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Local Rod and Gun Clubs/ Fish and Wildlife Associations/Sportsmen Groups

Nameless Range

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I recall one of @Big Fin's early podcasts where the importance of local sportsmen/rod and gun clubs was discussed.

I know the historic importance of Helena Hunters and Anglers, the Anaconda Sportsman's Club, Ravalli County F & W, the Headwaters Sportsmen Assoc., etc. I wonder though, if these groups are more inert than a time previous. Maybe due to the rise of national and/or state hunting and fishing orgs, or maybe just because their members are aging out and no one is stepping up to replace them.

I spent a while this morning looking for a list of these types of groups in Montana, and couldn't find much, and I think many of the ones I did find are defunct or are functionally so.

I was thinking how difficult it would be to start one (has anyone?), and also how difficult it would be to have enough consensus among membership to make a stand on certain issues (lord we are divided). But then again, I think it could be done. I think of my own region of Montana, and how I believe among the sportsmen and women I know, conservatives, liberal, and everything in between, there are certain issues we could almost entirely agree upon and advocate for as a community of outdoorsfolk, who know local chunks of earth and how they are managed well. Who have knowledge that spans generations. But would there be utility in that? For example, are we to a point in our relationship with FWP that a sportsmens group raising hell about piss poor management, or even singing praises when it is done right, is nothing but feel goodery?

I know about many of the wins of yesteryear, but are local Rod and Gun Clubs/Fish and wildlife associations/ sportsmen groups an outdated model? Are you a member of one? Part of the reason I ask is that I find that it isn't hard to speak to my neighbors, literally and figuratively, on many hunting and fishing issues in this neck of the woods, and find kindred spirits, and I think, "There's so many of us who get it", but then we go our separate ways.
 
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Gellar

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The Driftless Area
I work closely with a group called Friends of Pool 9. They are a great group of volunteers. And one of the only successful friends groups on the Upper miss. If I go to them with an idea for funding or volunteering about the only thing they ask is are you sure that’s enough, we can do more.
 

neffa3

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Apr 17, 2015
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Wenatchee
@Nameless Range this subject hits pretty hard with me.

I was elected president of our local club and have been the youngest active member as a 30-something. We represent at most 200 sportsmen down from a high of 400+. Of the 14 board members we have 5 still of working age. The board members were the only active members in any capacity. It has been a dying org since I joined in 2015. I found it is damn near impossible to run a functional organization with volunteers only. Can it be done? Yes, but damn is it hard. Burnout is high. When everything has to be done in your "free" time while still juggling work/kids/life... it can feel incredibly time consuming, even if it isn't. When someone doesn't agree with the consensus on a topic, it's difficult to get them to take on any tasks associated with it, which means more work for those that do support the cause, that typically leads down a negative feedback loop.

This hits hard with me, because I just resigned a bit over halfway through a 2-year term. The majority of the board had been taking some hard-line approaches on a couple of large projects, stances that I didn't support, spending tons of our money, and steering the group down an unsustainable path of poor public opinion (IMO). I finally couldn't handle the stress anymore and threw in the towel.

Some of my takeaways from the last 7 years:
-You need at least 12 active members, people who can lead and coordinate
-A mix of young and old seems to provide the best of both worlds
-Money makes everything easier. You can pay for advertising, expert witnesses, and attorneys, all help the cause and can lighten the volunteer workload.
-Be realistic about the goals, mission, and effort required.
-For me, it amounted to 2-10 hrs a week, and I was only getting about 1/2 of what I wanted to or had committed to doing. Where will you find that time?
 

Nameless Range

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Western Montana
@Nameless Range this subject hits pretty hard with me.

I was elected president of our local club and have been the youngest active member as a 30-something. We represent at most 200 sportsmen down from a high of 400+. Of the 14 board members we have 5 still of working age. The board members were the only active members in any capacity. It has been a dying org since I joined in 2015. I found it is damn near impossible to run a functional organization with volunteers only. Can it be done? Yes, but damn is it hard. Burnout is high. When everything has to be done in your "free" time while still juggling work/kids/life... it can feel incredibly time consuming, even if it isn't. When someone doesn't agree with the consensus on a topic, it's difficult to get them to take on any tasks associated with it, which means more work for those that do support the cause, that typically leads down a negative feedback loop.

This hits hard with me, because I just resigned a bit over halfway through a 2-year term. The majority of the board had been taking some hard-line approaches on a couple of large projects, stances that I didn't support, spending tons of our money, and steering the group down an unsustainable path of poor public opinion (IMO). I finally couldn't handle the stress anymore and threw in the towel.

