Hunting is one of America’s deeply held national traditions. Some of our biggest folk heroes were hunters — men like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and Theodore Roosevelt. But how did hunting become a tradition in America in the first place and how did that tradition influence American culture, including its arts and conservation laws?
My guest today tackled the history of American hunting, especially its sporting form, in his latest book. His name is Philip Dray and his book is The Fair Chase: The Epic Story of Hunting in America. Today on the show, Philip and I discuss the start of sport hunting in this country during colonial times and how European hunting norms influenced the pastime in America. We then dig into how Americans developed a new and democratic form of hunting. Philip shares how magazine writers and artists in the 19th century helped create the myth of the noble sportsman that we have today and how hunting changed as Americans moved West. We then dig into how the decimation of the American bison after the Civil War led hunters to start the conservation movement in America and Theodore Roosevelt’s role in that movement. We end our conversation discussing the state of hunting in America today.
- What got Philip interested in the history of hunting?
- When did hunting transition from a subsistence activity to a recreational activity?
- What was European sport hunting like in the Middle Ages? How did it impact the notion of hunting in America?
- What were some of the norms of the gentleman hunter?
- How did hunting become democratized here in America?
- What did early Americans think of hunting and hunters? How did that evolve over time?
- How sport magazines contributed to the rise of hunting of a pastime
- The curative powers of nature and hunting
- The proliferation of hunting-focused art
- The opening of the American West and how sport hunting changed when it went West
- George Armstrong Custer the hunter, and the sport’s relationship with the military
- Hunting’s connection to conservation and natural science
- How did the bison’s near extinction change the perception of hunting?
- The evolution of game laws
- Theodore Roosevelt, and his role in both hunting and conservationism
- How hunting even today supports conservation
- What’s the state of hunting today?
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- The history of recreational camping in America
- The Hunting Hypothesis
- Robin Hood
- Fair chase
- Daniel Boone
- Davy Crockett
- Currier and Ives
- Sir George, the Buffalo Slayer
- Buffalo hides awaiting shipment
- Pittman-Robertson Act
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Hunting is one of America’s deeply held traditions, some of our biggest heroes happen to be hunters, men like Daniel Goon, David Crocket and Theodore Roosevelt. How did hunting become a tradition in America in the first place, and how did that tradition influence American culture including its arts and conservation laws? By guess, state tackled the history of American hunting especially like sporting Foreman His latest book, his name is Philip Dray and his book is The Fair Chase: The Epic Story of Hunting in America.
Today on the show Philip and I discuss the start of sport hunting in this country during colonial times and how European hunting norms influenced the pastime in America. We then dig into how America’s developing new and democratic form of hunting. Then Philip shares how magazine writers and artists in the 19th century helped create the archetype of the newer sportsman that we have today, and how hunting changed as Americans moved west.
We then dig into how the destination of the American bison after the Civil War led to hunters starting a conservation movement in America and Theodore Roosevelt’s role in that movement. We enter a conversation discussing the state of hunting in America today. After the show’s over, check out the show notes at aom.is/hunting.
Philip Dray, welcome to the show.
Philip Dray: Thanks for having me.
Brett McKay: You wrote a, just come out of a book called The Fair Chase: The Epic Story of Hunting in America. I think I told you in the email, this is definitely an epic story, because it covers hunting, sort of the history of the outdoors and camping, the conservation movement. You’ve managed to fit in the native, the Indian wars in there. I’m curious, what got you into writing the history of hunting? Was this something you did as a young man and you want to explore it further?
Philip Dray: It’s funny because actually sort of the opposite. I grew up in Minneapolis and I was sort of like the Jewish Tom Sawyer or something in a way. I always love that about Minnesota, kind of the great outdoors, the fact they called it the land of sky blue waters. There is a lot of hunting and fishing and nature was, it was very much a theme sort of outdoor sports.
