When the Republican nominee for Vice President Paul Ryan recounts Barack Obama’s 2008 remarks about people who “cling to their guns or religion,” his answer is simple. “I’m a Catholic deer hunter, guilty as charged!” Your team in the nation’s capital presented a series of more in-depth questions to Ryan, to further explore the positions of the Romney-Ryan ticket on issues of concern to SCI members.
SCI: Congressman Ryan, thank you for taking the time to discuss hunting and conservation issues. They don’t always make the headlines, but they’re very important to our members.
Ryan: They’re very important to me too. And I wish the media would give more coverage to them, but rest assured that I hear about them from people all the time on the campaign trail. I see all the camo in the audience, and I hear the hunters’ concerns, and believe me, we know the importance of the hunters’ vote.
SCI: On the day your nomination was announced, it seemed like the entire country saw the picture of you with your latest buck. The Secret Service even gave you the codename “Bowhunter.”
Ryan: Well, I’m flattered by that, but the description is a bit narrow. I hunt with everything: rifle, shotgun, pistol — and yes, a bow as well. Getting into bowhunting was a way for me to expand my season and increase my opportunities. I won’t have much time to hunt this season – that’s my only regret in accepting this nomination – but in any other year, I’m out there as often as the various seasons and my other commitments will allow. Not just deer, either, but also waterfowl, upland birds and small game. That’s the Wisconsin tradition.
SCI: It sounds like you had a well-rounded introduction to the hunt. How did you get into it, what was your staring point?
Ryan: For most people in Wisconsin it’s a family tradition, but my dad actually was not a hunter. Yet, from a very young age I showed interest in hunting, so some of my dad’s friends took me under their wing. I took the hunter safety course before I turned 12, then got into small game and wingshooting. I worked cutting grass as a kid to save up for my first shotgun – a Browning BPS 20-gauge I still have, by the way.
SCI: Even before being tapped for the nomination, a Congressman has a busy schedule, lots of travel back and forth to Washington. How do you make the time?
Ryan: I hunted more before I had kids, of course, but rest assured I still schedule as many hunts as I can, out early in the morning, then I spend the rest of the day working or with the family. It’s my therapy. The peace and quiet of the deer woods, watching the world come to life, thinking about your hunting strategy and waiting and hoping for that buck to maybe come along, that’s just the best way in the world to start any day. Lately, I’ve had the great pleasure of introducing my children to the hunt. I have some two-seated ladder stands, so I take my kids with me for deer gun season (one at a time of course). I also take my kids pheasant and duck hunting. They love to watch our dogs work. You can teach your kids great lessons with these experiences. We make use of everything we harvest – I make my own sausage, and we have freezers full of pheasants, ducks, and venison. We eat wild game all the time.
SCI: Let’s talk about some of the issues. You spent four years as co-chairman of the Congressional Sportmen’s Caucus, what are your priorities for hunting and conservation issues?
Ryan: First of all – and Mitt strongly agrees with me on this – public lands should offer public access for hunting. Why even have public lands if the public who paid for them can’t use them? And hunters pay even more, of course, through licenses and permits. I can promise you that a Romney-Ryan administration will understand that hunters are the original conservationists. Too many bureaucrats think that public lands have to be protected from hunters. I think hunters need to be protected from the bureaucrats, myself. Hunting access should be equitable for all demographics, not just the hunters with the time and resources to pack into the backcountry on horses with a string of pack mules.
SCI: What about management priorities for public lands?
Ryan: That’s the flip side of the coin. In addition to access, hunters need healthy, sustainable populations of game. And you only have them when habitat is properly managed. Active management of timber leads to healthy forests. Ask any grouse! Healthy forests lead to healthy populations that are sustainable with managed harvest. All these starry-eyed activists who want to lock people out of public lands may have the best of intentions, but they have little understanding of our role in the environment. We changed North America when we settled it. We can’t undo that. What we can and must do is apply our knowledge of conservation and management to serve as the best possible stewards of the land, for mankind, and for wildlife.
SCI: So what kind of changes would you bring to the federal management agencies, in terms of what their priorities are?
Ryan: The real answer is that you need the right people leading the agencies. You can’t control everything from the White House, but you can nominate the right people who share your vision and then support them wholeheartedly. Right now, our agencies spend way too much time, effort and resources in court, fighting off repetitive nuisance lawsuits that keep coming from the same groups. They’re devoting massive resources to negotiating settlements with activist groups, but meanwhile the Fish and Wildlife Service can’t even agree to adopt the accepted international definition of a “hunting trophy”? This is all backwards. These agencies need to focus their time and effort on serving their paying customers, not the activist groups that want to put them completely out of business. But I will grant you this, it can’t all be done at the administrative level. To truly shift priorities, we’re going to need some support from Congress in making common-sense reforms to the laws that hamstring our government from properly performing its functions today.
SCI: We know you have a tight schedule and time’s running short, what’s your parting advice to SCI members and hunters?
Ryan: First, hunt long and often. But in the short-term, I hope that hunters will look at the competing choices in this election. You have an incumbent president who has told world leaders that after his election, he will have the freedom to pursue his true agenda. You have an incumbent vice president who brags that he was the driving force behind the federal gun ban of 1994. By contrast, the Romney-Ryan ticket will protect our fundamental rights and hunting heritage. Furthermore, the Romney-Ryan administration has a plan to turn this economy around that doesn’t involve confiscatory tax increases on the same people who create jobs and drive the economy. I believe it’s a very clear contrast for your members, and on behalf of the Romney-Ryan ticket, we respectfully ask for their votes on Election Day. And if they’re going to be out of town hunting on November 6, we also ask them to be sure to cast their ballot early or by absentee!
SCI: Thank you for your time, Congressman, and good luck on the trail. — Patrick O’Malley