It’s tempting for those of us who love the outdoors to think of ourselves as belonging to one of two groups. There’s my own crew of sportsmen and women, known as the hook-and-bullet crowd; and then there’s the outdoor recreationists or “nonconsumptive users,” a term for hikers, climbers, kayakers, birders, mountain bikers, and others who might enjoy being around wild creatures without ever eating one for dinner.
From cold shoulders at the trailhead to outright hostility, the tension between these groups can be traced back to at least 1903, when the preservationist John Muir asked President Theodore Roosevelt, a dedicated hunter, when he was going to get beyond “the boyishness of killing things”—a glib question to put to a man whose hands-on relationship with nature later inspired him to protect about 230 million acres of American land.
Even today, while I spend as much time and effort advocating on behalf of wildlife habitat as I do hunting in it, some people who spot me with my rifle are never going to imagine anything but a callous hick who inflicts suffering on animals while littering backcountry roads with beer cans. Of course, the stereotypes run both ways. While a professional nature photographer may advocate for conservation through their work, a hunter may view them as profiting from wildlife without financially contributing to federal and state conservation programs, the latter of which are funded primarily through the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses and the collection of excise taxes levied against guns, ammo, archery equipment, and fishing supplies. In 2017, these fees added up to over $2.7 billion.