The Objectives and Values of the Records Program

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By Kevin Hisey, Pope & Young Club Executive Secretary

The Pope and Young Club is much more than just a record book. That fact is missed by a sizable share of the hunting community and, to our great frustration, even by some within our own membership. A great deal of time, energy and effort is underway to do a better job of “getting the word out” about the Club’s mission, purpose and programs—but, alas, folks tend to hear only what they want to.

The misconception that our organization is solely about a record book is, to a high degree, a product of its success. The Records Program is very well known, respected, often quoted, well used, sometimes misused, often abused—folks certainly know it exists. Its success overshadows the lesser known work of the Club. This is a “double-edged sword,” so to speak, in that the light on the Records is so well seen, no one sees the rest of the Club’s work.

We don’t have a Records Program just for the sake of it, though. That truism is surprisingly and almost-universally overlooked. Why do we maintain Records of bow-harvested animals? It’s human nature, I suppose, for people to lazily fit their own convenient or self-serving answer to a perceived “fill in the blank” question, instead of seeking or seeing the true answer to such a question. It MUST be about “me.” It must be about MY animals. It must be about someone else’s ego or about rich guys. Or this. Or that. The Pope and Young Club’s Records Program is not at all about those things. And, we don’t do it just “for the sake of it,” nor just to produce revenue. Our Records Program has many purposes, objectives and values. We will explore those here.

First, for balance and perspective, we better note the Records Program’s proper structural placement. As already noted, the Pope and Young Club is not “the book”—and “the book” is not the Pope and Young Club. The Pope and Young Club is a diverse, non-profit, advocacy organization. We are about hunting with the bow and arrow. We have a mission—a purpose. That purpose is “to ensure the future of bowhunting by preserving and promoting its heritage and values.”

We have a number of programs, all designed to serve that mission—membership, records, conservation, museum and Fair Chase. Each program has its own specific goals and objectives, but all are interlocked and designed to work toward the organization’s mission. We have a storied and well-respected six-decade history of advocating for bowhunting through these programs. The Records Program is simply one of these programs.

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THE BEGINNINGS
To begin to examine the contemporary objectives and values of the P&Y Records Program, we should look at its foundation and the reason it was first created. This has been well-documented in a number of our past publications. In the 1950s, this thing called hunting with a bow and arrow was still in its modern-day upstart stage—just past its infancy when Art Young and Saxton Pope were awakening an interest in the challenge and romance of this forgotten pursuit—maybe the term “toddler stage” is even appropriate. A few bowmen had been around. As a fledgling industry developed, more hunters joined the ranks of bowmen, attracted to this simple, throw-back, atavistic endeavor.

This was at a time in our society when the sense of community was strong and groups of bowmen gathered together in shared kinship. Small clubs cropped up on the local and state level in many parts of the country. At this point in time, few archery-only seasons existed on a nation-wide scale. Those that did had been hard-earned on an experimental basis by these dedicated groups of bowmen. By and large, the firearms community scoffed at this “kid’s toy” as a hunting weapon. Game agencies were skeptical of the “stick and string” as a legitimate hunting weapon compatible with their conservation objectives. The image of bowhunters was of a radical, non-conformist, half-a-bubble-off, who uncomprehendingly were simply out for a hopeless walk in the woods. The common assessment was “these guys may be able to plunk a few rabbits, but big game? No. At most, they’d just wound animals.”

Glenn St. Charles and his gang on the Hunting Activities Committee of the NFAA were tasked with addressing these perception problems. What was needed was tangible evidence to prove the effectiveness of the bow and arrow, and the bowhunter. They settled on the developing Boone and Crockett Records Program, already by the late 1950s well known and highly regarded, as a model for providing this evidence. The concept was to collect and catalog, in a scientific manner, concrete records of bowhunting’s success: “Yes, the bow and arrow is an effective weapon for harvesting big game. Here’s proof—nationwide.”

Attention was immediate and impressive. Game agencies sought the data as organized bowhunters around the country continued to labor for special archery-only seasons. Organized bowhunters used the proof in defending existing seasons under attack and to expand or create further archery-only seasons.

Through the initial birth of this records program, an organization (the Pope and Young Club) was founded to guide this effort. Proving the effectiveness of the bowhunter was the very first objective of the Pope and Young Club’s Records Program.

