April 10, 2017 |Emilee Nelson | Land

Deep Connection Between Hunting and Environmentalism

Growing up in a family where the hunting heritage runs deep is a true gift that instills in children a pronounced respect for the outdoors and an appreciation of what it can provide. It is something that I have firsthand experience with, because I grew up in Minnesota in a family that loves to hunt. The most thrilling thing in the world to me was sitting next to my dad on a wooded hillside in tall, damp grass on a chilly November morning. I mean, what kid wouldn’t want to wake up at 4:00am and trek miles across a wet, muddy cornfield hauling heavy hunting equipment to where you might, just might, catch a glimpse of an elusive white-tailed deer?

Here am I with my dad during an exciting day of deer hunting in southeastern Minnesota. We went home without a deer but always have fun spending time together. Photo courtesy Emilee Nelson.

Hunting not only offers the potential of a wonderful dinner and a much-needed respite from pressures of the modern world. Additional results often include a thrilling adventure in the wilderness, cherished time laughing with family and friends, and becoming an environmentalist.

That last outcome is one I didn’t expect, but hunters are indeed some of the most vocal and enthusiastic protectors of our country’s natural resources.

Family and hunting go hand-in-hand in my life. Here my cousin overlooks the duck decoys at sunrise on the lake near our family cabin. Photo courtesy Emilee Nelson.

Every time I buy a hunting license, I know that the money goes directly to protecting and managing wilderness, grasslands, mountain ranges, lakes, and rivers. Every time I buy ammunition, it’s taxed a little higher through the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act—and I’m fine paying a bit more because that money is given to fish and game departments across the country to benefit animals and their habitats. Hunters generate about $11 billion per year in state and federal taxes that go back to wildlife programs. Some of the world’s most famous conservationists were also hunters, like Theodore Roosevelt. The connection between hunting and environmentalism runs deep.

There are certain moments from childhood that forever determine our core values as adults. For me, hunting provided several of those defining moments, and as I got older it started to sink in that I deeply cared about being able to enjoy the outdoors forever, and the importance of other people getting to enjoy it too was weighing on me. With talk of climate change, disappearing prairies, public perception of firearms, and young people being less interested in being outside, I knew I needed to buckle down and get serious to make a positive impact on the way of life I cared so much about. In my late teens, I decided I was going to work in conservation, and followed that commitment through college and into my current role at The Conservation Fund.

Here I am with my chocolate lab, Maddie, on a pheasant hunting trip in South Dakota. Photo courtesy Emilee Nelson.

Many fellow colleagues and partners who grew up hunting have expressed similar reasons for entering into the conservation field, and often give credit to their hunting heritage for steering their education and career paths just as I do.

Through my job at the Fund, I have the amazing opportunity to work with landowners who also care deeply about the environment. Together, we find innovative solutions to protect resources that will be enjoyed by everyone. I get to work with cattle ranchers in the tallgrass prairie who will pass on their grasslands and ranching legacy to their children. I get to work with siblings who envision their grandparent’s forestland becoming part of a National Forest, to be enjoyed and preserved forever as they remembered those whispering pines growing up.


Working with cattlemen on prairie protection is a big part of my job, and this photo of Sheepberry Fen Preserve in Minnesota exemplifies what we’re accomplishing. Photo by Alison Mickelson.

The common thread of “passing it on” is something we can all relate to. Whether our background is hunting, ranching, or running through the pine trees in bare feet on a summer day, the memories we remember fondly have helped shape our commitment to protecting the environment. I will be proud to pass on my hunting heritage to future generations, and hope that they too will form that bond to nature that translates into a lifelong passion to care for our land and water.

Check out this video from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to learn more about how hunters and non-hunters alike can help restore and protect Minnesota’s critical grasslands before it’s too late. You’ll see a familiar face around 3:08 (hint: it’s Emilee!).