I did little of it myself, mostly just fishing in the city lakes of which there are many, but I always remembered when I grew up I was kind of remember I had a fondness for that whole atmosphere. I always kind of wanted to write about it and I think partly it was that as a historian I had written several books of history. I looked at haunting is something that had never really been written about that much as a part of American history with a long trajectory. Partly because it’s been a divisive issue for many years, like about a century really.
I think it deserved to have sort of a holistic approach, someone look at it in a sort of ecumenical way, like not judging it necessarily, but just looking at it, reporting what was there.
Brett McKay: Just to, for our listeners, this is a history of the not hunting for subsistence, but hunting for sport.
Philip Dray: Well that does sort of come into it of course a little bit, because those two overlap quite a bit. Yes, you’re right, it’s about sport hunting how as sport as a pastime became popular.
Brett McKay: Right. That’s interesting to know. We all, there’s that, you talk about in the book, the hunting hypothesis. Like there’s this argument that hunting is what made us humans and of course, tribes around the world cavemen that’s how we, that’s how they got their food is they hunted. When did hunting transition from this is something you did to feed yourself, to a thing that you did just for the thrill and excitement of the activity itself?
Philip Dray: That’s one of those, it’s a very good question and one that will probably never really know the answer to. The only thing we can surmise is from looking at old prehistoric cave drawings of as we know the hunt was something or at least large animals, were things that fascinated early man. We don’t know exactly when that transition took place, but my guess is that, the aspect of sport was probably entered into it very early on.
We know that definitely in antiquity, I think it’s Plato writes about the difference between the sportsman and the subsistence Hunter, sort of giving larger cred to the sport hunter. Someone who brings a kind of gentlemanly attitude toward the hunt and respects the animals that are hunting, this sort of thing. That exists even in the pre-Christian era. Basically the answer is that, it probably goes back a very long way.
Brett McKay: Hunting in America with to understand that, we have to understand hunting in Europe. How did, what was European sport hunting like before, like since the middle ages? Then from there, like how did that influence American sport hunting customs and norms?
Philip Dray: You’re right that it really was, it was during the middle ages that hunting became sort of codified if you will as a gentlemanly pursuit throughout Europe. The French were very much into hunting and I think the first book about hunting was published in French in a largely illustrated book. During or after the Norman invasion of course, it came to England as well this idea of the gentlemanly hunt, and that’s where of course we’re all familiar with the sort of British approach, the history of hunting it Britain. The royal deer, Robin Hood and his merry men, falconry, eventually development of fox hunting.
Of course Britain has a very, very rich history of sport, the sport of hunting. Even extensive nomenclature as you know of, it’s almost sort of comical of different names for parts of the hunt. The Queen Elizabeth who wasn’t ardent hunter as was her father, Henry the Eighth and so on. It was really like a kind of an obsession.
The only problem in England of course was that there was always are a debate about the use of the land, and of course that’s where you always hear about the king’s deer and forbidden food that was forbidden to the common people who were not supposed to be killing deer and this kind of thing. That’s one reason why of course you find so many British hunters were very eager to come to America, because America was a place with no, it was the complete opposite instead of these landed gentry with their portioned off lands that you were not supposed to trod on. We had the wide open spaces here and Buffalo and all, in other words the fast range of the Great Plains for instance or even the Adirondacks. Those were very, very appealing to British hunters.
Brett McKay: What were some of the norms of the sort of gentlemen hunter like? This is kind of goes into the idea of fair chase, right? Like did they have rules where you just couldn’t just go slaughter a fox right, there was a certain code you had to follow for the, in order for the hunt to be honorable?
Philip Dray: Right, exactly. They called it, in Britain they use to call it true sportsmanship. In America, it became known as fair chase, it basically was over the years of course it changes depending on what the sort of infringements on it are. Those change with technology a little bit, but basically just as you would imagine, it was an ethos that suggested that the hunt was a more admirable sport, if due respect was paid to the prey animals.