At the same time, the founders knew that the image of bowhunters needed improving. Statistical evidence would help with that, but so too would a like-minded group, a brotherhood, leading by example in bowhunting the “right way” (ethics, expertise, dedication to the sport). What followed was a code of conduct for bowhunters—and the establishment of articulated Rules of Fair Chase for bowhunters. Thus, the second objective of elevating the image of bowhunters by leadership and a code developed.

Mel Johnson with record breaking buck.
Mel Johnson with record breaking buck.

PRESENT DAY
Now, here we are some 50-plus years later. We have certainly succeeded…to the “nth” degree…in proving that the bow and arrow is effective. Done did that! We, too, have succeeded in establishing and promoting a code of conduct for bowhunting. Many (but not all) of the established Rules of Fair Chase have become so culturally accepted as the right thing to do, that they’ve become legal regulations in most locales. As examples, the Club said no to poison-tipped arrows at a time when that was either legal or not addressed in law. Since then, it is almost universally the law. The Club said no to shooting animals swimming in water or “helpless” in deep snow, at a time when that was common. That practice is now illegal most everywhere. The list could go on.

So, if we’ve “done did that,” what’s the point in continuing to have bowhunting records? Some folks have opined that it has served its purpose and it’s time to “put it to bed.” To say that, though, is to incorrectly conclude that a.) those are the only objectives and values of the Records, and b.) that those two objectives are no longer valid or important. I contend that line of thought is way off base. Let me explain further.

The present-day, contemporary objectives and values of the P&Y Records Program are as diverse as our modern world has become.

PROVING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF CONVENTIONAL BOWHUNTING EQUIPMENT

It is well-understood that the Records did well in proving the effectiveness of the bow and arrow. The bow and arrow is widely accepted as a legitimate hunting weapon. However, there are, and will be, threats to bowhunting. There are people who want all hunting abolished and will attack any form of hunting—bowhunting included. One natural strategy anti-hunters employ is to attack a specific form of hunting and suggest it is ineffective. They’ve tried to do that to bowhunting initially, have tried to do it in recent times, and we will certainly see that in the future. We must recognize that most folks in the public know nothing about bowhunting. We must also recognize that the number of folks knowing nothing about bowhunting is likely to grow as time goes on. This pool of people includes the politicians and decision-makers that can terminate or destroy our cherished opportunities. A quick glance at the liberal media should reaffirm a sense of worry as well.

Thus, it will continue to be important to prove the effectiveness of the bow and arrow into the future. An arsenal of facts and data at our disposal for defending bowhunting will certainly be useful.

Bowhunting, over the last several decades, has been a tremendous success story…no doubt. While declines, or ebbs and flows, in overall hunter numbers are debated at length, bowhunting continues to gain popularity. That success attracts more people and more attention. It also attracts new entrepreneurs wanting a “piece of the pie.” Without belaboring this point here, the Club’s Records Program provides proof positive that CONVENTIONAL BOWHUNTING EQUIPMENT—bowhunting equipment as defined by the Pope and Young Club—is effective and has been widely successful. In other words, we have a wealth of evidence that proves the “latest-and-greatest” aberration, or new deviation, of archery equipment, or new product being lobbied for legal use in archery season or marketed under the guise of “needed to be a successful and effective bowhunter,” might not at all be necessary. Conventional bowhunting equipment works and the bowhunter using conventional bowhunting equipment is effective. The objective of making that fact known with our statistical resource base, will become increasingly important into the future.

PROMOTING FAIR CHASE

The Records Program remains our effective venue for positively influencing the ethics and behavior of the bowhunting community. We use it to promote Fair Chase. The Records are popular and bowhunters need to voluntarily follow the established rules if they want to participate. That motivation to adhere to a code of conduct is a valuable tool.

Furthermore, we can use it to further elevate the ethical behavior and choices of the bowhunting community in order to protect bowhunting’s values, foundations and its public acceptance into the future.

At a time, nowadays, when the words “fair chase” have become a fluffy, trendy tag line that everybody uses but nobody thinks about, we provide the “meat and bones” to the very concept.

