By Mark Kenyon

These long, dark and frigid winter days have a way of making me more reflective than usual and oftentimes those reflections end up being related to my love for the outdoors. As a passionate hunter, wildlife and wild places are some of the most important things in my life and for good reason.

Through wildlife and wild places I’ve tested my limits, challenged what I thought was possible, and came to know myself better. Through wildlife and wild places I’ve been provided sustenance, food for my family, internal strength, lessons learned. Through wildlife and wild places I have been given a glimpse of “the miracle of life”, I have been granted the space to explore my own humanity, while also being invited into a wilder and more natural way of life. Wildlife and wild places have made me who I am and have given me so much. But this reality then begs the question, am I giving back?

When I think on this, inevitably I settle on the fact that I’m not. At least not enough. And I’d encourage you to consider this same question. If you’re as passionate and serious of a hunter as I imagine you are, I’d expect that nature and wildlife and wilderness has made a strong impact on you too. If it has, do you feel that same obligation to give back in some way? And have you?

Maybe you’re like me and you’d like to do more. If so, I wanted to share a few ideas of how you might be able to do that.

Join a Group: This is a simple first step and a great place to start. Join a conservation or wildlife organization that supports a cause that you’re passionate about and then see if there are ways you can get involved. Maybe you donate money, maybe you donate time, maybe something else all together. But at least get plugged in, and from there opportunities may arise. Take a look at groups like the National Deer Alliance, the Quality Deer Management Association, Whitetails Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, or the Boone & Crockett Club.

Volunteer: There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer your time to benefit wildlife and wild places, you just need to seek them out. Many state conservation organizations, such as the MUCC in Michigan, have volunteer opportunities, as do groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, or Outdoor Life’s Open Country program. Do a little “googling” and I think you’ll be surprised to see how many opportunities there are to help plant trees, improve habitat, remove fences, etc on public lands that need attention.

Work On Your Own Ground: If you own land yourself, see what you can do to give back to that habitat. There are many great things we can do to improve the deer habitat on our properties – food plots, bedding cover improvements, water holes, etc, etc. That said, you might also want to keep in mind other ways you can help the rest of the species calling your property home. Maybe you can do some work to improve turkey habitat too, or pheasant cover, or something else entirely.

Learn: This one’s simple, but still important. I’d encourage you all to always keep learning more about ways we can give back. Understanding issues effecting conservation, topics related to deer and other wildlife, habitat improvements and other environmental concerns. The more you know, the more you can help and that’s an important thing to keep after. Luckily, there are plenty of great resources out there to help you on this learning journey. The free online course “The Land Ethic Reclaimed” being put on by The University of Wisconsin-Madison is a great example of one of these learning opportunities. Through video lectures and readings, course takers have the opportunity to learn more about how hunting benefits conservation and many other topics related to hunting, conservation, land and wildlife management. Or maybe you want to start with a book? How about the conservation classic Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac”.

Vote: Here’s something we all can take action on as well. And that’s with our votes. If deer and the places they call home are important to you. If wild places are where you’re called to spend time. If wildlife captivates your imagination and attention, as it does mine. If any of these things are true for you, you can give back to wildlife and wild places by voting to protect them. Make your voice heard in upcoming elections, vote for people who are committed to protecting the natural resources that we enjoy so much, and then hold these elected officials accountable to their promises.

If you enjoy wildlife and wild places like I do, join me in trying just a little more this year to give back.