At the close of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, the early pioneers of today’s sportsmen’s conservation community faced a unique set of challenges. As a result of market hunting, purposeful extirpation, and general exploitation of natural resources, many game species were at historically low population levels throughout much of their historical range. The early champions of today’s conservation ethic, such as President Theodore Roosevelt, George Bird Grinnell, and Gifford Pichot, faced this challenge head on. Through their efforts and those of others, was born the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation which set in place the tenets that define our approach to wildlife conservation to this day. During this period state fish and wildlife agencies were formed, and game laws were implemented to regulate harvest. Additionally, we saw the birth of the “user-pays, public benefit” American System of Conservation Funding through which sportsmen and women provide long-term and sustainable funding for the agencies tasked with managing the vast majority of our nation’s game species. Complementary efforts effectively shut down market hunting, established what is today the Fish and Wildlife Service, and set aside public lands to be conserved.
As a result of the laudable work of these early conservationists, sportsmen and women in the later 20th century were able to experience the “golden age” of hunting. Popular game species returned to at or near historic highs, hunting was a vibrant part of our culture throughout much of the nation, and state fish and wildlife agencies were well funded, held in high regard, and effectively carried out their missions of scientific management of game species.