Josh Dahlke is the VP of Operations & Content with ScoutLook Weather, a mobile weather app for outdoor enthusiasts, and host of The Hunger, an online film series about the hunting lifestyle. After a lifetime of hunting and a successful career centered around his passion, the Minnesota native has a lot to say about hunting ethics and conservation.
We were fortunate enough to catch Josh between hunts, film shoots, and his day job — just long enough for him to answer a few questions.
What is your hunting background?
My original foundation as a hunter was laid as a child, riding the coattails of my uncles. As bowhunters, I would watch them practice shooting in my grandma’s backyard, and I’d linger in their shadows as they prepared for weekend hunts—all the while waiting for that moment when I’d get an invitation to come along. Eventually that happened, and one of my earliest memories of experiencing a hunt was in Wisconsin during late October at the age of 10. My uncle put me in an observation treestand; he set up nearby in a different treestand with his bow. I can distinctly remember watching the rut unfold in front of my eyes. I was just an observer—no weapon in hand—but my adrenaline surged just the same, and from those initial moments I knew hunting was in my blood.
As a funny anecdote, my other uncle had planned a late-season deer hunting trip for us when I was in 7th grade. I was all packed, waiting for my uncle by the front door, when I got the bad news that he was canceling the trip. A last-minute blizzard struck and he wasn’t comfortable driving to hunting camp. He probably doesn’t know this (well, he will now), but I wept like a schoolgirl and threw somewhat of a solo tantrum in my parents’ living room. I was distraught that we weren’t going hunting! Out of spite, I hunted a squirrel with my pellet gun in our front yard. Later that night I ended up at a school dance. Lame.
I signed up for a firearms safety class at the earliest opportunity. I killed my first deer—a white-tailed buck fawn—with a slug gun at 12 years old. I continued to hunt whitetails, grouse and small game until I became a turkey hunter at the age of 16. Since that first fateful trip to the deer woods of Wisconsin, I’ve embraced a full-fledged outdoors lifestyle that encompasses every aspect of my being. From my formal education and career as a communicator in outdoor media, to the food I eat, to the overall balance of my mental and physical health, the outdoors and especially hunting are what keep me moving.
Do you have any direct experience with conservation efforts?
My most “direct” experience with conservation efforts lies in my time volunteering for a local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. I was a chapter committee member in Minnesota for several years. The NWTF is awesome for a number of reasons, but namely its grassroots approach to generating revenue for wildlife and habitat conservation and restoration efforts is very impressive. Local chapters do so much of the heavy lifting when it comes to raising funds for local, regional, and national efforts—and these efforts don’t just impact wild turkeys or turkey hunters, they influence natural resource conservation as a whole.
Any initiative that’s intended to directly benefit a single species will almost always directly or indirectly benefit a number of other species. The NWTF’s volunteer-driven programs are well structured, making it easy for folks to provide support on whatever level is realistic for them; this is critical in today’s fast-paced world—you need to make it easy for people to participate and make an impact.
How would you explain and/or define conservation AND preservation, and what are the differences?
Natural resource conservation is synonymous with sustainability and sustainable practices. Nature’s wonders were created by something far more powerful than mankind, and I believe these things were put here for humans to nurture and enjoy with respect and responsibility. If you’re not tapping into the fruits of our natural world, you’re not living life to its fullest (and hunting, in my humble opinion, is the best way to do it).
The act of conservation is what allows us to perpetually operate under that philosophy. Conservation goes hand in hand with preservation. There are lots of people on this earth—all with unique viewpoints and ideas about how resources should be handled. Sustainable use (i.e. conservation) of our natural resources—give and take—is critical in order to maintain a middle ground and keep everyone happy. We can only eternally preserve our natural resources by conserving them.
Nature’s wonders were created by something far more powerful than mankind, and I believe these things were put here for humans to nurture and enjoy with respect and responsibility.
What role do you believe the hunter plays in conservation?
The concept that hunters are conservationists isn’t just a concept. It’s a fact. As hunters, we pay to play. We continually choose to self impose taxes and fees on our hunting activities to give back to natural resources—the Pittman-Robertson Act being the most publicized example.
