US Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan has been playing up his bow-hunting background to win support from the growing number of American hunters.
He recently compared the experience of giving his first speech in Congress with having a buck in his sights, saying he felt the same symptom of nervous excitement in each case – his left leg shook uncontrollably.
If Ryan’s use of hunting anecdotes in politics seems amazing to Australians (can you imagine Julie Bishop boasting about duck hunting?), consider this: the hunting and shooting vote is an important one in America, and possibly crucial.
The hunting vote may also be growing. The latest survey of hunters in the US has revealed there are more, not fewer, people engaging in the sport.
This is a reversal of a long-term decline in the hunting population there, and it has not only given the industry reason to celebrate, it has put opponents on the back foot after they’d pointed to reduced popularity as ‘proof’ that hunting should be restricted or banned.
Between 2006 and 2011, the number of hunters in the US grew by 9% to 13.7 million, still a small proportion of the nation’s 311 million people, but in a potentially tight election they may help swing the balance.
Guns are a bigger issue than hunting in the upcoming US election, set for 6 November, as the number of gun owners continues to grow amid fears of gun bans by President Obama – fears that appear to be driven as much by conspiracy theory as any anti-gun actions or statements by the US leader and his Democrats.
On the one hand, a scandal over the failed Fast and Furious ‘gun-walking’ operation by the government has led to Obama having to step in to protect his most senior lawman, Attorney General Eric Holder, from investigation and giving good reason to the gun lobby to be highly suspicious.
On the other, private gun ownership has increased dramatically under Obama’s presidency and gun laws have been significantly relaxed, albeit mostly at state level rather than by the federal government.
The US National Rifle Association has actively campaigned against Obama, running ads encouraging shooters to register to vote (voting is not compulsory in the US) and using R Lee Emery – the Gunny, as he’s widely known on TV – to push the message.
The NRA is seen as a strong political force by both sides of politics, as well as most of the media, but if its campaign fails to make much difference, it could take the wind out of the NRA’s political sails.
Guns and hunting are by no means the only issues of the election, of course, as Obama fights to retain his presidency against the apparently increasing conservatism of the Republican movement led by Mitt Romney. Public health care, abortion, religion, Afghanistan and a host of other controversies characterise this polarised campaign.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin provides a good example of how popular hunting is in practice. It is the latest US state to introduce wolf hunting, now that the predators’ population has grown beyond the numbers required to guarantee a sustainable future.
About 2000 wolf-hunting tags will be issued by ballot to hunters who want to fill one of the quota of 201 wolves – and so far over 10,000 applications have been received.
If nothing else, it gives an idea of how large the hunting vote may be, if Ryan and the NRA can successfully tap it.
Which begs the question about whether Paul Ryan’s left leg will begin shaking on election night if the counting shows Republicans really do have Obama locked in their sights with the string pulled back.