Boone and Crockett Club: Fair Chase & Conservation Since 1887
by Jack Reneau, Director Big Game Records, Boone and Crockett Club
The Mission of the Boone and Crockett Club
It is the policy of the Boone and Crockett Club to promote the guardianship and provident management of big game and associated wildlife in North America and to maintain the highest standards of Fair Chase and sportsmanship in all aspects of big game hunting, in order that this resource of all the people may survive and prosper in its natural habitats. Consistent with this objective, the Club supports the use and enjoyment of our wildlife heritage to the fullest extent by this and future generations of mankind.
Formation of the Boone and Crockett Club
Theodore Roosevelt, a dedicated sportsman and visionary, founded the Boone and Crockett Club in 1887. In 1883, Roosevelt, an avid hunter, outdoorsman, and explorer returned from his ranching days in North Dakota with a mission. He had witnessed first-hand the negative affect on big game populations from unchecked exploitation. He called a meeting of several of his friends who shared his passion for the outdoors. One of these gentleman hunters, George Bird Grinnell, described this gathering as “an association of men bound together by their interest in game and fish, to take charge of all matters pertaining to the enactment and carrying out of laws on the subject.”
Successful men of science, business, industry, politics, and public service, had joined together out of their common concern for dwindling wildlife populations and irresponsible land use, to conserve wild resources for the future. Because of the dedication of these respected leaders and riflemen hunters, this meeting eventually resulted in the foundation for the greatest conservation revolution in the history of mankind and the survival of our hunting heritage.
Boone and Crockett First for Conservation
When Roosevelt took office in 1901 the contemporary thinking on natural resource matters was that of “protection” and “preservation.” Through his discussions with Grinnell “conservation” became the keynote of his administration. The word soon appeared in dictionaries defined as “prudent use without waste.” Roosevelt’s administration produced a federal natural resource program that was balanced between economic development and aesthetic preservation, setting aside and protecting 150 million acres of national forests. In seven years, more progress was made in natural resource management than the nation had seen in a century, or has seen since.
Throughout the 20th century, Roosevelt and the hunter-conservationists of the Boone and Crockett Club continued to make significant contributions to wildlife and environmental welfare. Some of these early accomplishments of Club members include:
- The establishment of game laws, the enforcement of hunting seasons and bag limits;
- The abolishment of market hunting practices;
- The protection of Yellowstone National Park and the establishment of Glacier and Denali National Parks;
- The establishment of the National Park Service, Na- tional Forest Service, and the National Wildlife Refuge System;
- Passing of the 1894 and 1900 Lacey Acts, Federal Aid to Wildlife Restoration (Pittman-Robertson) Act, the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, Migratory Bird Act of 1913, the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act of 1934, and the Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit Program.
Boone and Crockett Club Members were so effective that their conservation history, commissioned to be written in 1960, was so nearly a complete history of the conservation movement that it was expanded to include non-Club related items. This history was detailed in James B. Trefethen’s book, An American Crusade for Wildlife, which has been accepted as a landmark text for conservation.
The Rules of Fair Chase
In a land of abundance, free-spirited pioneers and outdoorsmen were naturally resistant to change, new laws, and limits. Early European law mandated that all wildlife belonged to the crown; therefore, American pioneers shunned anything that resembled old-world restrictions.
As indicated in Roosevelt’s master plan, a set of guidelines had to be established. An ethical code of conduct for all sportsmen was required. If wildlife was to survive, and for “conservation” (wise use) to prevail over “preservation” (non-use) sports- men must lead the charge. With the leadership of Roosevelt, the Boone and Crockett Club’s “Fair Chase” tenants encouraged laws in the states and provinces to maintain sport hunting at a high level of sportsmanship and ethical action. This “Fair Chase” code directly engaged the hunters’ conscience to enjoy hunting in an ethical fashion. Born from these efforts were the concept of public stewardship and the realization that wildlife did indeed belong to the people.
