Former TRCP intern Hank Forrester and his dog, Teddy, pose with a hard-earned gobbler in North Carolina. We want to see your photos. E-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them in our “fan photos” album on Facebook.
In a world before radio, television and the Internet, Theodore Roosevelt was a voracious reader. He read at least one book per day, and his interests covered an enormously wide range of subjects. One can only imagine what a man with his energy and curiosity would have consumed had he access to Google, Twitter and Facebook.
Among his favorite authors was the nature writer and essayist John Burroughs. When the two met in 1889, it marked the beginning of a 30-year friendship — which only ended with Roosevelt’s death in 1919.
The two were polar opposites in many ways. T.R. was a mercurial, animated and action-driven man of science while Burroughs was an introspective, contemplative and poetic observer of nature. T.R. hunted throughout his life, whereas Burroughs gave it up as he grew older. Burroughs loved to fish, especially for brook trout in his beloved Catskill Mountains, while T.R. did not particularly enjoy the sport.
Regardless of these differences they developed a deep and abiding admiration for each other. Soon after meeting T.R., Burroughs wrote, “I thought him very rigorous, alive all over, with a great variety of interests. … It was surprising how well he knew the birds and animals. He’s a rare combination of sportsman and the naturalist.”
Roosevelt in turn dedicated his 1905 book, “Outdoor Pleasures of an American Outdoorsman,” to Burroughs.
“Every lover of outdoor life must feel a sense of affectionate obligation to you,” Roosevelt wrote. “Your writings appeal to all who care for the life of the woods and fields, whether their tastes keep them in the homely, pleasant farm country or lead them into the wilderness. It is a good thing for our people that you should have lived: surely no man can wish to have more said of him.”
In reference to the two-week camping trip the two took in Yellowstone National Park in 1903, T.R. continued, “You were with me on one of the trips described in this volume, and I trust that to look it over will recall the pleasant days we spent together.” Their writings are enjoyed by sportsmen, conservationists and lovers of literature nearly 100 years after their deaths — a fact that would please them both to no end.
Theodore Roosevelt first traveled west to hunt and ranch in the Dakotas. He was deeply affected by the people, animals and the stunning vistas found in the untouched landscapes where he rode. During his time out West, Roosevelt witnessed the extermination of the American buffalo – an experience that changed him forever. He saw the death of these majestic beasts as a “veritable tragedy of the animal world” and wrote about it extensively in his book, “Hunting Trips of a Ranchman”:
It may truthfully be said that the sudden and complete extermination of the vast herds of the buffalo is without a parallel in historic times. No sight is more common on the plains than that of a bleached buffalo skull; and their countless numbers attest the abundance of the animal at a time not so very long past. On those portions where the herds made their last stand, the carcasses, dried in the clear, high air, or the mouldering skeletons, abound.
Last year, in crossing the country around the heads of the Big Sandy, O’Fallon Creek, Little Beaver, and Box Alder, these skeletons or dried carcasses were in sight from every hillock, often lying over the ground so thickly that several score could be seen at once. A ranchman who at the same time had made a journey of a thousand miles across Northern Montana, along the Milk River, told me that, to use his own expression, during the whole distance he was never out of sight of a dead buffalo, and never in sight of a live one.
Thus, though gone, the traces of the buffalo are still thick over the land. Their dried dung is found everywhere, and is in many places the only fuel afforded by the plains; their skulls, which last longer than any other part of the animal, are among the most familiar of objects to the plainsman; their bones are in many districts so plentiful that it has become a regular industry, followed by hundreds of men (christened “bone hunters” by the frontiersmen), to go out with wagons and collect them in great numbers for the sake of the phosphates they yield; and Bad Lands, plateaus, and prairies alike, are cut up in all directions by the deep ruts which were formerly buffalo trails.
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I grew up in the 1940s in central Wisconsin – a time and place devoid of any appreciable fish and wildlife resources. There were no deer, streams were polluted and the Great Lakes fishery had just collapsed. Boy Scouts led me to an early education about living and being outdoors, and something in that experience made me want to become engaged further in the natural world. In high school, I joined a fly-fishing club and found teachers who engaged me on my environmental interests. One suggested I attend Montana State University. I was offered a scholarship there, and so I headed West … and I’ve only been back once.
Your book, “Rifle in Hand: How Wild America Was Saved,” explores the role of hunters in the conservation of American wildlife. What message do you hope readers will take from this book?
I hope the book gets hunters and anglers back in step with the American conservation movement. We should be inspired by the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell. T.R. had an epiphany after killing one of the last remaining American buffalo – an event that spurred the creation of the conservation movement. [Read more about T.R.’s response to the extinction of the American buffalo in Roosevelt Reflections.] T.R. realized that we were a nation without a conservation ethic, and he worked to change that, setting aside more than 230 million acres of wilderness.
How did you first hear about the TRCP?
I was involved with the organization when it was in the early stages and was called the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Alliance. I used to write the “Rough Rider” manuals.
What is one of the most important conservation issues facing sportsmen today?
The most dangerous threat is the return of aristocratic notions of who gets to hunt. Wildlife should be seen as a resource to be managed for the benefit of all the people.
What do you enjoy doing outdoors?
Oh, I do it all.