Where Do American Hunters and Anglers Go From Here?

After a trying year, outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen need public lands and waters more than ever

Summer of 2020. Gardening and canning supplies sold out. Ammo shelves empty. Fishing tackle sales booming. Gun sales breaking all records. ­Kayaks, canoes, and rafts sitting in the beds of pickups, strapped to the roofs of every imaginable make and model of car. Campgrounds full. At nightfall on an eastern national forest, so many campfires burning that a survey of the landscape from a high point seems to show the Mongol hordes invading.

Over the past decade, and especially in the pandemic year of 2020, Americans have rediscovered our public lands and waters in a way that has no precedent. Our politics, for so long mired like an overloaded wagon in rain-wet gumbo clay, is lurching forward to catch up to the people. For most of my life, a candidate for office could say “I’m pro–­Second Amendment!” and guarantee the outdoorsperson’s vote even while the candidate’s voting record clearly shows that he supports gutting clean water and wildlife protections or selling off public lands. That has changed. We know now that we can have pro–Second Amendment candidates who will vote for clean water, public lands, and pragmatic environmental protection. This is one of the few times in our lives and in our history where we can will something new and wonderful into being.

For years now, friends have been asking me why I have so relentlessly kept on writing and reporting on conservation and the environment. I once wrote a book on historic firearms. I sometimes write about dogs, guns, and fishing—and truth told, those stories and articles almost certainly draw more readers than my conservation writing. But I always answer my friends with this: I keep writing about conservation because in no other realm are there so many problems that could so easily be fixed, and that, once fixed, could have such a huge and positive impact on our country.

This year, 2020, we Americans successfully passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which will address the shameful backlog of maintenance in our national parks and on our public lands. The act includes permanently authorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund and making sure that the money—our money—is put to the uses for which it is intended. The act had tremendous support from both Republicans and Democrats, and was one of the few things in this hot, raucous, COVID-­ridden, riotous summer that we could all agree on. We love our land. We are going to make sure that we can enjoy it, protect and restore it, and pass it on to our children and grandchildren in as good or better shape than we found it. We will accept no lesser bargain. We refuse, wholeheartedly, to lower our expectations. American politicians of any party or affiliation can recognize this fact, or they can accept their destiny of irrelevance.

So, where do we go from here?

We go fishing and hunting and shooting and wandering. We are building an economy based on self-reliance and the joy of birdsong at sunset and dawn, or the simple beauty of a knot perfectly tied, a shot placed dead center, an elk steak on a grill. We vote for those who will act to protect and steward those resources that make all this glorious outdoor life possible for us all. We claim the power of our citizenship and we engage, alone and together in conservation and sportsmen’s groups, as is required of the participants in the most dynamic and interesting democratic republic the world has ever seen. And then, when we get weary of our burdens of work and republic and making sure the roof is tight before the winter snows, we go hunting and fishing and shooting and wandering again.

That is where we go from here.