In other words, that they were given a chance to flee, they weren’t unfairly … Now of course people often scoff at that, because obviously a hunter with a high powered rifle is always going to have a huge advantage over an animal, prey animal. The idea being that, for instance you do not like game birds, you could only shoot them in the air or you would not necessarily bait animals with food or whatever it might be. Or you would not imitate the sound of an infant animal or a bleeding animal to lure an adult and so on and so on.
There were just a certain code and again it changed over time. Nowadays it might refer to not using trail cameras or drones or something like that. In the 19th century in the Adirondacks, it was a huge dispute for many years about whether you could chase deer into bodies of water, where they of course were easily killed because they don’t swim very fast. This was a very common way to bag a deer for a visiting tourist hunter, the guides would chase the deer into the lake. The boat would catch up with the deer that was struggling to get away and of course it could be easily killed and that was very much, it came to be very much disputed as an ungentlemanly or unsportsmanlike form of hunting.
Brett McKay: It was just a kind of way to distinguish the sport of hunting from other more crude pastimes. Hunting in Europe was something that the gentry did, the aristocracy. Did that carry over here in the United States or did it eventually democratize where it was something that just every average Joe Blow could hunt for sport, didn’t matter if you’re a part of the landed gentry?
Philip Dray: Yeah, no it did of course here much more quickly it became something that was accessible to all. For one thing the land was available to all basically. It means it was, it’s only been really in the last generation or two in fact that a lot of private property owners forbid hunters coming on their land. It used to be that even if own property was property owned, privately owned rather it was fine for hunters to come there.
No, to answer your question, it was much quicker. Of course there always were elite hunters here, because they were the ones who could afford the equipment, the guns and to maybe travel someplace remote far away. New York was a big epicenter of hunting interest and for a gentleman hunter from New York or Westchester to take himself out to the Adirondacks or even out to Minnesota Wisconsin, it was expensive. To answer your question, yes of course you suddenly had people right on the living very close to hunting grounds and they saw huntable animals all around them.
Yes of course it was a much more democratized process. Again, that’s why a lot of British and European hunters of means lost no time coming over here, because they thought, “Why should we poke around here looking for a deer we can hunt in England when out here America there’s all kinds of elk, bison, coyote?” It was a wonderful opportunity for them and they didn’t hesitate to seize it.
Brett McKay: You mentioned in our introduction that, hunting has had, there’s been controversy, sport hunting for a long time. Did we see this sort of the founding of the republic or maybe even in the 19th century, what did the American public think of sport hunters? Did they admire them? Where they sort of ambivalent towards them? What was the status of the hunter then?
Philip Dray: Well, it’s actually kind of interesting because of course in colonial times, hunters were not often looked upon very favorably. They were considered either sport or subsistence hunters really, because in the old sort of conservative days say in New England, the idea that was the much of focus was on creating civilized spaces. Those people who chose to live far out in the woods hunting or looked out a little bit askance, in other words they weren’t church going people. They were living, you know as somebody said at the time, like they’re sort of half animals themselves. They’re living out their traipsing around in the woods and what have you, that changed over time.
One thing that was, helped reform their image quite a bit was the American Revolution, in which you suddenly had the buckskin frontiersmen emerge as a hero. The sharpshooting American who, with his musket coming out of the woods to help defeat the British. Ever After that, then you sort of had the sort of the kind of Daniel Boone type image, Davy Crocket, the backwoodsman in his buckskin. Yes, he might be skulking around the woods, but he’s basically he’s on our side, he’s a good guy.
Of course what they did they used to call them the long hunters, people like Boone. What they were doing was help to settle areas like Kentucky Missouri, places like that. They were beneficial to society. Yeah, I mean eventually the image changed and you began to have hunting overall seen as much more as something a much more acceptable pursuit. One thing I should mention of course is interesting is that, a lot of other sport at the time was looked down upon, especially that involving animals, for instance like ratting was something which most people today would never even know of. How to deal with competitions to see how quickly or how many rats could be killed by dogs in a pit. These were popular urban pastimes.
Other, you know cock fighting, those kind of sports came to be looked down upon and by comparison something like hunting, which involved going out into nature, challenging oneself with the elements and the challenge of actually finding being able to track prey animals, was seen as a much more valiant and noble thing to do.
