While at the annual conference of the Outdoor Writers Association of America last week, I attended a press conference put on by a new nonprofit group called the American Hunters & Shooters Association. The first thing the executive director said was his group planned to compete with the National Rifle Association.
Wow, I said to myself. That would be a little like starting a little retail store and planning on competing with Wal-Mart or writing a computer program at home at night to compete with Microsoft.
But he was serious–and you have to admire a guy with ambitious goals, right?
Bob Ricker, AHSA executive director, didn’t pull any punches. He came out swinging and claiming, “our hunting heritage has been destroyed by the most powerful lobby in Washington, D.C.”
Austin Dorr, an AHSA board member, joined in the NRA roast. “The NRA has lost its way,” Dorr insisted. “It’s too focused on forwarding a political agenda and not concentrating enough on things that matter to me like conservation.”
Ricker admitted that his group had almost no members and a mere half-million in the bank, but planned on an aggressive membership drive. And aggressive it must be to make any dent in the NRA’s body armor. The save-all-guns-at-all-costs organization has 4 million super-active members and 200 million in its bank account and the power to make U.S. senators and presidents bow before them.
OWAA members gave the organization a mixed response. Some members liked the new groups plan to listen to hunters and then develop policy instead of the top-down approach used by the NRA. Also popular was AHSA pledge to support Wilderness. “Yes, we support designating Wilderness to protect hunting land and wildlife habitat,” Ricker answered.
I must admit it was refreshing to hear, for once, a straight answer to that question.
On the negative side, some OWAA members criticized the new group as being “in favor of gun control.”
Ricker disputed that, of course, saying AHSA only wanted to get guns out of the hands of criminals and that hunters didn’t need machine guns to hunt.
Ricker also noted that America has 80 million gun owners, but the NRA only has 4 million members. He interprets this as a failure by NRA to represent gun owners and hunters because the vast majority has not joined.
NRA has been frequently criticized for its ultra-narrow focus on protecting Second Amendment rights even if it meant supporting the election of conservative, mostly republican, politicians who work hard to destroy the last wild habitat available to hunters. NRA does not support Wilderness designation and even supports more roads in roadless areas so hunters can have more access with jeeps and ATVs.
The NRA’s support for anti-environmental politicians has been in the outdoor press frequently of late. At the press conference, AHSA handed out one article from the Milwaukee Shepherd Express where outspoken outdoor writer Pat Wray expressed his criticism. “Right now, the NRA is actively working against the best interest of hunters,” Wray insisted. “It’s never been so dangerous as it is now. The NRA is using hunters, misleading hunters, and using their money in ways that will work against their best interests.”
AHSA seems to want the middle ground, to be pro-gun and pro-conservation. On the surface, that should sound good to most hunters and gun owners, but we’ll have to wait to see if the new group gets any real traction.
Hardcore gun owners will remain skeptical, but many hunters who feel burned by the NRA will probably be hopeful this is reality instead of hype.