By Jock Conyngham - February 5th, 2019 - Originally published in the Montana Standard.
Like other Montanans, I earn my food through hard work. I spend each fall and winter in pursuit of big game, waterfowl, and upland birds to fill my freezer and sustain my family through the year. Game is well over 95% of our meat. This is not an easy task, nor should it be; that’s what fair chase ethics tell us. The best hunter isn’t the one with the best spot, and certainly not the one with the best gear. The best hunter is the one with both the most knowledge and the toughest work ethic. For generations, Montana’s hunters have worked hard to accumulate the requisite knowledge for successful harvests year after year. We pass on this experience and wisdom to the next generation, to our closest friends, and to those in our communities who need help harvesting healthy protein for their families.
In a grim but predictable development, the sale of geographical location data for trophy animals has recently begun in the United States. Multiple web services exist to broker the sale of geographical waypoints for trophy animals—essentially eBay for trophy hunters. Buy a trophy’s location, grab a last minute plane ticket, hire a chopper, and you can make your kill in an hour and be back to the airport lounge in time for cocktails. If you can’t make the trip or happen to kill a different animal first, you can resell the data; the first target’s vital information is your property now! It’s not hard to envision a future where the wealthiest are the only individuals with a regular chance at larger animals, and corporations give away kill data to their best customers or auction that info off at wholly unsustainable rates.
I and most other Montanans are dead set against the commercialization of wildlife. Our big game is a public resource that provides endless pleasure, benefits, and opportunities to our citizens; to commoditize data on their habitat, movements, and location would jeopardize our state’s outdoor heritage, not to mention the grocery bills of the hunters who depend on healthy populations. I wholeheartedly support State Senator Jill Cohenour’s S.B. 127, which would prohibit the sale of wildlife location and identification information for hunting purposes, and thank her for sponsoring it. This legislation has exemptions for private landowners as well as guides and outfitters operating on their own or leased land—so that objection is moot.
The Montana State Legislature has a strong record of siding with sportsmen on issues of access and equality. Please join me in asking our representatives to prioritize the swift passage of S.B. 127.
Jock Conyngham lives in Evaro and has been hunting and fishing for well over 50 years. He is a life member of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.