Experience from the last 85 years shows that people who stalk and harvest animals are often the best at saving them. The Dust Bowl droughts of the 1930s decimated North American populations of ducks and other waterfowl. Federal wildlife refuges and the recycling of “duck stamp” revenues back into habitat maintenance proved inadequate. A history entitled The Ducks Came Back describes how much this disturbed sportsmen: “Hunters all over the United States were putting their fowling pieces in mothballs or attempting to sell them…. It just isn’t worthwhile to go duck hunting these days—having to get up early in the morning or sit out in hard weather for a shot or two all day. I wouldn’t want my son to pursue a sport that I love so well that has sunk to such a low level.” Attendees at the American Game Association conference in 1935 bandied about a desperate proposal to ban all duck hunting for one year.
Instead, sportsmen went to work. That same year, the first international wild duck census was conducted by the More Game Birds in America Foundation, which had been formed in 1930 to rally hunters behind efforts to restore habitat. In 1937, the work of More Game Birds evolved into the new group Ducks Unlimited. The organization launched hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of marsh and breeding-ground restorations, and created popular publications, local chapters, and regular meetings to unite wildfowlers from across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico behind voluntary conservation efforts. Today, Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest and most effective private waterfowl conservation organization, with 750,000 dues-paying members and partnerships with landowners, companies, agencies, scientific organizations, and private individuals that have allowed it to directly conserve 13.1 million acres of habitat, while influencing the management of another 100 million acres. One of its advantages over government agencies is its ability to work simultaneously in the three countries of North America, each of which is important in the lifecycle of migrating birds.
There are many other so-called “hook and bullet” conservation groups backed by hunters and fishermen that have been instrumental in saving and reviving wildlife in similar ways. The recovery of the wild turkey, which nearly disappeared from America, was funded by millions of dollars of donations and fees paid by hunters. For instance, the National Wild Turkey Federation and its partners have spent more than $412 million since the group’s founding in 1973 to conserve more than 17 million acres of turkey habitat, powering the recovery of this iconic bird to almost all of its historic range. A remnant of just 30,000 creatures has now grown to more than 7 million wild turkeys—marking one of the greatest wildlife recoveries in American history. Quail, grouse, pheasants, songbirds, and deer have benefitted in parallel as the 250,000-member group has planted cover and food, transplanted birds, consulted with farmers and corporations, hired scientists, and otherwise spent donated funds to make lands more animal-friendly. (See 1951 entry on John Olin for more on this topic.)