January 9, 2020

A Season of Firsts: Getting Started

An Aspiring Hunter Reflects on Potential Barriers to Recruiting New Sportsmen and Women

Whenever I tell people that I grew up in Montana, the first question I’m always asked is whether I hunt.

Up until this year, I’ve always sheepishly answered “no,” thinking that my reply in the negative would undermine my credibility as a Westerner.  

Growing up at the base of the Rocky Mountains, I was surrounded by big antlers on the wall, game meat on the table, and camo attire at weddings and funerals.  But I didn’t hunt.  

I was intimidated by the sport. I didn’t have anyone in my family who could teach me. I didn’t own a gun. I didn’t have any of the right gear. I didn’t know how to get a license or what I might need one for.  

But I knew I needed to learn when I began working at TRCP. If I wanted to talk the talk, I had to walk the walk. And with an office full of potential mentors, there was no excuse not to give it a shot.

Diving In

After asking a few of my co-workers how to get started, I discovered I could take a online hunter education course, which would then allow me to purchase a hunting license in any state. 

Given my current residence in Washington D.C., I signed up for the Maryland web course, which took about four hours to complete.  After passing the online portion, I had to spend an afternoon at a face-to-face class where an instructor would teach us how to handle a firearm, identify ethical shots, and navigate the complexities of landowner permission.   

It sounds relatively easy, but there were several barriers that needlessly frustrated the process.  And, because I know the statistics surrounding hunting’s declining rates of participation, they troubled me.  

For instance, because there were no opportunities to take the class near my apartment in the city, I had to rent a car and drive three hours to complete my certification. Meanwhile, the location of the course had been moved and I had no way of knowing until I showed up to the wrong building, just 10 minutes before the class was supposed to begin. The change in venue might not have been a big deal to someone familiar with the local community or who hadn’t needed to carefully plan their travel that day, but for me it presented another hurdle that could have been easily avoided.

When I arrived late, I was one of two female students in a class of 20 led by all male instructors.  One man, clearly amused by the D.C. license plate on my car, asked “Why would a city girl come all the way up here to learn how to hunt?” Another man quipped, “Don’t hold that gun like you’re scared of it.” While not intended to be mean-spirited, these words and others throughout the day clearly implied that I was out of place.

These challenges did not stop me from passing the course, but I can imagine for some they might. How would a prospective new hunter without easy access to transportation get there? Can we make it easier to reach new hunters where they might be found? How would someone with less self-confidence respond when they walk into that room or when they encounter skeptical gazes and teasing? Can we find ways to understand how underrepresented groups might feel as they learn about hunting?

We have to ask ourselves these questions as we watch the number of hunters decline year after year.


The Road Ahead

Thankfully, at the end of 2019 Congress took a major step forward in addressing some of these problems.  They passed the bipartisan Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act allowing excise taxes on firearms and ammunition to be used to improve the recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters.  

As this law gets implemented, states should take a hard look at the hurdles that people have to jump over and work to address them so more people feel comfortable learning about the sport and joining our community.  Reversing the trend of declining participation will require us to think seriously about what we can do better to make hunting more accessible to all, no matter where they live or what they look like.

This blog is part one is a series. Tune in next week to hear more about Marnee’s bird hunting adventure.  


3 Responses to “A Season of Firsts: Getting Started”

  1. Jerry Burke

    I hope this article is sent to the MD Natural Police and to highest officials in MD “Fish & Game”.
    Behavior of “trainers” described here is unacceptable in whatever setting a government (or private) organization is presenting a program to inform/assist/prepare the public. Not clarifying location is another unacceptable failure.
    This is an example of why people become “fed up with government”.

    Congratulations to Marnee Banks for sticking it out and for publishing her story.

