You Own the Land. You Don’t Own the Deer.

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

A Reminder of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation

Stand up for wildlife. Be a leader. Be a hunter. Better yet, be a steward. (Shutterstock / Tom Reichner photo)

They sicken me.

Those who think they own wildlife. That they own all the deer on their land and all the deer around it.

Am I talking about the captive cervid industry? Yes and no. I wholeheartedly disagree with it. The fact that individuals are in essence violating the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation at its very core is direful at best and sheer blasphemy at worst. Anyone who’d be willing to reduce native species such as whitetails, mule deer and elk to livestock aren’t hunters. They’re glorified zoo keepers.

But those nearly as bad and who share a common way of thinking are those who hunt free-ranging whitetails (and turkeys, and small game, etc.), but act as if they own the wildlife on the property (or properties) they hunt on.

This mentality is filled with greed, selfishness and disrespect for fellow hunters.

This mentality is not representative of good stewardship.

This mentality completely degrades the resource.

It is the mentality that ultimately lead to the near-destruction of deer, turkey and other big game populations in the 19th century. Sadly, some people have carried it into the 20th century as well. And still some hold onto it to this day in the 21st.

Enter the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (NAMWC).

For those who aren’t aware, the NAMWC (and concept thereof) was founded by a group of concerned sportsmen who wanted to restore declining game populations and ensure they’d be around for generations to come. Simply put, it mostly encompasses the idea that all wildlife is for non-commercial use and that game animals are owned by the public — not private individuals.

The Seven Principles of the NAMWC:

  1. Wildlife Is in the Public Trust: This means that wildlife belongs to and is owned by the people (the public) and is managed for the people by government agencies.
  2. The Prohibition on Commerce of Dead Wildlife: Essentially, this declares it is illegal to sell the meat of any species of wild animal in North America.
  3. The Allocation of Wildlife Is Governed by Law: Meaning that laws will regulate proper use of our wildlife resources.
  4. There Will Be Opportunity for All: This declares that all citizens have the right and freedom to hunt and fish.
  5. No Frivolous Use of Wildlife: This means we may hunt (under guidelines) for food, fur, in self-defense or for property protection. There must be no unnecessary waste of wildlife and wildlife parts.
  6. Wildlife Will Be Managed by Science: All wildlife management decisions will be made based on scientific studies, reasoning and measures.
  7. International Resources Receive Additional Protections: Migratory animals will be regulated by federal laws and international treaties.

No doubt it rebels against the old European model where landowners owned all wildlife that lived upon their land. And for good reason. It’s the way of thinking that lead to near extinction for many animals in Europe. That same corrupted concept nearly produced the same results in America.

The NAMWC was designed to prevent such a thing from happening in the future. It was designed to preserve wildlife so that it may be enjoyed by everyone — not just a select few. And it was designed to prevent the perverse idea that one might profit off of wildlife, too.

Among several other things, the model also decrees that hunters will foot the bill for the majority of conservation efforts. That’s something we hunters are proud of and tout on the regular. But that’s not our focus here today. I digress.

Am I saying the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is perfect? Not at all. Nothing man has ever touched has truly been deemed as such. The NAMWC could use a facelift — especially as we move deeper into the 21st century. Not that it needs “repealing” in any way. Quite the contrary. More that we should look at each of the principles it stands on and fine tune as necessary to target the threats we face today — which are largely not the same threats we faced when the NAMWC was founded. And quite frankly, we need to double down on some of the things we have let slide over the last 50 to 60 years as well.

As you read through the seven principles above, it doesn’t take much brainstorming to realize many laws and policies in place today directly violate one or more of those principles. Sadly, each of these principles have laws to ensure their effectiveness of wildlife management in America and yet they’re still freely and regularly violated. Things such as the sale of wild animal parts, deer urine, farm-raised venison and much more both directly and indirectly violate the Lacey Act — which was established as one of many cogs in the NAMWC wheel. Why have we allowed such things to happen? But I digress once more. Or am I?

The main point I’m trying to make here is simple — respect wildlife. Respect fellow hunters. Respect the tradition. Our hunting heritage is one that’s heralded throughout the world. Other nations across the globe look to us and wish they had what we have. The old saying, “You don’t know what you have until you lose it,” stands true for what we have here in America. If we don’t wake up and realize we’re heading down a perilous road, it won’t be long before it’s too late.

The idea that individuals own wildlife is slowly creeping back into our culture. That’s a scary and sobering truth. It’s happening as we speak. And if hunters don’t wake up and do something about it, what we once had — the very best hunting heritage that’s ever been — will cease to exist or at the very least become so tainted that all recognition of it ceases.

Treat other hunters with kindness. Be mindful and respectful of neighboring hunters around you and those you share permission with. Be happy for them when they (legally) kill that big deer you've been after. Have regard for fellow public land hunters. Treat their hunts with respect as you would your own. And respect the resource like hunting depends on it. Because it does.

It gives hunters and hunting in general a bad name when we act is if we own the wildlife. Hunting is bigger than any one of us. It’s bigger than all of us. It’s bigger than all those to come.

So remember.

You own the land.

But you don’t own the deer.

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