It is the week of Thanksgiving, and here in my home state of Wisconsin, our traditions during this week include family gatherings and turkey dinners, watching football, huge appetizer trays of cheese and sausage and crackers, more cheese, and deer hunting.
Yes, deer hunting.
The Wisconsin gun deer season traditionally begins the Saturday before Thanksgiving and runs until Sunday evening following the holiday. Families get together during this week—specifically to share their Thanksgiving celebrations and to hunt. And deer hunting here is quite a tradition, with an “orange army” nearly 600,000 strong hitting the woods and fields over our nine-day gun deer season.
Wisconsin hunting cabins fill up the weekend before the holiday. Parents school their sons and daughters on safe hunting and the ways of deer. Stories of past hunts are told and retold, often in front of fireplaces and fire rings, and photos of last year’s deer are passed around.
The evening before opening day is about the all-important strategy session, with blinds and stands assigned, last minute gear decisions made, and lunches and snacks packed for the following day.
It’s not uncommon to have Wisconsinites hunting the morning of Thanksgiving proper, and then heading back in early afternoon for the big meal, and maybe an afternoon football game on the television. A nap on the couch while the game plays is a part of that tradition, too!
Hunting is among our American freedoms, and while it is true that the Second Amendment was not written solely to protect hunting rights, hunting as we know it today wouldn’t have the history, the traditions, or the meaning it does today if not for our right to keep and bear arms.
The Second Amendment, for example, has ensured gun makers stay in business, and today, they are producing some of the best and most effective hunting arms ever. The Second Amendment also means hunters can pass on their firearms to new generations of hunters, and many a new Wisconsin deer hunter takes his or her first deer using a lever-action rifle that has been passed through the generations.
Of course, the freedom to hunt extends across the nation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calculated that 15.54 million American purchased hunting licenses in 2019, and most of these people hunt deer, with an estimated 11.4 million deer hunters across the nation.
These hunters spend millions of recreational hours devoted to their hunting, allowing families to pass on the all-important American traditions of self-reliance and independence.
Numerous programs have been established over the last couple of decades to bring more young people into the hunting ranks to keep our hunting traditions alive and well. This includes the NRA’s Youth Hunter Education Challenge. This program provides a fun environment for kids to improve their hunting marksmanship and safety skills, building upon the skills learned in basic hunter-education courses.
Meanwhile, females are becoming hunters at an impressive rate, far outpacing the growth rates seen among males. According to Southwick & Associates, “In the first half of 2020 the number of males buying a fishing or hunting license experienced an 8% jump from 2019, while female participation increased 24%.”
The NRA encourages more and more women to hunt with programs like the NRA Women's Wilderness Escape. This effort provides women 18 and older with an eight-day getaway opportunity, and with exposure to a wide variety of shooting-sports activities, plus an array of hunting and outdoor-related activities.
Firearms safety is an important part of that tradition, and young hunters across the nation take hunters’ education courses. Of note, the NRA was the first organization to promote the safe use of firearms by hunters in 1949 when the NRA helped New York State launch the first hunter’s education program. New York had mandated a hunter-education and safety course for new hunters, but no such course existed. So, New York officials solicited help from the one organization that knew the most about firearms, firearms safety and hunting: the NRA.
That education and guidance continues to this day in numerous ways, including the NRA’s online NRA Hunter Education, the most-comprehensive online hunter ed available today—and it is free!
This week here in Wisconsin, thousands of first-time hunters will be afield in search of that big buck and a doe for the freezer. Not all will be successful, of course, not in the sense of taking an animal. But all will partake in the traditions of camaraderie and the shared hunting experience of using firearms safely and learning outdoor skills.
And one day, they too will pass on this knowledge, this freedom, to future generations. Hunting is an American freedom bolstered by our first freedom, the Second Amendment.