  2. D. Keleher

    Jerry Burke, it is comments like yours that are helping to drive away Volunteer Hunter Education instructors. Read something on the internet and with apparently with no other information required (like “the other side of the story”) you immediately want the “highest officials” to do something about it. Three minutes on Google would have shown you that MD’s Hunter Education Instructors are VOLUNTEERS. There are also several MD Field Day courses offered within an hour’s drive of Washington, DC. And I can’t imagine there is someone reading this who hasn’t missed an email. So let’s ask these questions: Why wasn’t Ms Banks able to find a class within three hours of her home? Did she wait till the last minute to try to schedule one and all the closer ones were full? Is that the program’s fault or hers? If you were an instructor three hours away from DC, and were fully aware that there are other classes offered closer, wouldn’t you be surprised to see someone make that drive and maybe ask them why they chose to do so? Do you think Ms Banks was scared of the gun? By being so, is it possible she was holding it in a manner that wasn’t giving her complete control over it?
    I fully agree that it is highly likely someone dropped the ball in not ensuring that ALL the students received notification of the change in location. Do I think that one person out of 20 not receiving an email or phone call, when she obviously made it to the class is reason to involve the “highest officials”…hardly. Why don’t we start with talking to the person in front of us and making sure they were aware of the miscommunication issue so they can fix the problem before it happens again? I’m sure they’d appreciate hearing of it.
    Ms Banks, congratulations on being able to learn what you needed from the instructors in order to successfully demonstrate your abilities to pass your class. You didn’t mention in your article if at the end of the class you thanked those volunteer instructors for giving up their time to help you overcome one of the biggest hurdles of getting new people into hunting…taking and passing a Hunter Education class. You noted that you were one of only two females in the class of 20…which pretty much reflects the fact that there are only around 10% female hunters in America. I hope that as you progress as a hunter you will be talking to more of your female friends and trying to introduce them into the sport so we can grow that number. When you explained why you were late, did any one of the instructors apologize for the miscommunication? Did you speak to the lead instructor after the class to let them know of your concerns with the miscommunication and the two comments/general attitude you felt in the class? As we are all human and mistakes were made, I’m curious how they treated you upon expressing your concerns. None of my comments above are intended to down-play your feelings and interpretations of the events as you were there and that is obviously how you felt. However, I can also understand how what may have been intended as a friendly comment can be misinterpreted as flippant or belittling. I would be more concerned if they were rude or dismissive when you brought your concerns to their attention.
    I look forward to seeing the revisions from the P/R law allowing improvements in the States’ being able to provide Hunter Instructors with more training and resources.
    I also look forward to following along on your series of articles detailing your experiences in your first year as a hunter. And I hope that after you (and everyone reading this) have some more experience you look into becoming a Hunter Education Instructor; as if you really want to see a decline in new hunters imagine what happens when all those old white guys retire out and there are no more instructors to help get new hunters through their mandated certification courses!
    To help ensure the future of hunting by becoming a member of Maryland Hunter Education Instructors contact Maryland’s Hunter Education Program at 410-643-8502

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December 5, 2019

House Committee Advances Bills to Invest in Hunter Recruitment and Proactive Conservation

Lawmakers tee up floor vote for legislation to modernize the Pittman-Robertson Act and to head off habitat challenges for at-risk species

In a House Natural Resources Committee hearing today, decision-makers voted to advance two critical funding priorities with long-term impacts for American sportsmen and women.

The Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act would allow a portion of hunting license sales and excise taxes on gear, guns, and ammunition to be used not only for conservation but also to recruit, retain, and reactivate more hunters.

“State wildlife agencies have the most to lose if hunting participation continues to decline, because many of them depend entirely on Pittman-Robertson dollars, but that’s why it’s so critical that these agencies market to and educate prospective sportsmen and women,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This critical update to the original law—which was written at a time when more than half the country hunted or had access to someone who could likely show them how—would help ensure the future of our traditions and turn the tide on a looming conservation funding crisis in America.”

The committee also debated and passed the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which would invest roughly $1.4 billion in proactive, voluntary conservation efforts led by states, territories, and tribal nations to prevent vulnerable wildlife from becoming endangered. This new fund could benefit up to 12,000 species, including 40 percent of the nation’s freshwater fish, that need conservation action.

“We’re thrilled to see momentum behind a new investment in conservation that recognizes the real need to get ahead of habitat challenges—rather than scramble to revive a species on the brink,” says Fosburgh. “Together, these two pieces of legislation represent a forward-thinking approach to conservation that should be applauded, and we hope to see bipartisan support on the House floor very soon.”

Watch a video of the hearing here.


Photo: Ken Mattison via Flickr

November 27, 2019

Five Ways to Do More than #OptOutside This Black Friday

This year, REI challenges everyone who loves the outdoors to opt to act in service of public lands and habitat

In 2015, our friends at REI laid down the original challenge: They would pay their workforce to stay home on Black Friday, and meanwhile they urged ALL Americans to spend time outdoors instead of shopping. Since then, #OptOutside has become a movement embraced by hikers and hunters alike.

But this year, the company admits that it isn’t enough.

It’s easy to choose to spend our time on America’s public lands and waters instead of in malls this holiday weekend. But—as REI’s president and CEO Eric Artz writes in the most recent Co-op Journal—outdoorsmen and women of all stripes must opt to act as well. Our natural resources face new and enduring challenges, and it will take all of our voices in harmony to push back on bad conservation policies and habitat setbacks that could take decades to undo.

