By Shawn Perich
This year I received an unexpected Christmas present. Field and Stream magazine invited me to the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) show in Las Vegas to participate in a roundtable discussion. I’d never been to the SHOT show, or Vegas for that matter, so the excursion was sure to be an adventure.
While I was traveling alone, a few folks of my acquaintance were attending the show. One of them was Outdoor News editor Rob Drieslein, who I met at press conference with U.S Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe. We sat at a long table with mix of people from the media, industry and conservation organizations while Asche answered questions on a range of topics. Afterward, I joined Drieslein for a one-on-one interview with Ashe.
The director, who both of us had interviewed before, is a friendly, ordinary guy. He was more than willing to take the time necessary for a conversational interview. You can read Rob’s report about what Ashe had to say elsewhere in this issue, but I came away with a couple of key points. The director was upbeat that adequate conservation funding is included in the budget bill, although the National Park Service, which is approaching its centennial, fared better than the Fish and Wildlife Service. He and others at the table were optimistic the new Farm Bill will restore conservation compliance as a prerequisite for receiving crop insurance subsidies, thus discouraging farmers from planting row crops on marginal land.
The next morning, I headed for the Field and Stream conference room, where our roundtable discussion was the centerpiece of an invitation-only luncheon. There I met Mike Toth, executive editor of Field and Stream. We hadn’t seen each other in more than 25 years, when we had adjacent offices at an outdoor publishing company in Georgia. A New Jersey native who takes to downtown Manhattan the way a mallard takes to a prairie pothole, Toth has never understood why anyone would choose to live in cold and snowy northern Minnesota. That’s Ok, because I’ve never understood why anyone wants to live in New York. It was fun to catch up with him, because in spite of his big city ways, Mike doesn’t put on airs. He’s as ordinary as they come.
The topic of the roundtable discussion was how the hunting industry’s emphasis on trophy bucks may affect everything from hunter recruitment to the public perception of hunting. My fellow panelists were Brian Murphy, chief executive officer of the Quality Deer Management Association, Jon Gassett, southeastern field representative of the Wildlife Management Institute and Jon LaCorte, senior product marketing manager at Nikon. We got acquainted with one another over lunch. Murphy and Gassett were from the South and were experts in private land deer management. LaCorte hunts in New York’s Catskills. I hunt in the vast public forests of the Upper Midwest.
Our panel discussion was wide-ranging and, judging from the number of written questions from the audience, well-received. We agreed the entire experience of hunting and the lifestyle it entails matters far more than the size of the antlers on the deer we kill. For many hunters, deer hunting has become a year-round activity as they manage habitat on private lands and keep tabs on the local herd with trail cameras. We talked as well about the obstacles adult newcomers face in both learning hunting skills and finding places to hunt. We even talked about the need to balance the interests of hunters who seek trophies with those of hunters who seek meat, especially when setting regulations, such as antler point minimums, that restrict hunters who want to kill a deer to eat. I’m not sure we solved any issues, but it was interesting to note that ordinary people who think about such things are not that far apart in their views.
During my short Vegas visit, I was only able to spend a few hours on the floor of the SHOT show. This wasn’t enough time to make it through all of the displays. In fact, I’m not sure I even saw half of them. Because this is a buyers’ show, I mostly avoided taking up exhibitor’s time with chit-chat. However, I did handle some new rifles and shotguns. There may be a Kimber mountain rifle in my future.
I wasn’t sure what to expect at the show. Friends who attended past SHOT shows said the law enforcement/tactical industry has an increasingly large presence there. A Canadian friend said I could expect to encounter “scantily clad girls selling machine guns,” at the show. While I did see a few guys who looked like action movie extras and plenty of pretty girls, show-goers as a whole seemed to represent an average slice of middle class America. In other words, they were ordinary people.
Oddly, I was struck by the similarities between the SHOT show and the Duluth public input meeting on PolyMet’s proposed copper mining operation, which I attended on the way home. Attracting over 1,500 people, nearly all of whom appeared to be from northern Minnesota, the meeting was designed so that everyone who wanted to speak could do so, with a three-minute time limit. I listened to about a dozen speakers before leaving to make a three-hour drive home. All of them spoke of their love for the North and its clean environment. Some believed the new mine can be operated with minimal environmental harm. Others believed the possibility of environmental harm wasn’t worth the risk of allowing the mining to occur.
The viewpoints weren’t new to me or anyone else at the hearing. I know plenty of folks—ordinary people–on both sides of the mining issue. What they hold in common far exceeds their differences on this one, albeit important, issue. Too often, in the midst divisive controversy, we forget that basic truth.