National Hunting and Fishing Day, established by Congress in 1972 and celebrated the fourth Saturday of every September, remains the most effective grassroots efforts ever undertaken to promote the outdoor sports and wildlife conservation.
In the late 1800s, hunters and anglers were the earliest and most vocal supporters of conservation and scientific wildlife management. They were the first to recognize that expanding civilization and unregulated market hunting of wildlife were threatening the future of many species.
Led by fellow sportsman President Theodore Roosevelt, these early conservationists called for the first laws restricting the commercial slaughter of wildlife. They urged sustainable use of fish and game, created hunting and fishing licenses, and lobbied for taxes on sporting equipment to provide funds for state conservation agencies.
These actions were the foundation of the North American wildlife conservation model, a science-based, user-pay system that would foster the most dramatic conservation successes of all time. Populations of white-tailed deer, elk, antelope, wild turkey, wood ducks and many other species began to recover from decades of unregulated exploitation.
During the next half-century, in addition to the funds they contributed for conservation and their diligent watch over the returning health of America’s outdoors, sportsmen worked countless hours to protect and improve millions of acres of vital habitat—lands and waters for the use and enjoyment of everyone.
In the 1960s, hunters and anglers embraced the era’s heightened environmental awareness. The Safari Club International (SCI), Ducks Unlimited (DU), Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), and many other hunting/conservation organizations made extraordinary efforts. But average Americans were mostly unaware of these groups’ incredible wildlife and environmental conservation accomplishments, and didn’t understand the crucial role that sportsmen had played in the conservation movement.
The first to suggest an official day of thanks to sportsmen was Ira Joffe, owner of Joffe’s Gun Shop in Upper Darby, Pa. In 1970, Pennsylvania Gov. Raymond Shafer adopted Joffe’s idea and created “Outdoor Sportsman’s Day” in the state. In June 1971, Sen. Thomas McIntyre, N.H., introduced Joint Resolution 117 authorizing National Hunting and Fishing Day on the fourth Saturday of every September. Rep. Bob Sikes, Fla., introduced an identical measure in the House.
With determined prompting from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Congress unanimously passed both bills. On May 2, 1972, President Nixon signed the first proclamation designating the fourth Saturday of every September as National Hunting and Fishing Day. He wrote, “I urge all citizens to join with outdoor sportsmen in the wise use of our natural resources and in insuring their proper management for the benefit of future generations.”
By late summer, all 50 governors and over 600 mayors had joined in by proclaiming state and local versions of National Hunting and Fishing Day. National, regional, state and local organizations staged some 3,000 “open house” hunting- and fishing-related events everywhere from shooting ranges to suburban frog ponds, providing an estimated four million Americans with a chance to experience, understand and appreciate traditional outdoor sports.
Through various licenses, permits, stamps and fees, hunters and fishermen provide the vast majority of the funds for state wildlife departments. Thus, today’s wildlife conservation efforts are funded largely by hunters and anglers, as well as by the excise taxes that hunters and anglers pay on certain types of outdoor recreational equipment such as firearms, ammunition and fishing gear. These funds are used to support wildlife conservation programs, provide hiking trails and outdoor recreation opportunities, upgrade and manage habitat (which also helps non-game species), etc.
Across America, millions of acres of habitat have been purchased by private hunting organizations. Numerous local and national hunting and fishing clubs also provide, at their own expense, fun and informative education outreach programs in which knowledgeable instructors introduce young people to fishing and hunting in a safe, professional environment. They are aware that hands-on, value-based conservation is the only conservation that works.
There are many opportunities available if you want to give a traditional outdoor sport a try yourself, introduce someone new to the outdoors, or get involved with a conservation organization’s outdoor program. Check out this list of organizations to find one of most interest to you. Take the kids fishing, or take the whole family to spend some time in the great outdoors today! You can also download and print some free activity sheets at http://www.nhfday.org/Page/Presentation-tools-and-handouts.aspx