Hollywood usually depicts hunters as unwashed rednecks sipping moonshine and poaching by the headlights of a ’59 Studebaker-Packard or as villainous hunters mindlessly slaughtering African big game until Tarzan shows up.
In fact, hunters pay self-imposed fees. In the United States, at the urging of sportsmen’s groups, the 11 percent tax collected through the sale of ammunition, which became known as Robertson-Pitman Funds, has distributed more than $6.5 billion to state wildlife agencies to promote conservation efforts. The return on investment of these funds is calculated at a low of 823 percent to a high of 1,588 percent as the non-hunting public enjoys the benefits of wildlife conservation.
Add in the financial and volunteer efforts of groups like Pheasants Forever, Trout Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Mule Deer Foundation, Turkey Federation, etc., and it becomes apparent that the economic support of the hunting public preserves wildlife and wild places for all. These groups point out at every opportunity that, “No hunters equals no wildlife.”
They are also quick to point out that the Robertson/Pitman funds are mandated by law to be used for conservation efforts and if diverted to general fund expenditures would vanish like mist. Under this strategy, funding for wildlife is not subject to the whims of political power plays but rather is a steady stream of needed cash to help wildlife.
The Billings Chapter of the Safari Club International focuses mainly on local wildlife issues and local youth but also regional wildlife conservation issues. Along with Safari Care, they help fund the internationally acclaimed Wheelchair Foundation, making wheelchairs available to people primarily in developing countries.
Board member Tex Janecek points out that the Safari Clubs co-sponsors Hunters Against Hunger by providing for the processing of donated game meat to people who need food. A local buffalo ranch wants to cull six cow buffalo. The members of SCI will pick up the tab for the processing and the packaged meat will go to the Montana Rescue Mission.
SCI also has supported the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks by providing a mechanical deer and recording devices to help catch and prosecute poachers. Locally, Safari Club dollars provided wheelchairs in Billings, Red Lodge, Hardin, Crow Agency and Lame Deer.
The local Safari Club International also provides funds for a trout pond at ZooMontana so visitors can learn about the needs of the aquatic environment. Though not a wildlife issue, SCI also helped fund Big Sky Honor Flights taking World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to see their memorial.
Fundraising efforts are combined with those of other organizations to support fair chase hunting and the right to hunt. A partial list would include: The Montana Heritage Defense Fund, Save Alaskan Hunting Heritage Fund, the acquisition of critical wildlife habitat through the Brown Bear Trust (this program benefits all local wildlife not just the target species), and the Kid Fitters Program, which pairs members of the Big Brothers and Sisters program with Montana hunting outfitters, so kids can learn what it is to hunt and fill the home freezer.
During a recent conversation, Bob Gibson of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and Janecek discussed that the break-barrel pellet rifles used in the Hunter Safety Program at the Lake Elmo location, which were hard for smaller students to pump up. The muzzles often wound up being pointed in less than safe directions as the students struggled. The Safari Club provided new pellet rifles that load from a compressed air cylinder, so safe gun loading and handling techniques could be taught and practiced regardless of the size of the student. Gibson said, “The members of SCI are very focused on getting kids engaged in hunting and conservation.”
The Billings Chapter of the Safari Club International sponsors scholarships for up to four qualifying students and four qualifying local teachers to attend the American Wilderness Leadership School in Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. The teachers are taught about preparing outdoor lesson plans, map and compass use, firearm safety, fly tying, survival training and archery. They also interact with experts in wildlife management and conservation. This AWLS program is available for graduate credit through Colorado State University.
The scholarship program for students is similar but at different dates and without the lesson plans but includes wilderness camping and white water rafting.
For more information on the March 15 annual fundraiser for the Billings Chapter of Safari Club International, membership information, suggestions on how they can help, or to apply for a scholarship to the American Wilderness Leadership School, Google the Billings Chapter Safari Club International.