Written by Trey Curtiss and Kylie Schumacher
BHA has often touted that the “backcountry” portion of our organization's name is not only synonymous with wilderness; rather, the backcountry is a state of mind.
Whether your backcountry is a secluded portion of the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex in Montana, or a woodlot sectioned off by busy roadways outside Atlanta, BHA defines backcountry by simple guidelines: a place to find solace and derive a deeper connection to the natural world.
As a public lands advocacy organization, we know that to move the needle on important conservation issues, we must have the will of the people. But, before they care, we must show them why. To understand the importance of advocating for public land access, wildlife habitat, clean water, clean air and so on, we must first help those people connect with the same places and experiences we all know and love.
In 2022, BHA brought two programs to new audiences. The first, our core education program, Hunting for Sustainability and the second, a test program, Explore Hunting.
Hunting for Sustainability - Engaging College Students in Hunting, Advocacy, and Public Lands Conservation
Hunting for Sustainability started in 2015 as a way to create new, conservation-minded hunters, but it has since grown in practice and purpose. H4S, as we call it here, has evolved to include less traditional but arguably more important components of hunting such as ethics, cooking and advocacy.
These workshops create connections to the outdoors through hunting experiences with the intent of building a coalition of new conservationists to protect the places and wildlife they’ve come to depend on. In short, it's hard to advocate for something you have no connection to. H4S is about creating a louder, diverse and more impactful voice for lands, waters and wildlife.
BHA hosted six H4S workshops in 2022, aimed at students and young adults in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, Montana and Arizona. Workshops varied in format and species, ranging from turkey and small game to big game and waterfowl. Of the 200 applicants, 75 were chosen to participate in the three-day workshops. Motivations varied from the search for self-sufficiency, the desire to be closer to their food or the chance to contribute to wildlife management.
Around campfires and fireplaces, attendees discussed the nuances of hunting ethics. Around stovetops and grills, attendees ate wild game and learned how to use the whole animal. Through rain, snow and sunshine, attendees experienced their public lands and the wildlife that call them home. By staying on-site in cabins, campgrounds and old homesteads, attendees were afforded the unique opportunity to forge friendships with wardens, game and fish personnel, chapter leaders and peers. In the end, 75 people made new connections to the outdoors and to places that may one day need their help; with the addition of sessions on conversation advocacy, we sought to give them the voice they’ll need to do so.
Explore Hunting - Meeting People Where They Are
To reach new and underrepresented urban audiences, we trialed our Explore Hunting workshops in five cities in 2022: Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Portland, New York City and San Francisco. The workshops were designed to build community, broaden conservation and celebrate wild food. In short, we wanted to introduce urban audiences to hunting and conservation and relay the importance of supporting them. We partnered with organizations Hunters of Color and Minority Outdoor Alliance, along with state fish and wildlife agencies, and leaned on the expertise of BHA chapters and chapter leaders. The program was broken into two parts at locations that were easily accessible by public transit. First, we hosted a community night. Like a pint night, well-known as one of BHA’s marquee events, we offered a space for novice and seasoned hunters alike, as well as those just interested in learning more about hunting and conservation, to join in a social setting to meet conservation leaders and members, agency personnel and others.
Like the community night, the second portion of the workshops were free, open to the public and easily accessible. The program was broken into four different “campfire sessions.” We started the day off with a panel discussion, hosting a diversity of speakers to discuss motivations for hunting, how hunting ties to conservation and the ethics of hunting. On ethics, we detailed ethical dilemmas in the field, as well as the ethical dilemmas of sourcing your own protein from wild sources. We followed that discussion with a presentation on basic skills and gear to hunt safely and more effectively. Participants were able to see all the gear needed and ask questions about the different varieties. After basic skills and gear, we were joined by a conservation officer to discuss basic rules and regulations that surround hunting, with an emphasis on how to learn more. We ended the day with a butchering and processing demonstration. Working with each agency and BHA members, we were able to obtain wild game, from squirrels to pheasants, ducks, geese, deer and more. In many cases, participants had the ability to practice hands-on butchering themselves. Where possible, we cooked and taste-tested the wild game and, in all cases, showed participants how to properly wrap and store the game for later consumption with a strong emphasis on using as much of the animal as possible.
We wanted this to be a 30,000-foot view of hunting and conservation to help garner support for continued or future advocacy. With the help of BHA chapters, state agencies and our partner organizations, we were able to engage over 250 new people on BHA’s mission and values.
Impacts - Fostering Public Land Advocates
The primary goal of both Hunting for Sustainability and Explore Hunting has always been to make hunting supporters and conservation advocates. While we will continue to provide avenues, opportunities and communities for these new hunters to get afield, our biggest achievement is teaching people to see hunting through a conservation lens.
Many students who participated in our Hunting for Sustainability workshops are going into wildlife or natural resources professions. For the folks in urban areas, our Explore Hunting workshops met current and potential advocates where they are. For people who grew up around hunting and angling, there’s a lot of information taken for granted: the fact that hunting is highly regulated with tags, laws and limits; that license fees and taxes on hunting equipment go directly to wildlife and their habitats; and the fact that most of us hunt and fish by a set of ethics and values that demonstrate the utmost respect for the places and wildlife we pursue. But, for many participants, these were brand new lessons learned.
A secondary outcome of these workshops was being able to showcase hunting in a more positive light. Like it or not, the fate of our hunting pastime depends largely on how non-hunters view the sport.
By highlighting topics like ethics, cooking and advocacy, we are not only showing participants that hunters are more than killers in camo; we are also creating a new cohort of hunters who start their hunting journeys with these values front and center.
Equipped with annual BHA memberships, we will spend the next year engaging these new members in our advocacy work as part of our community. However, we are stoked when hunting and angling hits a chord and lights a spark to get out on public lands; for the only way to advocate effectively for something is to experience it for yourself.
BHA would like to thank the following partners for their help with H4S and Explore Hunting: Opportunity Outdoors, Modern Carnivore, National Wild Turkey Foundation, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, G&H Decoys, Boss Shotshells, OnX Maps, Agate Lake Resort, Bill Cook Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, Wisconsin DNR, Minnesota BHA, North Carolina BHA, Timber to Table, Teller Wildlife Refuge, Arizona Wildlife Federation, Southern Arizona Quail Forever, Arizona BHA, Filson, Finex Cast Iron Cookware, Hunters of Color, Minority Outdoor Alliance, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, New York Department of Environmental Conservation, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife, OR BHA, PA BHA, CA BHA, NY BHA, GA BHA., Patagonia Atlanta, Metropolitan Rod & Gun Club