Hunting for Wildlife Stories? Go to a Wildlife Refuge

October 31, 2018
Hunters at Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge in western Kentucky, one of approximately 375 National Wildlife Refuges open to hunting. Photo: Michael Johnson, USFWS. Click to enlarge.

TipSheet: Hunting for Wildlife Stories? Go to a Wildlife Refuge

Hunting season is underway in many places across the United States — much of it on state and private land. But some of it is also on National Wildlife Refuges. And that makes for a set of stories that may interest much of your audience.

But first, a step back: While hunting and conservation have gone together for ages in this country, there is plenty of tension in that relationship. Your story may be richer if you can help your audience see both sides.

Remember, it’s all about place. There are probably some portions of your local or regional landscape that are rich in wildlife and fish habitat. These are often beautiful places to hang out, hike, picnic, camp, take pictures, watch birds and just observe. Your readers and viewers may well thank you for telling them about these treasures. Or showing them.

Most hunters and fishers enjoy these things, too. A hunter may sit all morning in a boat or blind with no quarry in range, content to watch and listen as nature does its thing.

Most hunters understand that regulations — seasons, bag limits, licenses, etc. — are needed to conserve the wildlife they enjoy. Some don’t, and that’s a story, too. Some hunters have ethics; some are slobs. The difference matters. Good hunters probably know more about wildlife species than most non-hunters.

So if you are reporting on hunting, you will likely get caught in the crossfire of the political and culture wars that surround it in parts of the United States today.

Hunting as an industry … and an ethical concern

To get started, it’s good to know the players.

Hunting is an industry — from the sporting goods store and gun shops to the guides and private reserves. The groups representing these businesses often promote hunting aggressively, and may be more influential in places where hunting is big business (like Alaska).

Examples are Safari Club International, the Sportsmen’s Alliance or the National Rifle Association.

More centrist and moderate are the conservation groups for whom ethical hunting is part of the deal.

The National Wildlife Federation is a key example. NWF has over six million members and is organized into state chapters, which may help you localize your story. It is media-friendly and makes available an extensive array of spokespeople, issue experts and subject-specific reports. Because they are about conservation, much of their work has nothing to do with hunting.


Hunting is currently allowed on

about 375 of the 560 official designated refuges

in the National Wildlife Refuge System.


Another example is the Izaak Walton League. Hunting and fishing are part of their raison d’être (Izaak Walton was an angler), but ethics, conservation and recreation are their key focus. They are organized into very local chapters (often with their own land and cabins), which can help you connect locally. They tend to cluster in the Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

There are lots of conservation-only groups (like the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife) who may weigh in on hunting issues. Or WildEarth Guardians, which is not exactly anti-hunting, but which opposes slob hunting and watchdogs the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, or USFWS.

There are also single-species groups that often mix conservation and hunting interests: Ducks Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever, Ruffed Grouse Society or Whitetails Unlimited, to name a few.

At the other end of the spectrum are the animal advocacy groups who oppose hunting altogether. These might include the Humane Society of the U.S., the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Hunting on refuges already commonplace

Some newbies might be shocked … shocked to discover that there is hunting going on at National Wildlife Refuges. But this is not news — refuges are where the wildlife is.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is run by the USFWS, and includes not just the more than 560 officially designated refuges, but also protected wetlands, “waterfowl production areas” and other conservation areas as well. Hunting is currently allowed on about 375 of the refuges. Find your refuge here.

USFWS monitors hunting on refuges pretty closely, to make sure it is consistent with their conservation mission. Hunters on refuges must have state hunting licenses and follow state regulations as well as federal ones. Rules vary by refuge.

So check in with your state’s fish and wildlife agency (find them on this list). It can be useful to follow rule changes and yearly trends in licenses.

Most refuges are actually cool places worth writing about in and of themselves. They are unique ecosystems that can teach things about where you live. Check in with your local Audubon or naturalist group, and you may hook up with a tour or expedition.

It is worth remembering that a lot of the money hunters pay in fees and licenses ends up going to habitat conservation. A key example is the federal Duck Stamp, established by Congress in 1934. You need one to hunt waterfowl even on state lands, and virtually all of the money goes to wetlands preservation.

If your coverage goes into policy issues, you may want to contact the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies or some of their members, or the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 3, No. 39. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main page. Subscribe to the e-newsletter here. And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.

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