“History shows what happens when lawful hunting comes under attack: Wildlife suffers, funding for wildlife conservation is gutted and hunting—and all that goes with it—is diminished.”
—Jim Porter, NRA past president (2013-2015) and founder of the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum
As America’s oldest and largest organization of hunters, the NRA is proud of its 150-year commitment to promote and protect hunting. Whether through providing hunter safety and education programs that reach millions, leading the charge in the legislative arena to protect hunting and access to our public lands or delivering award-winning hunting publications and websites, the NRA stands with hunters. But such leadership hinges on having the foresight to address evolving threats to hunting’s future.
With the 21st century came increasing cultural, political and technological challenges to legal, regulated hunting. Once mere fringe elements of society, animal-rights extremists now operated as the Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and more, boasting hundreds of millions of dollars in collective annual fundraising and a cradle-to-the-grave strategy to end all hunting. The NRA had to do more for hunting to survive. In December 2014 it answered the call with the launch of the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum (HLF).
The NRA HLF brings together dedicated hunters and distinguished leaders in their professions and in the field to enrich and grow the NRA’s hunting efforts, sharing their own ideas and resources to save hunting and the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation it ensures. It mobilizes in step with the NRA objective to promote and defend hunting as the NRA leverages its enormous firepower and the grassroots efforts of millions of mainstream American hunters to fight the enemy at the gate.
As we celebrate 150 years of vibrant NRA history—and seven years of the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum—it is important to emphasize that no organization does more for hunters than the NRA. When highlighting NRA HLF accomplishments, we can’t help but circle back to the topic of NRA foresight. Not only is the NRA and NRA HLF spot-on in demanding that hunting be preserved and protected. Harnessing the hunting community to reclaim the narrative is exactly how we save its future.
Through NRA HLF funding, in 2016 NRA Publications unveiled the NRA HLF website to monitor news on issues impacting the future of legal, regulated hunting and wildlife conservation on the state, national and international levels. With hunting’s future hinging on cultural acceptance, materials also share the hunter’s story and explains how poaching is not legal, regulated hunting and how hunters are compassionate mainstream Americans whose dollars aid game and non-game species alike.
E-newsletters and social media alerts compile website material to expose threats to hunting as they arise, amplified by the effects of social media. The website’s NRA HLF Social Media Network of hunting industry companies and hunter-backed organizations share NRA HLF content on their own social media platforms. The information exchange now reaches 25 million-plus hunters.
Through NRA HLF funding, in 2016 the NRA hired Responsive Management, a survey research firm specializing in attitudes toward natural resource and outdoor recreation issues, to conduct America’s first national survey and focus group study assessing public attitudes toward animal rights, animal welfare and hunting. With public attitudes controlling the debate, the NRA needed benchmark data to gauge public perceptions and begin crafting messages that resonate with the American public.
With research confirming overwhelming public support of legal, regulated hunting, the NRA’s next step was to marshal the hunting community to use its communications firepower and apply it. The NRA unveiled the research in 2018 at the Dallas Safari Club Convention and North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference. Follow-up workshops over the next two years used the data to outline how to debate and communicate effectively about hunting to reach those in the middle.
Ultimate Communications Tool
Though now armed with the facts, too often we hunters cannot score points in a conversation let alone in a debate on the merits of legal, regulated hunting because we do not have the strategic skills to win it. In 2020 the NRA HLF stepped in again, working alongside the NRA and Responsive Management executive director Mark Damian Duda to showcase the NRA HLF-funded data in a book, How to Talk about Hunting: Research-Based Communications Strategies. Written for hunters and hunting and wildlife conservation professionals, it outlines the messages that research shows resonate with non-hunters on the logical and emotional level. Emphasizing it is not what we say that registers but what non-hunters hear and understand, it teaches us to consider the impact of the words we choose so the American public is more likely to be an ally of hunting—or at least not be against it.
“We’re crusaders not just for wildlife but for our way of life. There is no golden age of hunting—there is only hunting—and the solution starts with each of us.”
Packed with key takeaways, the book covers why communicating about hunting is important and how support and opposition to hunting changes based on species, motivation and methods. It outlines specific dos and don’ts when talking with those who have little knowledge of hunting. It shares how the case for hunting resonates when we explain how hunters and non-hunters share common values and motivations and that hunting is compatible with the animal welfare mindset.
The first printing was reserved for wildlife conservation and hunting professionals at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state wildlife agencies and hunter-backed conservation organizations. While awaiting 4,000 more copies, the NRA HLF and Responsive Management, in conjunction with the Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports, have conducted free “How to Talk about Hunting” webinars for outdoor media and other hunters regarding the book’s best practices in advocacy.
The success of the book and other NRA HLF initiatives is the direct result of HLF members’ commitment to saving hunting’s future, celebrated at the annual NRA HLF dinner at the NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits every year. “It’s the strength of our convictions that brings us here,” says NRA HLF Chair Ward “Trig” French in explaining his work with the NRA HLF. “We’re crusaders not just for wildlife but for our way of life. There is no golden age of hunting—there is only hunting—and the solution starts with each of us.”
A Call to Action
Legal, regulated hunting in the 21st century faces challenges previous generations of hunters never could have imagined. Every hunter should be concerned that hunting is being demonized. The HLF’s response: Tell our story, condemn death threats and attacks on hunters at every turn and combat the dishonesty animal-rights extremists work into every conversation about hunters and hunting. If we are as passionate about increasing cultural support for hunting as we are about going hunting, then legal, regulated hunting will remain safe on our watch and into the future. To learn more, visit NRAHLF.org.