Throughout its existence, the Boone and Crockett Club never skirted thorny issues. Changing the culture and thinking of the American sportsmen, was perhaps, one of the most difficult, yet significant, accomplishments of the Club. The Club’s Fair Chase statement provided the foundation for hunter ethics, as we know them today. The public image of the hunter was raised to that of a sportsman – one who can kill, yet protect and nurture what is taken.
They Belong to All
One of the early challenges facing the Club, and a successful launch of the conservation movement was the disconnect that existed between citizens and wildlife. This disconnect was held over from the old days of European rule – no public ownership of wildlife. To bring the public into the realization that wildlife in the “new country” did indeed belong to them and was in their care, the Club went into action with two major initiatives – the protection of Yellowstone National Park and the establishment of the National Collection of Heads and Horns.
From the Club’s first formal meetings a plan was initiated to save Yellowstone National Park (the Nation’s first national park) from poachers, mining and timber speculators, and the Northern Pacific Railroad, which was lobbying to gain a right of way west, through the Park. “Resolve that a committee of 5 be appointed by the chair to promote useful and proper legislation toward the enlargement and better Government of Yellowstone.” A single resolution, in a single sentence, but it marked the beginning of the Boone and Crockett Club’s conservation crusade.
Through a series of exposé editorials in Club member, George Bird Grinnell’s Forest and Stream magazine, the public was drawn into the cause. The dramatic telling of a bison-poaching incident within the pages of Forest and Stream was a national sensation that focused public attention and outcry on the serious plight of Yellowstone. Sportsmen, nature lovers, and those who planed to someday visit the Park finally said, “No more.” In 1894 the Yellowstone Protection Act (Lacey Act of 1894) was pushed through Congress by Club Member, Senator John F. Lacey. The laws gave Yellowstone the staff, funding, protection, enforcement, and penalties for violations it needed to be maintained as pristine national treasure for all people.
The National Collection of Heads and Horns was another brainchild of the Club. It was a trophy exhibit opened for public display in 1922 at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, in cooperation with the New York Zoological Society (also founded and directed by several B&C Members) and the Bronx Zoo, of which Club member, William T. Hornaday was its first Director. The inscription over the entrance to the exhibit read “In Memory of the Vanishing Big Game of the World.” The display sparked public interest in big game animals, elevated the concept of public stewardship of wildlife, and created the momentum needed to launch a conservation and recovery effort that saved many of these great animals, and hunting itself from extinction.
Once the positive effects of the conservation movement began to pay dividends, the plight of big game animals was no longer as much of a concern. Interest in the collection had waned and the building, which housed the trophies, became used for storage space. After a burglary in 1974 the Club rescued what remained of the collection and found a temporary home for them at the national headquarters of the National Rifle Association in Washington, D.C. In 1981 the collection was per- manently moved to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, where it resides today as a testimonial to the success of the North American Model of Conservation.
Why Keep Records
The grave condition our big game species were in at the turn of the century had many responsible sportsmen wondering if these great animals would decline to the point of Audubon’s bighorn sheep, and the eastern and Merriam’s elk – extinction. Certain species of animal and bird life were vanishing and before it was too late, a biological record of their historic range and mere existence was needed. The Boone and Crockett Club again accepted the challenge.
When the Club’s Executive Committee appointed Theodore Roosevelt, Casper Whitney, and Archibald Rogers to the Club’s first Records Committee in 1902 it wasn’t to develop a scoring system for bragging rights, endorsements or what fees to charge for the taking of a trophy. Their goal was a system to record biological, harvest, and location data on the vanishing big game animals of North America.
With the publishing of the first edition of Records of North American Big Game in 1932, the Club set in motion a system that would continue to elevate our native big game species to an even higher plane of public stewardship. A by-product of this book was an increased interest in trophy hunting, which subsequently motivates more hunters to become interested in the conservation movement.
