I’d just wrapped up my “Western Whitetail 101” seminar at the 2016 Denver International Sportsmen’s Expo. I was busy answering questions from a small group of whitetail addicts who’d stuck around after my presentation. My friend and hard-core outdoorsman Chris Roe was getting ready for the elk seminar he was about to give, so my fellow whitetail enthusiasts and I moved behind the stage to let Chris set up. Chris always draws a crowd. His tactics are solid, his research is sound and he has a great way of drawing people in.
That was when I heard a low grumble. When I glanced toward the stage, I saw a man was arguing with Chris. The man was clearly angry. Then I heard Chris say, “I’m sorry you feel that way, but this is about conservation.” I knew at that moment something was about to go awry.
Excusing myself from my small group, I rejoined Chris on the stage. If you believe in something, you stand for it, right? In that moment the anti-hunters swarmed out of the crowd, pulling out images of animals inked with slogans like “We Want To Live” and “We Want Freedom.”
The group came down the aisles and formed a line in front of the stage. Chris and I glanced at one another and just shook our heads as the chanting got louder and louder. I was impressed with how the outdoorsmen in the crowd responded. Most stood, but very few engaged the group. Many pulled out their phones and started videoing. A few, after several minutes, asked the protesters to leave. They did not.
In the end, it took action by members of the ISE Team to guide the group off to the side. There, the protesters formed a second line along the outside aisle and continued their chant.
In the end, Chris lost about 15 minutes of his seminar time and the crowd of outdoorsmen were on edge. I was furious. I had brought my wife and three kids to watch me speak, and it’s difficult to explain to children the level of hatred one person can have for a complete stranger. My eight-year-old daughter looked at a woman holding a sign that read “I Love Hunting Accidents,” then peered up at me through worried eyes and asked, “Daddy, does that lady want you to die?”
Of course, we all know that anti-hunting groups are out there. We know they’re well funded. We know they are, at least to some extent, well organized. This particular group had a couple of gentlemen snapping pictures and several running video. They paid money to enter the show with the single purpose of protesting a seminar or two.
But knowing they’re out there and facing them in person are two very different things. And while I’m sure those protesters hoped to change some minds, it seems more likely that their main purpose was simply to make a lot of noise.
I was also struck by how uneducated the protesters were when it came to hunting and conservation – it would have been funny if it weren’t so serious. I mean, many of the protesters carried leather purses or wore leather boots. And then there were the signs. One that read “We Want To Live” pictured a pair of spawning sockeye salmon. Those “red” salmon were making their annual spawning run and had only a few days left to live. Talk about irony!
Facing those protesters made me more committed than ever to do everything in my power to protect our sports and our way of life. We all need to do our part to stand up against the anti-hunting crowd and make our voices heard. Joining groups like the Pope & Young Club, the Boone and Crockett Club, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Mule Deer Foundation – among others – can ensure that we sportsmen are as well funded and well organized as those who oppose us.