The newly elected president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) was in Yankton this week to participate in discussions aimed at revitalizing hunting and recreational shooting.
Pete Brownell, CEO of Brownells, an Iowa-based supplier of firearm tools and parts, has served as NRA president for 20 days after being elected to the post during the group’s recent national convention in Atlanta. A resident of Grinnell, Iowa, Brownell attended the spring meeting for the Council to Advance Hunting and Shooting Sports at the National Field Archery Association (NFAA) Easton Yankton Archery Center.
The goal of the council is to recruit, retain and reactivate hunters and recreational shooters. Other members of the council included South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks; National Wild Turkey Federation; Pheasants Forever; Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops, among others.
Brownell said the council works towards its goals by trying to understand and address why the number of hunters and shooters is going down.
"There’s been a decline because there hasn’t been a mentor, frankly, to take you out hunting," he told the Press and Dakotan Thursday. "Access to a mentor who would’ve been a dad or mom, aunt or uncle, a neighbor has just diminished. So we’re trying to understand why and unwind it."
Together with a shift in culture and urbanization, the population of hunters has diminished. According to the U.S. Census Bureau there were 14.1 million hunters in the nation in 1991. Today, there are only 13.7 million hunters.
"There’s a generation that isn’t going out and hunting. They’re occupied by so many other activities that they forget that there’s a big, open space to enjoy and have fun in," Brownell explained. "A lot of people have moved away from the field into the cities, and I think now they’re reawakening to the fact that the food’s better out here and the hunt."
The council provides surrogate mentors, Brownell said. These mentors take those who want to learn about hunting into the field.
Hunting is an important aspect in the community because it helps build character, the NRA president said.
"(Hunting) helps you understand the cycle of life, the order of nature, the importance of having a healthy world," he said. "Conservation’s really about making sure that the things that are special in life really are special and stay wild."
The effort to rejuvenate hunting isn’t just local. After the meeting, Brownell left for Washington, D.C., to help build the national strategy.
"We have a big initiative involving hunting over the last three years," he said. "Really, it’s to establish and reestablish a healthy culture around hunting and society."