Brett McKay: Part of what helped that, create that aura of Valen gallantry in hunting is, at this time like the early 19th century, yeah, early 19th century, all these like hunting writers or outdoor writers started popping up and even magazines. Talk to us about that, how did that influence how Americans thought of hunters?
Philip Dray: Yeah, that was a very interesting phenomenon is that, in the early days the Republic initially was horse racing, was sort of the main sport for the elite. It did continue to be so until about the time of the Civil War I would say. It was those same magazines that also began to report on what they called field sports, namely hunting and fishing.
They very quickly found that among other things hunting unlike, I mean a horse race is exciting too and believe me there were some large stake horse races in those days. Hunting was something that they found had a kind of built in narrative, that hunting stories they make for great journalism really, because there’s always an incredible story involved or can be, whether it’s some overwhelming facet of nature one has to conquer, a hike, a mountain or whatever. Or actual contact with ferocious beasts, whether the beasts get away or not, nor resist. You can imagine it’s all, it makes for an intriguing yarn.
What they began to see is that this was a very rich vein of writing that they could mine. There was a huge audience for it as well, and it also brought along a sort of hunting literature of that. It also brought along kind of an early, kind of like a Mark Twain ask kind of humor, out of particularly out of the southwest, which was then considered like Arkansas and maybe Kentucky, Mississippi. Like writers who wrote in a very universe vain.
Again, a little, anticipating Mark Twain a little bit about local people going hunting. There are many gaffes and shooting their feet off or whatever it might be, some ridiculous thing that we could all, people could laugh at. That, to kind of built in this idea of hunting as a kind of pastime that was both rich in humor. It brought human contact with nature and so on, and so that’s really a big change that goes on in the 1830s and 1840s.
We should mention too that it has to do with kind of the Romantic era in America. The idea that, sort of the end of the idea that the wilderness was some place that we needed to dread or fear, but rather that it held poetic and even curative aspects to it. That’s one thing you notice in a lot of the early hunting journals, say up in the Adirondacks is that, I feel the hunter, not only am I enjoying myself out here, but I feel 100% better, this air is really good for me. I felt terrible before and now I’m cured and whatever, this type of thing is you’re familiar with like most of your listeners probably are.
The idea that nature and outdoor sports could be a wonderful balm for the body and for the mind. This was very powerful in that early magazine writing about the sport.
Brett McKay: Not only does this sort of market around writing about hunting rise up, you saw this proliferation of art, sort of the Currier and Ives, lit the grass. I mean I think everyone’s, if you live in America you’ve seen those. Like you said earlier in your introduction, like there’s something about that seems like timeless and nostalgic and romantic, even if you’ve never hunted before, you wouldn’t mind having that in your house. Did that feeling exist then? Did people look at those images and think, “Oh, that’s so, I feel nostalgic for that thing,” or is that something that we experience now looking back?
Philip Dray: Well of course it’s hard to say, because it’s hard to put ourselves in that say the 1850s. I think you’re probably right that it was something that, it wasn’t just art, decorative art on the wall, it was wood carvings. It was very common to have the sideboard in your dining room, you ornately carved with a hunting scene or other furniture.
Many of us have seen this, but yes, of course, it was. Some of that was sort of kitschy even at that time, in other words obviously hunting scenes of obviously sort of depicting a kind of the sort of everything positive about the hunting. Like waking up in the morning at the side of the lake with your male companions and it looks like a beautiful day. The guides are busy preparing the canoe and you’re having your first cup of coffee, you’re looking up at the trees, very like you’re anticipating a wonderful day.
Brett McKay: Yeah. It sounds great.
Philip Dray: It looks really great. In other words, the art was almost like an advertisement for this preoccupation basically. Yeah, there was a lot of that, because some of it got kind of kitschy, but it persisted a very long time. As you mentioned, of course it had ancient origins, it goes way back to some of the first artwork we know man ever did, which is to paint these things on cave walls. It’s proceeded, it’s all through the ages.
