheaded the last one. Outside of that, we’ve got some things going on down here of major importance. The Club is very involved in conservation policy, as we have since the get-go, and healthy forest initiatives. Our National Forests down here are, putting it nicely, poorly managed. That same environmental pendulum we talked about that has swung too far the other way has really hamstrung our Forest Service’s ability to do its job and manage our forests properly. We’re seeing epic wildfires now. We’re seeing road closures. Logging became a four letter word not all that long ago. So, the Club is really grinding away at healthy forest legislation, untying the knot that is prohibiting proper management of our forests.

The Sportsmens’ Act issues are very much a concern. There is a Sportsmens’ Act, which is a package of legislation aimed at clearing the decks, allowing for better game management, and allowing for better hunter and angler access. The Club was very instrumental in getting our Farm Bill—that’s probably one of the single most impactful pieces of conservation legislation we have down here in the States— we got that re-authorized and re-funded. That provides a lot of money for habitat, grasslands, wetlands, bottomland and woodlands.

We’re also very much concerned about a couple of laws that we have on the books here that are well-intended laws, but they’re not working as intended. One of them is the Endangered Species Act. That needs an overhaul. We could spend all day talking about that, but the long story short is, as great as this piece of legislation was in protecting the Bald Eagle, Trumpeter Swan and the Blackfooted Ferret and some of these species that fall outside of managed game species that needed a helping hand and providing a helping hand, that same law is restricting or prohibiting sound management of a lot of other species. That needs some work and the Club is focused on that.

We’re also very much focused on a piece of legislation called the Equal Access to Justice Act. When we were dealing with our wolf recovery program here, it became very obvious that environmental groups were just constantly suing the government. They didn’t like this, they didn’t like that – they were suing over procedural things and constantly tying up this wolf recovery in court. We dug a little bit deeper and found out this law that we have allows individuals, corporations, organizations to sue the government if they think their liberties are being infringed upon and have their legal fees paid for by the government. So there are some loopholes in this law that need some serious consideration.

Wow! That is unbelievable.

What was happening was our US Fish and Wildlife Service that’s working to recover the wolf is spending all its time and money in court and diverting these financial resources that should be doing conservation projects on the ground, but they’re going to pay their legal fees. Same thing is happening with our Forest Service. They propose a logging sale on Federal public land and they’ve got to pad the budget with money because they know they’re going to get sued.

It astounds me that these supposed “environmental” groups can be so blind and self-righteous that they don’t realize how harmful these actions are to the very thing they’re claiming to protect: the environment!

We’re spending taxpayers’ money that’s earmarked for conservation and habitat and wildlife management on frivolous lawsuits. It’s not necessarily because the government is doing something wrong or somebody is doing something wrong, it’s because somebody doesn’t like it. We’ve got to get that stuff sorted out. There are a couple other areas where the Club is trying to, not abolish these laws, but tune them up, get them working again.

Then naturally, we talked about fair chase, that’s an ongoing thing. I don’t want to go deep into the whole Cecil the Lion thing, but that was a pretty telling tale. Legitimate hunting, fair chase hunting is important. Poaching, illegal hunting, the illegal trade in wildlife, ivory and things like that, which has everyone overreacting, needs to be reeled in and set right. People need to understand that hunting is not poaching and hunters and poachers are not brothers.

That’s a quick snapshot. The Club believes in being science-informed, so we put a lot of time and financial resources into funding research, funding new knowledge projects, supporting the careers of upcoming wildlife professionals and making sure that they have the tools that they need and understanding the role that hunters play in conservation, so that when they get into Federal and State agencies, and get into decision-making positions, they’re well-grounded in that piece of history.

We have programs at various major universities around the country that support this and support these upcoming wildlife professionals in their careers. So when you think of Boone & Crockett just being a records book, operationally believe it or not, about 10% of our annual budget is records. The rest is all these others I’ve just mentioned.

Wow! Although one may look at those in the context of silos, that’s just not the appropriate perspective because one is connected to the other and to the other and they must all be tackled in parallel.