SCIENTIFIC RESOURCE BASE

The Boone and Crockett scoring system, used by P&Y in partnership with B&C, is a scientific-based system. It’s an accumulation of a series of defined measurements on the antlers/horns/skulls of North American big game specimen designed to give a very comprehensive analysis of the individual compared to the ideal of that species, and compared to all other specimen within that species. An estimated three million pieces of data, on the over 100,000 entries in our Records Program, provide a wealth of information on North American wildlife species. Combined with B&C’s extensive database, the Programs, in a consistent manner over an extensive period of time and space, provide a powerful tool for researchers and interested students of wildlife species.

We publish and disseminate this information in the form of record books and statistical summaries published periodically. The information is distributed to state wildlife agencies and is available to other interested individuals.

WILDLIFE CONSERVATION APPLICATION

The Records Program is a testimonial to wildlife conservation and the successful North American Model. It pays tribute to the habitat that was necessary to produce these extraordinary animals. It tracks the past and present health of individual wildlife populations. It honors wildlife management and recognizes the vital role of the hunter in successful wildlife conservation.

HONORS EACH ANIMAL

Each entry in the Records Program honors that individual animal as an extraordinary example of its species. Aside from the scientific attributes and the statistically-significant, consistent and credible comparison to other specimen, the Records listing concept goes further. It records that animal in perpetuity. Long after the memory of that animal has faded, long after the photos and mount have disintegrated to dust, that animal is being remembered for posterity in the P&Y Records Program for ever.

CELEBRATION OF BOWHUNTING

The Records are indeed a celebration of bowhunting success. There are two significant levels, or distinctions, to that: a “big picture” macro level and, yes, an individual, personal level.

A common stone thrown at the Records is that it glorifies individual bowhunters and placates egos. Yet, if you look at the record book and what we do, it would be hard-pressed to see it glorifying anyone. There are no fireworks and lavish celebrations, no crowns of jewels and heaps of prizes, no anointing of kings or signing of endorsement contracts, when a bow-killed animal is entered into the Records. The success, and that animal, is humbly and in a respectful, simple and dignified way, recorded for posterity throughout all time.

Each line in the book represents a special moment in time for bowhunting and for an individual bowhunter—a moment when everything happened to work out just right. It doesn’t recognize just that one moment, though. Look a little closer…if you have to, close your eyes and try to smell it—it’s there. That line celebrates the millions of moments that lead up to that and the millions of moments when things didn’t work out just right. It’s a testimonial to the days and years of practice, mastering of skills, observing, learning woodsmanship, drawing deductions, studying and experiencing. It’s a testimonial to aspirations, dreams, planning, patience, persevering raining days and frozen nights, misses and blown stalks. Those moments are all inseparable and each line in the book celebrates them all. It is indeed a testimonial to all of the various elements that factor into this special thing we cherish. It honors all that is BOWHUNTING.

RESOURCE BASE ON BOWHUNTING

The Records Program provides an immense wealth of information on the subject of bowhunting. Of course, we track animals, locations and date of kill. That information is valuable as a resource tool, for bowhunters and wildlife researchers alike. But well beyond that, we track a pool of information for each and every entry that includes such information as bowhunting equipment used, distance of shot, shot angle, time of day, hunting style, age of bowhunter, years of bowhunting experience and much more.

This valuable information is also disseminated on a periodic basis.

CONTRIBUTE TO CONSERVATION AND THE FUTURE
While primarily a processing fee for recording the entry into the Records, each record book entry fee can certainly be considered, in part, a contribution to the wildlife conservation and pro-bowhunting efforts of the Pope and Young Club.

ENCOURAGING SELECTIVE HUNTING TO ENHANCE THE BOWHUNTING EXPERIENCE

The Pope and Young Club encourages selective hunting for mature big game animals consistent with the objectives of modern wildlife management. We will explore the misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the idea, and the common use of the term “trophy hunting” in another issue of the magazine.

Being a selective hunter enhances the overall experience. It tests the skills, knowledge, patience and perseverance—all the values and characteristics of true bowhunting—all the more. For all practical purposes, it assures more time spent in the field and woods doing the very thing that we cherish—pursuit.

The Pope and Young Club’s Record Program has been, and continues to be, successful. Its objectives and values are sound and relevant—just as relevant today as they were half a century ago. It is imperative, though, that we all keep these objectives and values in mind. They are the true measure of the program’s success.

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