Fortunately, this is pretty much the business that we’re in here at the TRCP—giving you opportunities to take action on the issues that are most critical RIGHT NOW.

And, not to brag, but we never waste your time with misdirection or scare tactics. If you’re hearing from us, it’s because critical or damaging legislation is on the move and you have a chance to make a difference. We translate the wonky policy language that some decision-makers are hoping will confuse you, and we provide hunters and anglers with the tools to make your voices heard in a few clicks or less.

If you’re willing to do more than simply enjoy the outdoors this Black Friday, here are five things you can do to safeguard all the ways we #OptOutside.

Photo by Katie Theule/USFWS.
Enhance the Power of One of Our Best Public Lands Programs

With momentum behind a Senate bill that passed out of committee last week, now is the perfect time to remind lawmakers that the Land and Water Conservation Fund benefits every kind of public land user and has created access or habitat in all 50 states since its inception. Specifically, what we need now is full funding for the LWCF at its annual $900 million potential, which would go a long way toward unlocking the nearly 16 million acres of public land that are entirely surrounded by private land and therefore legally inaccessible to the Americans who own them. Add your voice to this rallying cry.


Photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Make the Trip “Over the River and Through the Woods” a Little Safer

In many parts of the country, you’re highly likely to encounter deer or other critters crossing the road on your way to grandma’s house this week. This risk of collision is no good for drivers or wildlife, and Congress has a chance to make a dedicated effort to keep animals off busy roadways—something that Western states say they’d prioritize if they had dedicated funding. Take action to ask lawmakers for a Highway Bill that sets aside funding for wildlife-friendly overpasses, underpasses, culverts, and other crossing structures that benefit wildlife and motorists.


Photo by Tim Donovan/Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Watch and Learn

Sometimes just getting informed is half the battle—and that’s where these videos come in: Deer hunters can help prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease by following these basic steps in the field. Anglers looking to fish any of the Colorado River’s vast tributary network should understand this about the future of water management in the region. And these clips help explain why redfish and speckled trout aren’t the only ones benefiting from efforts to restore the disappearing coastline along the Gulf of Mexico. Bone up on the basics so you’re ready to act when conservation is threatened.


Jordan Mortimore admires a rainbow trout from the Kukaklek River, Bristol Bay, Alaska. Photo by Wild Salmon Center.
Defend Bucket-List Destinations

Balanced use of our public lands and natural resources is necessary, but there are some habitats that are too special to risk exposing to the impacts of development. If you dream of mule deer hunting the untouched backcountry of Nevada’s “Swiss Alps” or landing a salmon in Alaska’s famed Bristol Bay, speak up now for legislation and congressional support that will ensure these one-of-a-kind landscapes are there for you and future generations.


Photo courtesy of Take Me Fishing
Keep It Local

Want to do more right at home? Residents of the Atlantic Coast, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, and other states can find regional conservation issues to support on the bottom half of the TRCP Action Center page. Check it out, fill one out, and fuel more of what you like to do outdoors.

Visit the Action Center Now!

Top photo by Tony Young/FWC.

November 20, 2019

House Passes Legislation to Fund Waterfowl Habitat Restoration

An overwhelmingly bipartisan vote advances the North American Wetlands Conservation Extension Act

The House has passed the North American Wetlands Conservation Extension Act (H.R. 925), which would reauthorize a highly successful habitat conservation program benefiting migratory birds and other wildlife at up to $60 million annually through 2024.

Since its inception in 1989, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act has granted more than $1.73 billion and leveraged $3.57 billion in matching funds from local and state partners to complete nearly 3,000 projects on 30 million acres of habitat across all 50 states.

“As many Americans head out to duck blinds or volunteer to band or survey birds this season, it’s great to see the House prioritize a collaborative and popular conservation program to benefit wetlands across the country,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This move to invest in our waterfowl habitat is also timely because wetlands loss will likely accelerate under the EPA’s rollback of Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and headwater streams. We hope to see NAWCA move through the Senate soon so on-the-ground conservation can continue.”

The legislation to extend NAWCA was passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee in September 2019, coupled with a reauthorization of the National Fish Habitat Partnerships program. NFHP uses a similarly collaborative model to enhance habitat and water quality for fish species, but it has not yet been brought to the House floor.

The TRCP has asked sportsmen and women to reach out to lawmakers in support of NFHP and fish habitat improvements.

