We are hunters.
As a subset of America, we're admittedly somewhat smaller than we used to be. Our numbers have been steadily pressed beneath a culture growing ever faster, more complex and distant from its rural ancestry. Now, like growing vegetables, gathering fresh eggs and raising farm animals for the table, the proclivity and skill to harvest Earth's bounty of wild game -- and to pass on this tradition to those longing for simpler ways of life -- reside in only a relative few of us.
The meats that hunters and their families consume are grown unfettered by hormones, processed feeds or fences. Low in fat and cholesterol, high in protein, wild game is organic defined. The American Heart Association and American Cancer Society recommend venison, rabbit, pheasant and duck over many commercially produced, packaged and distributed alternatives.
Data gathered by my organization show that 84 percent of us hunt exclusively in our home states. Only 5 percent never hunt locally. Compared with consumers of U.S. supermarket food, which routinely travels as much as 2,500 miles from source to table, we are model locavores.
But "renewable" is perhaps where hunters shine greenest.
Today, every state has thriving game populations in habitats that sustain hunted as well as non-hunted species. It's a richness of life that many Americans enjoy regardless of their environmental persuasion. Yet most also take it for granted, unaware of the mechanisms that sustain this public resource. They see more wildlife every year but are oblivious to why that's so.
Begun well over a century ago, the success of modern conservation can only be fully understood against the backdrop of historical slaughter for markets that took 40 million buffalo to the brink of extinction and 5 billion passenger pigeons beyond it. It was hunters who led a revolution of new values, new science and new approaches for responsible use of these resources. Seasons, game limits and wildlife conservation funds all came from hunters, and we are immensely proud of that effort. Because of us, white-tailed deer, pronghorn antelope, elk, wild turkeys, wood ducks and hundreds of other cherished life forms transitioned from vanishing to flourishing.
Even in today's renaissance of eco-consciousness, we remain the most stalwart supporters of wild things. Hunters and sport-shooters now pay for more than 80 percent of all conservation and habitat programs in America. Through licenses, tags, permits, fees and special excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, bows and arrows, we've paid -- and state fish and game agencies have successfully plied -- more than $5.3 billion since 1939. And we pushed for this tax on ourselves. No conservation system has accomplished more.
As the cost of conservation rises, we're upping our outlays even as we remain a relatively small percentage of the population. In fact, our data show that the price of hunting licenses is outpacing the rate of inflation by more than 30 percent. Each year America's hunters contribute more for wildlife.
Taxing hunters to fund the health of public wildlife is a proud part of our heritage. In tomorrow's world, however, this financing may be merely the second-best byproduct of what we do. As civilization struggles to balance modern lifestyles with organic, local, renewable resources, hunters are indeed among the deepest wells of expertise on the planet.
Our very identity clings steadfastly to stewardship of land, clean water and air, intimate knowledge of natural communities, and careful interaction with the good earth -- because that's how we've ensured abundant wildlife and good hunting for more than 100 years.
For us, the amusing irony is that American society, which has looked down its nose at hunters more sternly with each passing generation, is discovering that camouflage has been a primary shade of green all along.
The author of the op-ed piece, Steve Sanetti, is president and chief executive of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association based in Connecticut. Previously he was an executive and general counsel for the firearms manufacturer Sturm, Ruger and Co.
Visit the National Shooting Sports Foundation at www.nssf.org.