Beyond what’s written on paper and tossed into the coffers, hunters are among few groups that have a sincerely intimate connection with and knowledge of the outdoors. Until you spend quiet hours, days, and weeks among nature and wildlife in the way that a hunter does, you can never even begin to understand or appreciate the importance of conservation and what’s at stake out there. This is where the importance of constructive conversations and enlightenment of non-hunters becomes an invaluable contribution to conservation. As hunters, when we open up with non-hunters to share our passion, stories, and knowledge of the outdoors, it opens a door to a tunnel where a bright light is shining at the other end.
The concept that hunters are conservationists isn’t just a concept. It’s a fact.
How is hunting and conservation currently viewed and stigmatized?
The term “conservation” is abused a lot, especially as it relates to sustainable natural resources management practices, which includes hunting. Stepping outside the boundaries of the hunting conversation, another exemplary topic to point toward is timber management. When a forest isn’t managed with selective harvest, controlled burns, and other conservation practices, devastating wildfires and wind-related catastrophes are inevitable. A conversation about forest “preservation” can’t be had without including management—which almost always involves removal of some timber. It’s healthy to cut down trees, just like it’s healthy to kill wild animals—so long as a thoughtful, science-based conservation plan is the underlying driver in these sustainable uses.
Hunting is easily stigmatized because it’s easy to trigger human emotions surrounding life and death. It’s impossible for some folks to comprehend the idea that killing (i.e. removing consumers from a landscape) is a necessary part of conservation. This will always be an issue highlighted among the general public.
How can these stigmas be overcome?
As hunters, the best we can do to overcome these stigmas is to share our knowledge of wildlife and sustainable management with non-hunters. And let’s not forget food: everybody eats. I’ve found that speaking to non-hunters about hunting can often be much more relatable—and a great icebreaker—when you frame it around putting meat on the table.
It’s healthy to cut down trees, just like it’s healthy to kill wild animals—so long as a thoughtful, science-based conservation plan is the underlying driver in these sustainable uses.
What advice do you have for the everyday hunter conservationist?
There are so many things to do as a hunting community that can have a profoundly positive impact on conservation and social-political forces. It starts by being a good person. Be respectful of others, always, but especially when you’re sporting camouflage, or carrying a gun or bow, or simply driving a truck with a deer sticker on the back window. We’re a community, and in any community—like it or not—the actions of one can reflect on the entire group in the court of public opinion.
It’s a constant battle to maintain our rights as sportsmen, and also to conserve the natural resources that allow us to thrive. If you can spare an extra dollar, find an organization that supports your ideals and sign a check. Everything comes at a cost, nothing is free, so giving back to a worthy cause in the form of hard-earned cash is imperative. The National Wild Turkey Federation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Sportsmen’s Alliance, National Rifle Association, National Deer Alliance, and several other reputable organizations will spend your dollars smartly. Just make sure to thoroughly vet the organization(s) you plan to support, because unfortunately there are a lot of “green decoys” that put on a false front to get your money, but on the backside they might not be what you thought.
What do you believe is in store for the future of hunting and conservation?
I fear for the future of hunting and conservation. I can’t paint a rosy picture with honest conviction, so I will leave it at this: Wake up every day, look outside at the sky and the trees and the birds, and ask yourself, “What would life be like without these things?” Let that answer fuel your actions, attitude and efforts as you decide how to leave your mark.
Be respectful of others, always. We’re a community, and in any community—like it or not—the actions of one can reflect on the entire group in the court of public opinion.
Do you believe hunters have an ethical responsibility to teach the foundations of hunting to future generations?
Absolutely. I firmly believe hunting is in the DNA of every human being. For some, it’s like a recessive trait that will never be activated. For others like myself, I don’t hunt because I want to, I hunt because I have to; it’s who I am. For others, a spark is glowing inside and waiting for someone to add fuel and oxygen to turn it into a flame. The more folks on this earth who respect our natural resources, the better—and there’s no better way to trigger that respect than through hunting.
Do you recommend any resources for learning more about responsible hunting and conservation?
When it comes to hunting, there are a lot of great resources out there publishing reliable information and inspirational content with strong ethics. Most—if not all—of the remaining hunting print publications are driven by great teams of editors and contributors who you can trust. Online, there are also a number of individuals and outlets you can rely on; just be sure to do your homework and remember that anyone can publish almost anything online.
When it comes to conservation, focus on resources that are driven by facts and science—not politics, emotion, and rhetoric.