Sportsmen take aim – at themselves

The question came from a good friend. “I have to ask: are you helping the Humane Society of the United States on the bear referendum?”

I should say I was stunned, but actually, the question didn’t surprise me. I’ve been hearing it occasionally since the 2013 legislative session when HSUS announced it would initiative a ballot measure to ban bear hunting with bait and dogs and bear trapping. Some poorly informed people are spreading this rumor.

The question is preposterous, given that I’ve spent my life advocating for hunters and anglers. But it is illuminating.

Sportsmen are their own worst enemies. We aim our guns at each other, wasting our ammunition, jeopardizing our cause. Bow hunters battle crossbow advocates. Guides criticize sporting camps for winning the chance to purchase a few moose permits. Fly fishermen fight ice anglers. Some hunters are protesting the legislature’s decision to give 25 percent of the any-deer permits this year to junior hunters.

Throughout the 18 years that I served as Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, I struggled to keep our members united and pulling in the same direction. Some SAM members fished and didn’t hunt. Others were gun advocates who neither hunted nor fished. Although we shared an outdoor heritage, that was no guarantee that we could – and would – pull together.

Bangor Daily News photoFor the record, I am helping the leaders of the sportsmen’s campaign, including our very professional and experienced campaign manager James Cote, to defend bear hunting and trapping. I am doing so quietly, in my own way, as best I can. And here is the best advice I can give to all Maine sportsmen.

Get off Facebook, stop the talk, forget your opponents, and let your campaign leaders lead. They know what must be done to win this campaign. They know the messages you must convey to voters. They know which groups of voters must be reached with those messages. They have a well experienced pollster and media specialist. They have a plan to win this campaign.

All you can do now is make sure they have the money to win. If we lose, it will be because our campaign fell short of its funding goals.

I saw two things recently on Facebook, posted by sportsmen, that distressed me. One was a cartoon of three HSUS advocates, portraying them as the three stooges. This only strengthens our opponents. Forget about them! Stop responding to their posts on Facebook and newspaper websites. You are never going to convert them, but your online ugliness hurts us.

If you must speak in those forums, stick to the messages that James Cote gives to you. Right now, you are way off track.

I also noticed that some sportsmen are trying to raise money for the campaign by selling a tee shirt with a bear on it and the words: Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do.

I’ll tell you what you can’t do. You can’t wear this tee shirt!

Every Maine citizen has an interest in our wild critters. Less than 100,000 of us have hunted and fished each of the last five years. We are not a majority!

Our future depends – very much – on what the citizens who don’t hunt and fish think about our favorite outdoor activities and about us. Yes, us. Our behavior will dictate, to a great extent, our future opportunities. Yes, they can tell us what we can and can’t do.

It is imperative that we respect landowners, work with environmentalists, speak rationally and respectfully about each other, and make sure all Mainers understand and support our outdoor activities.

From my first day on the job at SAM, I recognized this and reached out to environmentalists, landowners, and others. Even today, I get criticized for working with environmental groups. Complain all you want. I appreciate the work of Maine Audubon on brook trout, the work of the Natural Resources Council on climate change, the work of the Maine Conservation Alliance on mining, and the help these and other environmental groups gave to SAM over the years. We have been strong partners and that must continue.

This is most assuredly not advice for HSUS. It is for you. And you know who you are.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.