I think what I was surprised by was, how I knew about it, but I was amazed at how prolific it was. It was boys pajama design, tablecloths, curtains, wallpaper, as I said sideboard, pieces of furniture. Then of course a lot of Currier and Ives images.
Up to the early 20th century, there’s like a wonderful genre of what they called calendar art, which is everybody has seen these things. Like old beautiful color hunting images, and what was very popular was what they called predicament art, which was a scene which we’ve all seen before of like two hunters waking up their campfire with a grizzly bear kind of coming around the corner. One of the hunters is reaching for his trusty rifle. Of course it was a calendar for it like a Remington calendar or something or Winchester, but those type of themes then people never seemed to get tired of them.
There’s just like hundreds and hundreds of these predicament art calendar, images and other type of images as well. Many of them do that, they kind of both sort of remind you of the necessity of having a trusty gun by your side. Also, the kind of incredible excitement and sort of man challenge of being out where ferocious animals are right there by your side.
Brett McKay: This sort of hunting as sport really got its start in New England, the Adirondacks. It’s trickled down to like what was then the south west right, the frontier Kentucky, Tennessee. Then the West opened up, and by the West I think we’re talking like the West, like Utah, Colorado, Texas. How did sport hunting change as the hunter started going west? Did the technology change, did the laws change? Walk us through that.
Philip Dray: Well, one thing is I got very caught up in the idea of the US Army being, of some of the important people in terms of establishing hunting in the West, they were of course as you know in those days, the West was the frontier basically. In addition to settlers who were anyone who went out there, prospectors, whoever, obviously hunting for subsistence was a key thing, whether you’re a mountain man or wherever you might be living.
The first people to really introduce sport hunting tended to be military officers. People like George Armstrong Custer, who I talk about quite a bit, who prided himself on his hunting. I was amazed, of course we all think of Custer as an Indian fighter, but I got the impression in a way that for him the Indian fighting was a bit of a moon like moonlighting. He really, he was very much a hunter and even wrote about his hunting exploits at some length. He was very interesting to me.
He took it very seriously and he was not alone. Many army officers stationed at places in the remote West, remember there wasn’t … It was the type, the Indian wars were a kind of sporadic affair, and so there was a lot of down time as we would say, at some stockade in wherever it might be. Some place in Utah or areas, New Mexico territory this kind of thing, and so this is what people did. Hunting of course there was a lot of wildlife around, not to mention the fact that it was a way to augment Army rations, so to go hunt for meat on the hoof so to speak.
Yeah, hunting very much became established out west through, I think through a lot through the army officers. At one point even, the army commissions special types of hunting rifles to be distributed to the troops, to basically encourage them. The idea was that, well this will help improve their marksmanship and give them something to do.
One of the big concerns of the army, the western army in those days was that the troops out of boredom would become, basically fall into all kinds of sinful behavior, because there’s nothing else to do. They would gamble and God knows what else. This hunting was seen as a kind of a more wholesome activity if we could give them these guns and ammunition for them to do it. At the same time it would help them improve their marksmanship or what have you.
One other thing I’ll mention of course with this is that, the again back to our wealthy European and English friends, a very popular thing to do was to come into the American West and hook up with a US Army officer and go on a hunting expedition. There was a wealthy, say a wealthy English earl or Duke with his entourage, coming into the West, hooking up with a Custer or various other leading officers. Often these were arranged by Washington, because of first sort of like diplomatic reasons. Then they would kind of go hunting together.
This had this effect of both generating the idea of hunting in the army, but also sort of universalizing American hunting and the American West as a place of very exciting hunting with animals that were to be seen nowhere else. Of course one funny thing is, I’ll mention that I found hilarious was that, the Brits they would get off their boat in New York and think that there were buffalo right there. They would be they would be surprised to hear that, oh no for the buffalo you have to go up to Nebraska. Where is that? Well that’s like 1400 miles west from here whatever it was. They were disappointed. They thought Westchester New Jersey wherever might have some buffalo.
