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Hunters And Sportsmen

Sleeping on the Job

Since the late 19th century, hunters concerned about the future of wildlife and the outdoor tradition have made countless contributions to the conservation of the nation's wildlife resources. Today, millions of Americans deepen their appreciation and understanding of the land and its wildlife through hunting. Hunting organizations contribute millions of dollars and countless hours of labor to various conservation causes each year.

Hunting is an important tool for wildlife management. Hunting gives resource managers a valuable tool to control populations of some species that might otherwise exceed the carrying capacity of their habitat and threaten the well-being of other wildlife species, and in some instances, that of human health and safety.

We share migratory birds with Canada, Mexico and other countries, the federal government has ultimate responsibility for regulating migratory bird hunting nationwide. Through a regulatory process that begins each year in January and includes public consultation, they establish the framework that governs all migratory bird hunting in the United States. Within the boundaries established by those frameworks, state wildlife agencies have the flexibility to determine season length, bag limits, and areas for migratory game bird hunting.

Each state has primary responsibility and authority over the hunting of wildlife that resides within state boundaries. State wildlife agencies that sell hunting licences are the best source of information regarding hunting seasons, areas open/closed to hunting, etc. (Hunting of migratory birds such as ducks and geese is managed cooperatively by state fish and wildlife agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). Migratory waterfowl hunters must possess both a state hunting license and a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (Duck Stamp), and each hunter needs a Harvest Information Program (HIP) number for each state in which they hunt migratory birds.

Headed for the fishing hole? You won't be alone - one out of five Americans heads for it, too. Plus, recreational fishing accounts for more than $116 billion in economic output and provides more than 1 million jobs. Overall, anglers spent $14.7 billion on fishing trips in 2001 and $17 billion on equipment; over 34 million people fished; approximately 28.4 million anglers were freshwater fishermen while 9.1 were saltwater fishermen; anglers fished 16 days, on average, and spent an average of $1,046 on their sport.

Fishing generates tremendous economic benefit through taxes on fishing equipment. These revenues are paid by anglers and spent by State resource agencies on aquatic habitat enhancement, fishing and boating access, education, and invasive species eradication.

The National Wildlife Refuge System manages over 270 National Wildlife Refuge Fishing Programs that include everything from saltwater fishing to using ice tipups on high elevation lakes. The National Fish Hatchery System offers fishing opportunities at or near many hatcheries. It is abundantly clear that fishing has, and continues to have, an incredible influence on healthy fisheries populations, and abundant and quality angling opportunities.

A strange word suddenly appeared in the American vernacular after the Civil War. The word was “sportsman.” It served to define a certain kind of gentleman who took his leisure with rod and gun. And that was the curiosity of it, for the pursuit of fish and game on this continent had seldom before been associated with leisure. One hunted or fished in order to eat. The rod and the gun rested next to the ploughshare. Men who went afield for amusement were regarded as scalawags undoubtedly cursed with addiction to liquor, cards, and cockfights as well. But the war, and the onrushing force of the industrial revolution, had somehow rolled part of the Puritan ethic aside. Now, rod and gun could be perceived not only as tools of subsistence but as accouterments of a new aristocracy. Now, more often than not, the fellow with burrs on his cuffs would be hailed as a pillar of the community.

By most hindsight accounts, the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first decade or two of the twentieth fall within a period that might fairly be called the gilded age of field sports. In the cities of the East, thousands of well-to-do gentlemen turned toward the out-of-doors with a passion and a purpose that would have shocked the sensibilities of their pragmatic forefathers. Bankers and lawyers, doctors and professors, merchants and ministers donned their heavy tweeds and streamed into the countryside in quest of woodcock and quail and mallard and deer and trout. From Baltimore they sallied forth to Chesapeake Bay, from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to the Poconos, from New York to the Catskills and the Adirondacks, from Boston to the wildwood of Maine. Some ventured even into the sylvan reaches of Canada, while in the South elaborate expeditions sought game birds of various kinds. And always the sportsmen went in the company of their peers, for the common workingman had neither the time nor the means to participate. To be properly afield in the gilded age, one necessarily had to be affluent, and preferably to the manner born.

There was a measure of incongruity about this new American sporting breed. It seemed to be influenced by something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. Old was its admiration for the crisp, efficient style of British aristocrats who had been dropping grouse on the tamed Scottish moors, or dredging trout from the chalk streams of Devon, for more than a century. New was the Americans’ fascination with wilderness; Britons had not experienced that on native ground for one thousand years. Borrowed was the Old World’s proper code of sporting conduct, which would soon crimp the style of stateside poachers and market hunters. And blue was the blood of the gentry; or possibly, in later years, the melancholy understanding that one might well outlive the end of the game.

About this time, a Pennsylvania angler named Theodore Gordon returned to America from a visit to England. There, from the banks of the old country’s trout streams, he had watched English anglers manipulating a new kind of fly. Unlike the wet flies then in vogue in America, this one—properly dressed—floated on the surface of the water.

Gordon hastened home to anoint the dry fly in American waters at Junction Pool, where the Willowemoc joins the Beaverkill near Roscoe in Sullivan County. To a large extent, it was a baptism for the region as well as the fly. Without benefit of a best-selling book or even a mocking press, Gordon and his floating flies opened the Catskills to a rush of anglers as surely as Murray had piped them into the Adirondacks a generation before. Up the long grade from the Hudson they came in the parlor cars of the New York, Ontario & Western, to Frank Keener’s Antrim Lodge and other inns catering to the fly-fishing trade; and later, as the pressure mounted in numbers of anglers and streamside space, to the private clubs and preserves at Balsam Lake and Debruce. Already the experience of the North Woods was repeating itself in the Catskills. But time at last was running short for the gentle sportsmen of the Eastern seaboard.

The breed itself was not without blame. It had preached a rigid code of conduct—that the hunter or angler should never take more than his table might need. But the sporting class was not unlike any other: there were always a few who would rub against the grain. One early visitor to the Adirondacks boasted in a hotel register that in only a few weeks time he had taken 350 brook trout, 39 partridge and woodcocks, and 2 deer. And just six years after publication of his controversial book, Preacher Murray was moved to lament that “stupid greed” had already diminished the trout and deer of the Adirondacks. He did not explain that a certain amount of pragmatic greed was needed then just to feed the camps and inns his book had inspired; or that in one summer month he had slaughtered five deer with his own rifle. Despite tighter game laws over the years, similar excesses continued into the twentieth century.

The gilded age of the field sports had begun at a time when the population of the United States stood at 30,000,000. By 1900 it had grown to 76,000,000; by 1920 to 106,000,000. By 1920, too, the old plank roads into the mountains had been paved with hardtop, and the wealthy (and even some of the not-so-wealthy) were out upon them in their Model T Fords. The length of the work week had dwindled. Factories and offices were beginning to buzz with the prospect of paid vacations. The number of licensed hunters had doubled in ten years, and mass-production techniques were turning out rifles and shotguns at half the prewar cost. On opening day of the trout season, anglers stood elbow to elbow at Junction Pool. Campers thought twice before drinking from forest pools; in time they’d have halazone tablets.

To be sure, the good life in the deep woods has not vanished altogether. Even today there are still a few elegant camps in Maine, clubs in the Poconos and Catskills, preserves in the Adirondacks where the wealthy may yet pursue the pleasures of forest and stream—when they are not otherwise engaged on the golf course, the tennis court, or the ski slope. New words and phrases are being bandied about on the summer porches of the lingering woodland retreats. The word “sportsman” is not often among them.

John G. Mitchell. Gentlemen Afield. American Heritage. October/November 1978; Volume 29, Issue 6.

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