Some of my takeaways from the last 7 years:
-You need at least 12 active members, people who can lead and coordinate
-A mix of young and old seems to provide the best of both worlds
-Money makes everything easier. You can pay for advertising, expert witnesses, and attorneys, all help the cause and can lighten the volunteer workload.
-Be realistic about the goals, mission, and effort required.
-For me, it amounted to 2-10 hrs a week, and I was only getting about 1/2 of what I wanted to or had committed to doing. Where will you find that time?
Thanks for this comment of hard earned wisdom.
 

Gerald Martin

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This subject has been on my mind a lot the past week.
I sat in on the discussion that PERC put on at the Museum of the Rockies last week with Big Fin as one of the panelists.

The times are a changin’ locally here in SW MT and I think it’s past time for me to be part of a group of like minded hunters.
 

Big Fin

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@neffa3 has pretty much hit the nail on the head with his observation and his explanations of what it takes. When we founded Headwaters in 1997, we had a very motivated group of people and some timely topics that coalesced around the same time.

What you find is that being a volunteer is as demanding as it is rewarding. When you go to hearing, commissions, serve on councils, etc. you are one of the few "unpaid employees" there. Most everyone else is paid to be there. They have access to funds, time is paid for that purpose, and they usually have budgets for influencing decision makers. It is daunting.

Yet, I will say that some of the most rewarding accomplishments of my life were late nights with fellow volunteers, committed to seeing it through. Not sure how I can place a value on those events or the many great volunteers I met and was able to build friendships with.

I would not discourage anyone from forming a group. If that works for you and helps bring together people of like minds and similar causes, I encourage you to go for it.

Just know it isn't for everyone. Don't waste scarce energy being frustrated by the fact that you at times feel lonely when many other hunters/anglers/public land users are busy living their lives while you are at meetings, traveling to hearings, taking time from work and family. It is a pursuit of passion, and as Neffa says, can lead to burnout. Try to manage that burn rate so to have some gas left in the tank.

Know that you can't solve all the problems. The old saying, "If you need a problem solved, find the busiest person in town" applies. If you have some successes and start building relationships, it won't be long and the "Hunters of squared-headed Finlander heritage" and every other small group will be asking you to weigh in on their issue that is tangential to your focus. Know what you want to accomplish and resist the temptation to be sucked into every possible thing. That ramps up the burnout and also dilutes your effectiveness on the topics you are most interested in.

That said, some of the greatest work gets done by these rod and gun clubs. I can think of many in Montana that are true gems we are thankful to have. Hopefully more folks step in to help take the reins by those older and grayer folks who have had their shoulders to the wheel for decades.
 

tjones

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4,192
At 61 I am one of the younger in our group. The old boys still do a lot of heavy lifting but gets harder every year.

Testifying at commission meetings and grinding out months of tentatives has been replaced with bitching on social media.

The wins are fewer and further in between and somewhat smaller victories.

Time available shrinks, time demands increase.

Send the 20 bucks. If you like 270 mule deer, if you like 261 mule deer, if you like 250 LE elk send the $20, they are all doing great work.
 
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MNElkNut

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Minnesota
I am an active member of both a local club and a chapter of a national organization. There are benefits to both and both entities actually work together on many projects together. We have had some HUGE successes. I have also started another one (local).

The biggest challenge for all groups is volunteers. You can find good volunteers and you can find active volunteers, but good, active volunteers are tough to find. In fact, a bad volunteer can really be a detriment. Before you start this organization, make sure you have like-minded people who actively contribute to mission, do the heavy lifting, and are good to be around. A variety of skills is also important. For example, if nobody can do social media, it will limit your reach and effectiveness. Without a person who organizes well, it will limit your efficiency and effectiveness.

Getting a non-profit status is not a big deal. That is a low hurdle to get over. Agreeing on bylaws and mission is much more complicated. You have a vision. Do others share that vision? How much are tyou willing to modify your vision? How wide is the vision? Are you going to do a lot of things pretty good or a few really good? Spend plenty of time developing the groups vision and mission and make sure all are invested before you take the official step to becoming a nonprofit.

I always tell potential volunteers that you will get out of it what you put into it. Best of luck to you and if you have any questions, please feel free to PM me.
 

TheTone

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My experience mirrors many others. I went to a couple meetings of my local group and was probably the youngest in the room but 25-30 years. Group used to be active doing hunter education, working with F&G, attending meetings etc, now it seemed to be a small social gathering with no path and bad food. I think an influx and multiple younger people could have had a impact to give the group direction but they would have had to get past the old guard first. I was disappointed to say the least.

