SNYDER: Trophy hunters do immense good for outdoors
This is not an easy column to write.
It's filled with opinion and few conclusive facts.
Yet it's something every hunter and even every fan of the outdoors must think about. Nothing divides a crowd like a debate about trophy hunting.
After a lion the world came to know as "Cecil" was killed earlier this summer, the topic is tough to avoid. So let's take a fair look at it.
First, there's no doubt animals must die in order to "bag a trophy." That's part of the sport. There's no way around it.
Just as important, there's no denying there are slobs among us. These are the folks who break the rules, demand the headlines and get the attention of the naysayers.
Before you make any conclusions, however, answer this question: What would happen in Pennsylvania if we suddenly outlawed harvesting bucks?
In other words, what would happen if we outlawed trophy whitetail hunting here at home?
The answer isn't good.
After all, hunters are undeniably the nation's most important wildlife managers. Take the trophy away, you'll take the hunters away. Without hunters, modern wildlife populations are in serious jeopardy.
Within no time, we'd see overpopulation and disease threatening our deer herd. Suburban gardens would be under attack. And don't forget the Game Commission — the agency charged with managing our deer herd — would see its funding virtually dry up.
What's worse, we'd still have trophy hunters. But now they'd be poachers — the sort of criminals that can wreak havoc on a healthy animal herd.
African example: Africa is the world's prime example. Without trophy hunters looking to bag a head for their wall, the continent's precious big game herds would be severely threatened. Poachers have long tried to kill all the big game they can, especially elephants. But thanks to an influx of hunters, it's harder than ever for them to illegally kill in many regions of the continent. It's saved several species.
Plus, those hunters bring money — some paying tens of thousands of dollars for the chance at an animal. With so much money on the line, folks get serious about protecting the resource. Laws are suddenly enforced. Poachers are turned in. Everybody starts to care.
So what do I see when I walk into house or room filled with game mounts? I see the home of somebody who's passionate about the sport. I see somebody who has likely devoted immense time and, likely, money to conserving the resource. And I see somebody who's evangelical about the need to preserve our great tradition.
I don't see somebody who wants to kill solely for another head on the wall. Far from it.
There are some folks like that right here in York County. Dover Township resident Leon Drawbaugh, for example, has bagged a wide variety of big-game animals all over America. He proudly displays his trophies in an impressive big-game room that he had built as an addition to his house.
Our sport will always remain controversial. But it remains the greatest conservation and wildlife management tool we have. Without a hunter's innate desire to harvest the best trophy he can, wildlife across the globe would suffer. Funding would disappear. The drive to conserve would erode. And outlaws would take charge.
Again, when I see a trophy hunter, I see somebody who's done immense good for the sport.
Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.