Brett McKay: Yeah, you highlighted one of these sort of rich British barons that came. Like he basically unleashed a bloodbath in the West. People were really happy when he left, because he was like flaunting all American hunting norms at the time.
Philip Dray: I know and of course of course it’s odd that his last name was Gore of all things, sir, I think Sir George Gore. Yes, he was infamous. He came in the 1840s with like really basically like his own army in terms of the entourage he had. The wagons he brought every type of thing. One thing about these early hunting expeditions is, one thing about sport hunting you have to realize in the early 19th century is, it attached itself very early to natural science.
In other words, hunters were always curious because they had to be. To be a good hunter you have to kind of, you have to pay attention to wildlife, to the forest to learn how to track and so on. An interest in natural science was always featured in the hunting literature of the time, and these expeditions often had actual scientists attached, which was of course a wonderful thing for science, because you had, this became a vehicle basically for a lot of Western exploration.
The Gore expedition was infamous, because he just, he was not a fair chase hunter. He basically hunted, he came to America, he wanted to get as many trophy heads as he could, he just, it was like it literally was like an invading army. He cut through a swath of like I think Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, maybe Nebraska. He was here for about 18 months I believe.
Finally, the local Indian tribes began complaining, like who is this character? You let him out here and he’s taking our pantry basically, and he was eventually, nobody shed a tear when he finally packed up and left. After that of course, people would always hearken back, sort of site him as an example of this type of access, and sort of guard against it if they could.
Brett McKay: The other thing you go into detail about hunting in the West, you talk about bison hunting, right?
Philip Dray: Yes.
Brett McKay: The Brits thought that the bison would just be in New York, but you know they’re out west. Yeah, if you grew up in America, you probably heard about this in American history. One point there were millions of bison roaming the plains, and then just decimated there in the 19th century, probably heard the story of people shooting them from trains. How did that change hunting, when people saw that oh my gosh, we can actually like hunt a species to extinction? Did that sound some alarms for hunters themselves?
Philip Dray: Oh absolutely. I mean as you say, it was one of these things where people couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Of course it was the hunters who saw this happening first, because they were the ones who are out there. What happened was of course that, a huge, with the railroads after the Civil War in particular, railroads extending into the West, there was, it was much easier to ship buffalo hides back east. It was also easier for hunters, both scrupulous and not so scrupulous, to get to the west.
Many people began, became what they called market hunters basically. They weren’t hunting for subsistence, they weren’t hunting for sport. They were hunting for the hides of the bison. The bison are, if you, they can be challenging to hunt, but they also can be very easy to hunt, because they’re a herd animal basically.
One aspect, one feature of this was that, the eastern rifle manufacturers had built ever more powerful guns, for being able to shoot accurately at long distances. Those two things together, the demand for buffalo hides, the improved weaponry and just obviously the opportunity to make money for those who wanted to go west, being a buffalo hunter became a lucrative occupation. You’re right, the speed at which these huge herds of buffalo over decimated was incredible really, terrible tragedy.
Again, because they could be killed easily enough, that the numbers just became sort of staggering. Like what a team of market hunters could accomplish in one day or one week and so on. We’ve all maybe seen these images of a Western rail head with like literally a mountain of buffalo hides stacked up awaiting shipment back east. Yes, you’re right. It happened very, within really perhaps maybe 20 or 30 years from the 1860s. By the late 1880s, people like William Hornaday, who was a well known naturalist and taxidermists, George bird Grinnell, who was the editor of Forrest and Stream magazine.
These people began to see that what was happening was the species could actually be made, driven extinct. Extinction was a very, just as now it was a very heavy concept, but it was one that people were much less familiar with at that time. It frankly was something that brought a lot of people up to a point where they realized that there’s even those who had been ambitious hunters themselves, began to realize that this could not go on. That something had to change in order to preserve the species.
Brett McKay: At this point in American history, were their game laws on the book or were the hunters governing themselves by sort of this informal code?
