Those who have followed my work through the years know I am an ardent believer that all sportsmen and women must actively engage in the never-ending fight against the anti-hunters, gun-grabbers and those who would say or do anything to try and end our way of life. That’s why I am a big supporter of the Sportsman’s Alliance.
The group began back in 1977 as the Wildlife Legislative Fund of America and Wildlife Conservation Fund of America after Ohio Ballot Issue 2 threatened Ohio’s trapping community. After leading the fight to successfully defeat the bill, the group was officially incorporated in 1978. During the summer of 2015, its name was changed to the Sportsmen’s Alliance (SA) in an effort to decrease name length and enhance brand recognition.
In 1982 the group actively supported Common Sense Amendments to the Endangered Species Act that would protect our outdoor heritage from coast to coast. They also helped create hunter harassment legislative language that over the next decade would be implemented in all 50 states. That protection is still in place today and SA is now working on measures to protect sportsmen from harassment and cyber-bullying after the hunt. SA also helped defeat a 1983 ballot issue aimed to ban moose hunting in Maine. Out of this victory, SA would create the Protect What’s Right campaign to utilize the vast network of conservation clubs to educate the public and advance their mission. At one point, as many as 1,500 conservation clubs from coast to coast united under the Protect What’s Right banner. Shortly after, SA created The Sportsmen’s Legal Defense Fund (SLDF), making it the only entity with the sole purpose of defending sportsmen’s rights in the courts. It is still winning precedent-setting cases for sportsmen today.
Also understanding how important it is to introduce outdoor sports to the next generation, in 2001 the Trailblazer Adventure Program was created to reach a new generation of hunters and anglers by introducing youth and their families to an outdoor lifestyle. Holding the first pilot program in Atlanta in 2001, the Trailblazer Adventure Program would develop into the nation’s leading outdoor youth education program, reaching 1 million participants in just nine years. Today, the program is nearing the 2 million participant plateau.
SA expanded its work to get newcomers in the field through the development of the Families Afield program, a collaborative effort by Sportsmen’s Alliance, National Shooting Sports Foundation and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) with support from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation. Families Afield continues to be a leading program to open the door to a new generation of hunters. The hallmark of the program is a “try before you buy” approach, allowing new hunters to obtain an apprentice license and hunt under the watchful eye of an experienced hunter before taking a hunter education course. The program has been implemented in 35 states across the country and surpassing one million apprentice hunting licenses sold.
In recent years, SA has worked against a nationwide wave of attacks on the sporting dog community by the animal rights lobby, setting the stage for the development of the Dog Wars campaign. The effort protects sporting dog owners from anti-hunters and thus far, SA has monitored and worked on more than 350 bills, many of them restrictive kenneling bills masked as “puppy mill” legislation. To date, no bills have passed in any state that restrict sportsmen in raising and utilizing hunting dogs.
SA prides itself on being the sharp end of the spear when it comes to fighting anti-hunters nationwide. Examples? After an 8-year fight, in 2010 the group achieved a monumental victory to ensure hunting access on 100 million acres of the National Wildlife Refuge system by defeating the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) granted SA’s request to de-list the Western Great Lakes Region wolves from the endangered species list in 2011, making way for wolf hunting seasons to reopen. In 2012 SA pushed federal legislation aimed at protecting hunting, fishing and trapping on public lands, otherwise known as the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, and in 2014 SA was instrumental in once again defeating HSUS in the battle to preserve bear hunting in Maine.
I was in an Idaho black bear camp this past June with new SA President and CEO Evan Heusinkveld and Brian Lynn, VP of Marketing and Communications. We had several long chats about the future of hunting and how SA is fighting for our rights despite a tiny staff and miniscule budget. They definitely play much bigger than they are, and there is no doubt about their commitment. The first thing I did when I got home was send them a membership check. I hope you’ll check them out and, if you like what you see, do the same.
Because the battle is never-ending, and we can’t afford to lose.