Eric Dinger is the CEO and Co-Founder of Powderhook, an app that makes it easy for new hunters to find mentors, discuss hunting topics, find public land information, and connect with other hunters in person. Blessed with "a big motor and a lot of creativity," Eric has made it his mission to create 3 million new hunters in the next 5 years.
Looking for a lifetime of knowledge and hunting wisdom distilled into a single source? Then read on.
What is your hunting background?
I don't remember life without hunting. As early as I can remember, I tagged along with my Dad, Grandpa, Uncles and Cousins every chance I could. Some of my favorite memories of my childhood include wandering around my Grandparent's Hecla, South Dakota farm with my bb-gun, free as a bird, and shooting every one of them that'd let me get close. As a kid, I read Outdoor Life, I made bows and arrows out of sticks and the cheap jack-knife I had (and have the scars to prove it), I threw rocks at squirrels, I constantly watched for wildlife on road trips, and did just about every other thing a kid could do to wind up with hunting deep in their veins.
Do you have any direct experience with conservation efforts?
Conservation is part of everything we do at Powderhook. We walk the walk and talk the talk of a conservation company that happens to make an app. Being a conservationist isn't essential to being a hunter, but it's essential to hunting. So, from local banquets and projects, all the way through doing what we can to support conservation at the national level, the ethos of investing in the future of wild animals and wild places is part of everything Powderhook does.
How would you define conservation AND preservation, and what are the differences between them?
This one tripped me up before joining the outdoor industry. I thought the two were basically interchangeable. Conservation describes the actions taken to change or affect a species or space with an end-game in mind, and the ethic that deems those actions justifiable. Preservation is the absence of action. Mother Nature took care of much of what we describe as conservation for millions of years, burning grasslands and forests, flooding riparian areas and lowlands, renewing and revitalizing itself in a balance over time. Today, humans dam rivers, build levees, rapidly douse forest fires, plow up grasslands, and prevent many of the life-giving things nature demands in order to remain in a healthy balance. That means we have to actively do things to counter those actions; conservation.
What role do you believe the hunter plays in conservation?
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's tagline is "hunting is conservation." To a large degree, I think that's true. But, the big tent of conservation requires many more tools than hunting, and many more people than hunters, so I'm hopeful that people don't think that just because they've hunted, they've done their part to conserve the natural world. Yes, a good amount of the money spent on a license, and a small percentage spent on gun or ammo needed for a hunt go back to funding conservation. And hunting is a tool for actively managing the population of certain species. But, I think hunters should care about water quality, air quality, healthy populations of non-game species, endangered species... basically, I think people should care about the health of the planet. So yes, hunting is conservation, but it's one of many important tools and funding sources needed to do the work.
How is hunting and conservation currently viewed and stigmatized? How can these stigmas be overcome?
Hunting is stigmatized by people who have never been hunting, or who have only been exposed to a sensationalized version of what a hunter is and does. Hunters are responsible for some of these negative stereotypes, and yes, a vocal minority who is flat wrong about hunting is responsible for some as well. But, there is overwhelming global support for hunting for food. Our job as hunters isn't to convince someone our way of life is just, we know it is and that's enough. What we do is a good thing, period. Our job as hunters in 2019, given the urbanization of our culture, is to invite more people to experience it. Until you, the reader of this website, choose to share your way of life with someone, in my eyes you grousing about anti-hunters is no better than complaining about the government and then not voting.
Conservation describes the actions taken to change or affect a species or space with an end-game in mind, and the ethic that deems those actions justifiable. Preservation is the absence of action.
What advice do you have for the everyday hunter conservationist?
There are lots of demands on your time, and conservation work is just one of them. Around 1 in 20 people in this country hunts and that number is shrinking. So, if you do nothing else this year to pull your weight as a conservationist, take someone new outdoors with you. Whether you catch a fish, hunt a squirrel, or plan the backcountry elk hunt of a lifetime, it doesn't much matter. What matters is you taking the time to include someone in this special thing you know about and they don't.
Many of the national conservation organizations have local chapters and likely one in your area. The banquet or banquet planning committee for that chapter is a great place to meet some people who likely share your passion for the outdoors. They're all different, so asking around could help you find the right group for you. Powderhook would be a good place to ask. Shameless plug.
Donate some time as a volunteer to get to know the work of an organization. If you think what they're doing is important, chip in financially. I'm passionate about mentoring, so I give to programs that take people hunting.
Around 1 in 20 people in this country hunts and that number is shrinking. So, if you do nothing else this year to pull your weight as a conservationist, take someone new outdoors with you.
Keep your expectations low. Enjoy the people you're with, soak in the place you're standing, breathe the fresh air, relax. No one has ever mastered all there is to know about hunting. There's always another mountain to crest, another stream to wade, another species to chase, another tactic to YouTube; let the journey be the fun part.
I'm a busy guy, and one thing I'd share with other busy people is that the best parts of an outdoor experience often happen before and after the actual hunt itself. Too often, I cut those parts short. Don't. Let yourself have the time to get excited about planning the day or the trip, and give yourself time to rehash it over a Busch Light or Booker's. Let it breath (both the Booker's and the hunt).
What do you believe is in store for the future of hunting and conservation?
Hunters are becoming aware of the fact our numbers have been in decline for years. I think more are becoming aware of the fact that baby boomers, the largest group of hunters ever in the country, are no longer going to be going hunting in the next few years. The next generation is going to step-up and rejuvenate this way of life by injecting it with modern tools and great storytelling. We're going to do many things differently than they've been done over the last 30 years, both because we have to, and because we should.
Do you believe hunters have an ethical responsibility to teach the foundations of hunting to future generations?
Unequivocally, yes. And, it'll be our great pleasure. Lighting the fire in a new person is the new booner.
What are your recommended resources for learning more about responsible hunting and conservation?
I think finding a mentor is really important. YouTube, MeatEater, Outdoor Life, and all the other tools out there can absolutely help and inspire. But, there's no substitute for going. So, ask someone to be your mentor. My guess is they'd be honored. And, if you can't find one, download Powderhook, there are thousands of people looking for someone like you to help. Shameless plug (2).
Ask someone to be your mentor. My guess is they'd be honored.