Philip Dray: A little of both. There were game laws, very, game laws came into effect fairly early. It’s just that as you can imagine, they were kind of, just because of the sprawling geography of America, they were either, they could differ from state to state. Also they were often difficult to enforce, because of the law, the great sort of distances between places.
You know one thing about hunting and this is where fair chase ethos is so important is that, what hunters do mostly, they do on their own out in the woods. The whole idea is, you don’t go hunting with a large group of people. You hunt, the whole idea is to get out alone somewhere and maybe with just one other person. It’s on you to do right basically, and that’s why it’s actually kind of incredible that we have the existing today sort of system of game laws that are very strictly enforced that we have.
Yes, you’re right, to go back to that period, the game laws were kind of hobbled together piece by piece. Like I said, it wasn’t a consistent thing. A lot of it really fell into place to me it seems more late in the 19th century, around the time these concerns you’re alluding to first came to people’s notice. It wasn’t only the buffalo, but it was also of course the passenger pigeon and various other, even white tail deer, people began to worry that their numbers were also being diminished as well.
There were a number of species where there was either they did become extinct, like the passenger pigeon or others that were so diminished that they alarmed what you would call I guess hunter conservationists.
Brett McKay: Right, and one of these hunter conservationists was President Theodore Roosevelt.
Philip Dray: Exactly.
Brett McKay: Tell us about his role in sort of the conservation movement in America.
Philip Dray: Well, Roosevelt of course is a fascinating guy in terms of hunting in this period, because he is both sort of very much part of this cohort of the early hunter conservationists. These were men who had, they were largely from the east, but they had lived in the West as of course Roosevelt did. He had a ranch in North Dakota, they loved hunting, but they also again were the first ones to see that there was a danger in over hunting, in excess of hunting. They had often been the kind of true sportsmanship type hunters to begin with.
They founded a group called the Boone and Crocket club, named for two of America’s most legendary hunters. The idea was, originally it was all about, more about the hunting, but within a few years they saw that they actually had to change their track a little bit and actually get more into conservation. Yeah, they were involved with trying to diminish, trying to put down poaching for instance in Yellowstone Park. This was a huge problem in areas, this was a battle that this has been written about extensively.
This idea, this battle had to be fought basically between sports hunting that was guided by game laws and just poaching, which of course a lot of local people didn’t like the term poaching. They just felt like, well we’ve lived here for years, why can’t we hunt as a how we please? Who are you to come in here and tell us what to do? This was a set up, this kind of a very fierce struggle that took a couple of generations really to kind of work itself out until the kind of game management system basically worn out.
That’s where someone like Roosevelt initially pivotal, because he was right there in the front lines of that battle, fighting to make sure that game laws would be observed. At the same time of course Roosevelt had a whole other side, which was or maybe it’s sort of the same, but you know Roosevelt was a big kind of like hunting is who we are as Americans.
Brett McKay: Right.
Philip Dray: It’s what makes us. It makes us strong and it was very popular at that time in the late 19th century to point to the British and say, “Look at them, they brool the world and why is that, because they’re a nation of hunters. Other societies that don’t have a big hunting culture, they don’t seem to get it. If we want to be like the Brit, we have to emulate them.
Roosevelt was very much as you know, that’s, he believed that this was important that young boys should learn how to shoot and track. That hunting was a type of activity among other physical challenges, that would help American men become more vigorous and better soldiers and conquerors of other lands, this type of thing.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Hunters played a big role in kick starting the conservation movement in America. What’s their role in it today? Are they still actively involved?
Philip Dray: I think they’ve actually always been involved. What in the, it’s interesting in that during the 1930s, laws were put, federal laws were put in place that they’re, I’ll refer to them as, they call them the Pittman Robertson laws. Basically what they are is that, it’s 11% tax on hunting equipment, guns, ammo, anything to do with hunting.
