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Man on A Mission: The Extended Interview

NRA President Ron Schmeits shares more of his thoughts on gun ownership, hunting and the shooting sports—and on why the NRA is so critical to freedom’s future.

5/7/2010 -- For the original version of this interview that is featured in the June issue of American Hunter Magazine, click here

How did you feel when you attended your first NRA Board meeting?
It was overwhelming to meet the 75 other directors and a dedicated executive staff working for every American. That is when I realized the depth of the NRA and how it is the Second Amendment that protects all of our other rights. Once you take away an individual’s right to self-protection, you control that individual and, ultimately, the general population. So as I sat there listening to about 40 different committees make reports to the NRA Board, it was amazing to acknowledge what a great organization the NRA is and all the good things it does.

 The NRA Whittington Center in Raton, N.M., is in your own backyard, but for many NRA members it is far from home.  Why should all hunters and shooters make an effort to visit this facility?
We’ve got 33,000 acres spanning 52 square miles for hunters and shooters to enjoy, including 18 different shooting ranges. The Center will always be a place where NRA members can exercise their freedom to hunt, shoot and even camp on the property for weeks at a time. Wildlife at the Center includes everything from elk, antelope and bear to turkey and deer. Range officers have been known to stop shooting events because a bear or turkey is walking downrange. Where else can you be so close to nature and see so many wild game species?

What was your impression when you first attended an NRA Annual Meeting?
My first impression was beyond description. Viewing so many exhibits and seeing what was available for hunters and shooters firsthand was like walking into a candy store. It was a social gathering of like-minded, freedom-loving individuals from across the United States as NRA members joined one another for informative seminars, entertainment and the members’ meeting where executives updated gun owners on what was happening in the organization as a whole. Every NRA member in attendance—and at every meeting since—has been upbeat and happy just to be there.

I feel that all NRA members should attend at least one annual meeting. Last year in Phoenix, I met several first-time attendees who walked away saying, “We really didn’t realize. We’ve gone to other conventions but the NRA meeting is just overwhelming with so much to see and do.” Years later, I’m still overwhelmed by it.

Considering how quickly NRA membership has grown in recent months, how do we retain the influx of new members?
For starters, we need to continue to work through our affiliated gun clubs and associations and through NRA-ILA to get new members involved. Such involvement could be in the political process or in the firearm training process. It also could be in the form of simply participating in the shooting sports. We need to keep new members involved, enticed and informed about what we’re doing.

What is your favorite game animal and hunting method?
That’s a tough one because I like all types of hunting and just being outdoors. I enjoy varmint hunting and the challenges of shooting out to 300 or 400 yards. There’s camaraderie with those that are out there with you as you compete with yourself to enhance your personal shooting skills. I also enjoy hunting in Africa for plains game because you never know what hunting opportunities will arise. And if you’re elk hunting during the rut, you may be bugling at a bull far in the distance that suddenly answers so close to you that you can feel the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

It’s every single one of these experiences that make hunting so enjoyable, but I have to say upland hunting may be my favorite. I grew up in the Midwest, and I don’t think there’s anything better than taking that shotgun and walking through the field. Having a bevy of quail explode in front of you or a beautiful pheasant break into the air is the thrill of a lifetime.

As a fan of upland hunting, does this mean you particularly enjoy shotgunning?
Yes, I do. Of course, one reason I enjoy it so much is because when my wife, Ann, and I go to the range, I can outshoot her on the clays course. But, I admit that if we go to the range and shoot pistols, she beats me every time!

What are a few of your favorite hunting memories?
There are two that really hit me. The first was a horseback hunt for mountain lion in New Mexico. We hit the lion, but it wasn’t a killing shot. We had to track it on foot in the snow through timber and rocks. It backtracked using the same tracks. I finally harvested it hours later.

The second occurred last year—in August 2009—while hunting in Africa for Cape buffalo. The tracker had found buffalo tracks, though I couldn’t see them. We followed the tracks through rough terrain over hills, down gullies and across pastures. After six hours we finally caught up to the herd while it was taking an afternoon siesta. As we approached, the herd knew something was wrong, but it couldn’t see us. I still remember the big Cape buffalo bull looking straight at me at 140 to 150 yards as I fired. When the bull turned and ran with the rest of the herd, my PH said I’d missed, though I knew I had not. Fortunately, we had a videographer, Tim Walsh, with us taping the hunt for “Under Wild Skies.” After Tim played back the tape so we could review it, we saw it was hit perfectly. There was no blood trail for the first 50 or 75 yards but then we saw a trail that became heavier as we followed it. In another 100 yards, there was the bull.

Why did you want to hunt in Africa? How did you prepare for this kind of trip?
Africa is exciting, and hunting there is a big deal. On my first trip, I hunted plains game in Namibia. Before the members of my hunting party and I ever made arrangements with an outfitter and a PH, we visited with outfitters from several African countries. It’s important to develop a comfort level with the outfitter in advance. We also visited with as many hunters who had been there as possible. Most of the ones who did not have great experiences didn’t do the detailed planning. Trip preparation has to be done far enough ahead of time just to get proper air connections. While planning our first trip, we documented everything we did. My second trip was easier because we all knew what we wanted and we’d been through it once.

As for the list of African game animals you want to hunt, it will depend, in part, on the area you will be hunting. Also, if you are hunting plains game—whether you plan to hunt three to four animals or eight or 10—you will have the opportunity to talk with your guide once you’re there and add to that list or change it as you go.

Have you shared your wild game meat with friends who are non-hunters? 
Oh, yes. Ann and I enjoy inviting our friends for dinner to share our harvest. After I go pheasant or quail hunting, there are always people who want to share in that. And when they learn I was successful on an elk, deer or antelope hunt, they ask, “Won’t you share that loin with me?” That’s especially true if I have been hunting in south Texas for nilgai, which I think is one of the finest wild game meats you’ll ever eat. Many friends also ask if we have extra meat they can take home to share, which we do whenever possible.

What was your most challenging hunt?
I think every hunt entails a special challenge; some challenges are just greater than others. I’m what I would call a conservative shooter, and I consider myself a fairly good shot. I don’t take long shots, whether it’s at big game or pheasants, and if I think a scenario presents a “maybe” shot, then I don’t take it. When you’re out there stalking or you’re hunting mountain lion on a fresh trail, just being able to follow the tracks is a challenge. I have such admiration for the PHs in Africa and think it’s amazing how they can follow a track just by looking at a turned leaf or a disturbed blade of grass.

How do you get others interested in taking advantage of NRA training programs and shooting competitions?
The most important thing is to promote both educational involvement and participation in competitive and recreational shooting events. It’s like a show-and-tell. You need to take a person to the range and help him or her take the first step—to enjoy that very first experience—and then continue to invite that person to participate. For some people it’ll take only once. In my experience, once new shooters are on the range, they see what they can do and they have fun as they put holes in that paper target or they knock over that metal plate. At this point, they’ll want to return. Just getting people involved enough to want to participate promotes our sport.

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