November 15, 2019

Three Ways You Can Help Improve Fishing Opportunities Today

For many of us, winter is closing in and our days on the water are numbered—make the most of the off-season by taking action for fish and clean water

While I’m hiking to my favorite trout stream or trailering to the neighborhood boat ramp, I’m almost always focused on the day ahead—imagining the line pinched between my index finger and thumb, the breathless anticipation of watching a fish trail my rig, and the heart-stopping joy that takes over after a successful hook-set.

The future is full of possibilities on the morning of a fishing trip. It’s easy to lose sight of the challenges facing the broader future of fishing in America, and how much influence we have as anglers.

With some seasons winding down and winter closing in, take the energy you’d normally put into planning your next camping trip or day on the water and put it toward securing the future of our fishing opportunities.

Here are three things you can do to help America’s fisheries right now.

Volunteers work with Officials to Improve Lake Habitat. Photo Friends of Reservoirs – Shelbyville Lake, IL
Tell Congress to Fund Fish Habitat Improvements

There are many threats facing many of our fish habitats, including polluted runoff, coastline degradation, invasive species, aging infrastructure that blocks fish passages, and water mismanagement in places like the Everglades. Often, habitat restoration is too big a job for any one agency—whether state or federal—to address. The National Fish Habitat Partnership was created to tackle these issues with a boots-on-the-ground approach.

One of the country’s most successful conservation programs, this partnership has almost 900 completed programs under its belt and is made up of 20 distinct groups that work across America to bring together state, federal, tribal, and private resources. This approach has enabled partners to boost existing fish populations, improve vast swaths of habitat, and restore rivers to their historic flows.

In Shelbyville, Illinois, for example, the Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership has succeeded in activating a group of 100 volunteers and professional fisheries and reservoir managers to improve existing habitat, stabilize shorelines, and restore native aquatic vegetation.

Jeff Boxrucker, the partnership’s lead coordinator, praised the success of this project and its forward-thinking approach, but stressed the program’s need for additional funding. “We need to demonstrate the positive return on investment of restoration efforts to not only ensure continued funding but to show that we have moved the needle.” His group is not alone.

The National Fish Habitat Partnership program has no permanent funding, but a piece of legislation could change that. Known as the National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act, this bill would secure reliable funding for NFHP through 2023. Your comments could rally lawmakers to move this bill to a vote—show your support now.

Man Flyfishing. Photo Joseph via Flickr
Defend Headwater Streams and Wetlands

In September 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized its plan to roll back clean water protections for 50 percent of America’s wetlands and 60 percent of our stream miles. This announcement was made despite the thousands of public comments made by sportsmen and women in opposition to the agencies rule and the 92 percent of hunters and anglers who would strengthen or maintain current safeguards for clean water—not relax them.

Clean, productive wetlands and headwater streams are important for everyone, but essential for hunters and anglers and the species we love to pursue. These ecosystems enhance water quality, control erosion, provide fish and wildlife habitat, and maintain ecosystem productivity—and all of this supports a robust outdoor recreation economy worth $887 billion.

Together we can make a difference and hold the EPA accountable for jeopardizing healthy habitat and strong fisheries. Join the TRCP’s fight for clean water today and support our efforts to keep the Clean Water Act working for wetlands and trout streams.

Capt. Paul Dixon and Angler Rick Bannerot Pose with Striped Bass
Support the Forage Fish that Keep Sportfishing Fun

Forage fish make up the base of the marine food chain and include species such as menhaden, herring, anchovies, and sardines. A critical food source for predator fish such as tuna and striped bass, these small fish are essential for a healthy ecosystem.
But commercial fishing pressures are sometimes at odds with the needs of our tiniest baitfish and the sportfish that rely on them for food. Fortunately, legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to promote more responsible management and conservation of critical forage fish. In the meantime, we need anglers to take action quickly to prevent further declines in one important Atlantic species.

Menhaden—also known as bunker or pogies—are the preferred forage of striped bass that are suffering on the East Coast, according to recent stock assessments. Menhaden also play a vitally important role as food for red drum, bluefish, tarpon, and summer flounder. But hundreds of metric tons of these fish are removed from the region’s waters every year to be turned into pet food, fish meal, and other products.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will soon implement an ecosystem-based management of menhaden, which will take into account the baitfish’s important role in the broader marine food web. They must also hold commercial fishing operations accountable for harvesting more menhaden than they should—this only robs struggling striped bass of their food source.

Sign our open letter and let the ASMFC know that you support healthy sportfish populations, strong marine ecosystems, and the menhaden fishery.

Top photo by Kent Krebeck



Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.

$4 from each bag is donated to the TRCP, to help continue their efforts of safeguarding critical habitats, productive hunting grounds, and favorite fishing holes for future generations.

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