Hunter all along have paid in, all this money goes to local conservation efforts across the country. It’s been a kind of undisputed success in that it creates this huge endowment for conservation works, and helps kind of imbue the hunting community with this responsibility. To this day, a lot of hunting groups say out West, they take conservation very seriously. They see it as sort of the other side of the sport that they love, to their credit. You’ll find that a lot of conservation boards and organizations are actually very much under the influence of hunters, who sit in positions of decision making.
I mean by and large they’ve done a very good job overtime, because they’ve had this interest at heart and they still will, you know hunters will volunteer a Saturday morning to go out and dig a tunnel underneath the road, so the deer don’t have to cross the road this type of thing. I mean it’s that type of dedication that is admirable.
The only thing about that though of course is that, in more recent say the last 20 or 30 years, their control of the conservation movement has come under fire from people who are say like, who look at a little differently. Are more concerned about animal rights, the rate at which certain predator animals are targeted for hunting. There are differences of opinion about it and there is some effort to push back. Sometimes the people who challenge the hunters on conservation issues will do so through referendums in Western states, where those are allowed. Say for instance about whether mountain lions should be hunted, that type of thing.
There is some pushback against the hunters, what seems to be their kind of large influence in the conservation movement. On the other hand, you have to kind of tip your hat to them, because they have been at it a very long time and have in terms of habitat protection, wildlife protection, keeping species alive and viable, they have done a lot of good work.
Brett McKay: I mean, what’s the state of hunting today? I mean it used to be this … What is the state of, what was the state of hunting in say the 19th century? Did like pretty much every man hunt or was it pretty much, was it like a small percentage? What’s that like today?
Philip Dray: Well, it’s hard, I don’t think it’s ever been like a huge percentage, but it was a very substantial percentage of people who were involved in hunting and fishing. As we know, part of the problem is just the urbanization of America today. It’s not as easy to get to areas where one can hunt as it used to be for obvious reasons. There’s just, everything is more built up, you don’t find as many young people to pick maybe, because of this urbanization, young people are not taken up with hunting like they used to be.
There’s a saying in the hunting world, that if you don’t start hunting by the time you’re 16, for instance if you’re not introduced to it by an older relative, you’re probably not going to ever do it. Of course that’s of concern to hunters, because they’d like to kind of, they obviously they like to keep their sport vibrant. There’s a big effort in among hunters and hunting organizations and companies, to nurture young people.
Of course they have demographics kind of working against them. Young people nowadays they’re on their smartphones, they’re hooked to the internet. Again, it’s not as if you can just grab dad’s shotgun and go up the hill and do some shooting necessarily, it’s much harder than it was say 100 years ago. For all these reasons, hunting has, it’s diminished as an activity.
That said, those who are engaged in hunting, are very ardent about it. If you go to like a hunting conference out west, you’ll be just amazed at the enthusiasm and the technical proficiency of the hunters, how they talk about their support and the great love they have for it, is you can really see it.
There’s new people coming into it all the time who you wouldn’t expect. Women are the fastest growing demographic at hunting. There’s also what some people call DIY hunters, people who never hunted in their lives, but decide to take it up as adults. They get a hunting license, they buy a shotgun. It’s like they see it as a challenge. Some of them are interested for food politics, reasons of what am I going to eat? I’m I going to, if I like to eat meat, do I want to be part of the industrial meat system? Or would I rather feel like I know where my, I’m going to go out and try to harvest my own meat. There’s that aspect as well, so hunting, the face of hunting is changing a bit.
Even while it diminishes, is diminishing, it still has a certain, it has life to it. I think it will always be around.
Brett McKay: Well hey, Philip Dray, thank you so much for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Philip Dray: Thanks a lot, I’ve loved it. Take care now.
Brett McKay: Like I said he was Philip Dray. He’s the author of the book, The Fair Chase: The Epic Story of Hunting in America. It’s available on Amazon.com ad bookstores everywhere. You check at our show notes at aom.is/hunting where you’ll find links to resources, where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. If you enjoyed the podcast, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. Helps that a lot. As always thank you for your continued support, until next time, this is Brett McKay, telling you to stay manly.