I found much the same with local elk foundation chapter other than it had more members. They didn’t care much about elk or helping the resource it was more a way for people to show off their wealth and drinking ability to each other. Zero interest in elk habitat or issues locally
 

FI460

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Ashland, OR
I'll echo all of the above. 3 years ago at a local sportsmans show I was literally pulled out of the crowd by a guy in his early 30s. He told me "Dude, I need your help." It's a statewide organization, and when I started attending local chapter meetings the guy who recruited me was the only other person in the room younger than 50. I'd guess the average age of attendees was close to 70.

I was appointed to a vacant board position 7 months later, elected 4 months after that, appointed vice president after another resignation 6 months later, and then elected president the following year.

Pre Covid our membership was close to 1000 in the local chapter. We would get around 10 members, including board members, attending volunteer events. Our membership meetings regularly had 50-100, but that was mostly a social hour.

I've been able to recruit 3 other young guys, but it's absolutely a grind. It often feels like the organization is just we few active members, and some days it's hard to get over how unfair that seems, but every time we get to contribute to a land acquisition or a habitat improvement project I'm reminded of how impactful that grind can be.

These organizations are extremely important to the local agency staff. It's often annoying when it feels like they forget we're volunteers working 40+ hours a week on other things, but they need our input and support for a lot of their proposals.
 

TheTone

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Anyone want to start a pronghorn conservation group? I shouldn't be the public face of anything, but I'm a bit frustrated that lopes get overlooked.
I think we had a member here start on that.
 

TheTone

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Another issue I think that plagues the local groups is how segmented peoples ideas have become. Instead of a larger group focused on multiple fronts each little niche or category has its own group focused on one topic. Locally I can go to a wildlife grou, fly fishing group, trout group, elk group, archery club, etc. We’ve done a great job of diluting the pool and peoples time
 

Ben Lamb

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Cedar, MI
@neffa3 has pretty much hit the nail on the head with his observation and his explanations of what it takes. When we founded Headwaters in 1997, we had a very motivated group of people and some timely topics that coalesced around the same time.

What you find is that being a volunteer is as demanding as it is rewarding. When you go to hearing, commissions, serve on councils, etc. you are one of the few "unpaid employees" there. Most everyone else is paid to be there. They have access to funds, time is paid for that purpose, and they usually have budgets for influencing decision makers. It is daunting.

Yet, I will say that some of the most rewarding accomplishments of my life were late nights with fellow volunteers, committed to seeing it through. Not sure how I can place a value on those events or the many great volunteers I met and was able to build friendships with.

I would not discourage anyone from forming a group. If that works for you and helps bring together people of like minds and similar causes, I encourage you to go for it.

Just know it isn't for everyone. Don't waste scarce energy being frustrated by the fact that you at times feel lonely when many other hunters/anglers/public land users are busy living their lives while you are at meetings, traveling to hearings, taking time from work and family. It is a pursuit of passion, and as Neffa says, can lead to burnout. Try to manage that burn rate so to have some gas left in the tank.

Know that you can't solve all the problems. The old saying, "If you need a problem solved, find the busiest person in town" applies. If you have some successes and start building relationships, it won't be long and the "Hunters of squared-headed Finlander heritage" and every other small group will be asking you to weigh in on their issue that is tangential to your focus. Know what you want to accomplish and resist the temptation to be sucked into every possible thing. That ramps up the burnout and also dilutes your effectiveness on the topics you are most interested in.

That said, some of the greatest work gets done by these rod and gun clubs. I can think of many in Montana that are true gems we are thankful to have. Hopefully more folks step in to help take the reins by those older and grayer folks who have had their shoulders to the wheel for decades.

Every bit of this. I had the amazing gift of working with tons of local clubs in MT & WY. The state-based wildlife federations are generally composed of these groups. I think that's a good place to start, and see if there are active organizations close by who work in this realm. The volunteerism that is necessary is always a struggle, especially if you look to those who, like @neffa3 has stated, are pulled between work, family, recreation and volunteering. There are a ton of younger folks who volunteer (Look at what the Montana chapter of the wild sheep foundation does with volunteers, from policy down to ground work, for example). I see that reflected in the boards of statewide groups like BHA chapters, wildlife feds, etc, and less so at the local rod & gun level. Having a gun range seems to help increase participation and clubs like Prickly Pear Sportsmen in East Helena are a testament to that, and they get a ton of credit at the commission & legislature.

The history of those local rod & gun clubs across the United States is the primary driver of the adoption of the North American Model, and the successes in conservation up until today. The first North American Conference was literally Rod & Gun Clubs coming together in DC to form a more perfect union as it relates to conservation. The power contained within those groups remains, but there is a serious need of investment in terms of human capital.

I still pockets of these clubs carrying the weight across the nation. The NE, midwest and rockies seem to lead the pack. But it's tough work, and it takes a professional approach which is often tough for volunteers.
 

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