Records-keeping activities enabled the Club to promote its doctrine of ethical hunting by accepting only those trophies taken under “Fair Chase.” Through prestige received from the success and acceptance of the Records Book, the Boone and Crockett Club had the ability to forge a new understanding of species biology and the need for the management of big game species.
When it was reported that the Club would reject cougar trophies entry into the records book from states that offered a bounty for them, the result led to cougar being elevated to the status of a big game animal. This allowed the cougar both management and protection such a classification warranted. This same awareness and recognition became available to other species such as the Central Canada barren ground caribou found in the Northwest Territories. The declaration of a separate records book category allowed caribou from parts of Northwest Territories to become eligible for funding and management from the government. These territories received a vital boost to their economies from the sale of licenses, tags, and a new interest in these great animals.
In Quebec, when complaints were received from hunters about the practices of caribou outfitters and guides, the Boone and Crockett Club contacted Quebec’s Game and Fish Department. If questionable hunting practices continued, the Quebec- Labrador caribou would no longer be accepted for the Records Book. As a result, ethical, Fair Chase hunting became the norm rather than the exception.
Into The Second Century
Throughout its history the Boone and Crockett Club has supported science, research, and education. In recognition of the Club’s 100th anniversary, Club members committed to expand this purpose by purchasing the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch (TRM) in 1986. This 6,600-acre working cattle ranch is located on Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front adjoining the Bob Marshall Wilderness and other privately owned ranches.
This region encompasses prime wildlife wintering grounds. Here, habitat research and land management practices present an example to community ranchers demonstrating that diversified populations of big game, even predators like grizzly bear and cougar can be compatible with profits from ranching.
Open to the public each fall, the TRM Ranch, through a Block Management agreement with the State of Montana, allows people of all ages to hunt on the Ranch; however, special em- phasis is given to youth hunters who must be accompanied by an adult mentor. Hunting traditions will be preserved in the future through hunter/mentor opportunities like those who enjoy the privilege of participating in Fair Chase hunting, in natural, well managed environments.
In 2001, the Boone and Crockett Club constructed the Elmer E. Rasmussen Wildlife Conservation Education Center on the Ranch. This Center serves as the headquarters for the Lee and Penny Anderson Conservation Education programs. Using the TRM Ranch as an outdoor classroom, the Club’s K-12 Education Program helps students and teachers build lasting awareness, understanding, and appreciation for the living and non-living components of our natural world. Through the Conservation Across Boundaries (CAB) program, teachers from across the country are invited to participate in workshops where wildlife and habitat conservation curriculum models are taught benefiting both teachers and their students.
History has proven there is no better investment in the future than knowledge through education. In keeping with the Boone and Crockett legacy of leadership, the Club launched a pilot program in 1993. This program funds the research of university graduate students who have chosen wildlife or natural resources as their life’s work. The first B&C Endowed Professorship Chair found its home at the epicenter of today’s resource challenges – the Rocky Mountain West. Here, at the University of Montana in Missoula, the Boone and Crockett Professor of Wildlife Conservation plays a central role in the Club’s Conservation Program. The Professor teaches, guides graduate student research, and offers public service in the fields of wildlife conservation and ecosystem management for sustainable development. By focusing on education at the highest level, the Club insures that investments made today will continues to pay dividends for decades as these students advance in their careers.
In 2005, success of this program in Montana was replicated at Texas A&M University when a second chair was endowed. The focus of this program is the impact of state and federal environmental regulations on private lands and wildlife populations; the potential of consumptive and non-consumptive wildlife resource use on landowner income; and public perceptions of private land stewardship and resource conservation. Other endowed professorships are planned at other universities throughout the U.S.
For more information about the Boone & Crockett Club and the many activities it is involved in, visit the Boone & Crockett Club website at www.booneandcrockettclub.com.
“In a moment of decision the best thing that you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing!”
Founder of the Boone & Crockett Club