These issues are all connected and interrelated and some days it makes you crazy because you’re hopping from one foot to another. Sometimes, I like to be focused just on sheep or bears or grouse or quail or turkey, but even those groups are challenged with a diversity of activities that support that critter they represent. Conservation is a complex business. There are a lot of agendas, a lot of players, a lot of stakeholders, and diversity of opinions amongst the stakeholders. It can be like herding cats at times.

I bet. I can only imagine and sympathize with the amount of work and effort required to work within such a complex system. My hat goes off to you for being as deeply involved as you are and in an organization that I believe is one of the most important organizations the North American continent has ever had the pleasure of seeing formed.

I appreciate that. I guess if there is one take-away that I wanted to make sure that your readers understand it’s this: in no time in history has the hunter conservationist community been more organized, been more on the same page and working together and individually. The representation that hunters have now is huge. Is our work done? No. Are we free from challenges? No. But there are more groups that are pro-hunting, that are funded by hunters, the membership ranks are higher than we’ve ever had. Boone & Crockett was the first, we belong to a coalition down here called American Wildlife Conservation Partners that consists of 45 groups with close to six million members and we have a voice in Washington DC. There are people on the case. If you believe all the headlines you might think the sky is falling, but we’re in a great place. There is still a lot of work to be done but nobody is sitting on their hands, let’s put it that way.

I’m glad you made that clear because it can be easy to get caught up in the notion that the sky is falling. I think we should never, in fear perhaps, let our guards down. We should also take note of those who are working as hard as they are on our behalf, which is why I’m a big proponent of joining as many of these groups as one’s budget allows. To support these initiatives and to support the people who are fighting the good fight in the halls of policy.

As a parting shot, a lot of people look at Boone & Crockett and go, well they’re a record book. I can’t belong to a record book unless I shoot a trophy, but the fact of the matter is, we have an Associate Program. Anyone can join the Boone & Crockett Club, it’s US$35 per year. You get access to all of the things that the Club is working on, our quarterly membership magazine, discounts on our books and merchandise, but I think most importantly an insider trading type of experience – inside scoops on what the Club is working on, the deep perspectives. If something is afoul, you’ll learn about why it’s afoul and who is doing what to get it fixed.

Not only from Boone & Crockett directly, but the conservation landscape in general. We’re very much an information provider in that regard, so that’s one of the primary benefits and why most people join Boone & Crockett. It’s not because of records. We have a lot of folks who are hard-core fair chase believers and they want to support that and be part of that, and that’s great, we welcome them. Bottom line is if folks are interested in what’s going on in the US and Canada in the areas of hunting, conservation advocacy, etc., I encourage them to join, we’d love to have them.

I will also add to your point of being a very important source of information. In many ways, I look at my membership with Boone & Crockett as a compass for all the things I care about as it relates to hunting, conservation, ethics or philosophical debates and discussions.

So let’s cap it off with a few rapid-fire questions. What is your number one bucket list hunt?

You mentioned it, Adam. I’ve hunted quite a bit here in the States, but I have not hunted in British Columbia. I’ve fished in British Columbia, I’m a big steelhead fly fishermen, so I’ve fished the Skeena but I’ve never done the back country, horse pack train multi-species experience and before I hang it up, that’s something I’d really like to see and do. Whether it’s a Stone sheep hunt or a moose hunt.

You were right on the doorstep of some incredible country fishing where you were!

I was. It was kind of bittersweet – I was satisfying one of my other vices, but I found myself looking up at the hills going, “man, I need to get back in there somehow” so that would certainly be on my bucket list.

Ok, now a hypothetical question: You can plant one billboard in a spot where all North American hunters would see it. What would you put on that billboard?

I’ll probably get in trouble for this from our friends over at the Elk Foundation but I’d put three simple words on it: Hunting is Conservation.

That’s a hard line to beat and a great answer because it’s the truth!

Last one. Is there a book, or couple of books, you often recommend or a book of historical significance you wish new hunters would read?

That’s a tough one. I would say from an historical context, folks should read “American Sportsmen and the Origins of Conservation” by John Reiger. I would say for new hunters, they should read “Beyond Fair Chase” by Jim Posewitz, and for all people, they should read “A Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold.

Those are some excellent recommendations.

Keith, we covered some fantastic stuff. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and really appreciate your time. I’m grateful you were able make this happen. Thank you!

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Posted by JOMH Editor