The government is us; we are the government, you and I. -Theodore Roosevelt

Conservation Through Media — B&C Impact Series

By PJ DelHomme 

In the early 1900s, when America’s conservation movement was in its infancy, Boone and Crockett Club members used media to spread the word about destruction of the country’s wildlife and wild places. In turn, the public pressured lawmakers to support legislation safeguarding those resources.  


Before Facebook, Instagram, influencers, social media, computers, and television, there were magazines, newspapers, and books. In fact, if it weren’t for bad book review in Forest and Stream magazine, America’s conservation movement may not have been a movement at all.

In 1884, Theodore Roosevelt was in his late 20s. That year, his wife and mother passed away within hours of each other. He fled to his ranch in the Dakota Territory, and in 1885, he finished a book about his Western experiences. George Bird Grinnell was ten years older than Roosevelt and the editor of Forest and Stream (now Field and Stream) magazine. Grinnell wrote a mediocre review of Roosevelt’s book, Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, in the magazine. The future president was not happy and burst into Grinnell’s New York office to discuss the review. Fortunately, once the men started talking, the atmosphere cooled, and talk turned to conservation in the American West. Grinnell and Roosevelt became lifelong friends and launched the Boone and Crockett Club just two years after that lively encounter. 

The Boone and Crockett Club’s greatest achievement is undoubtedly forging North America’s conservation ethos and acting upon it for over 130 years. Arguably, the second-most important contribution from Club members is their tendency to write about their adventures and ethics.

During Grinnell’s tenure as editor of Forest and Stream, he employed the talents of numerous early members of the Club, like Roosevelt, Archibald Rogers, and Gifford Pinchot. Open up any issue of the magazine from the late 1800s to early 1900s, and you’ll find articles on topics ranging from bison conservation at the Wichita Game Reserve (now the Wichita Mountain National Wildlife Refuge) to updates on the plight of the now-extinct passenger pigeon. 

One especially compelling story was written in 1894 by the magazine’s Western correspondent Emerson Hough. Twenty years after Yellowstone became a national park, poachers were still killing the last bison that roamed there. One notorious poacher named Ed Howell was quite good at killing bison, and when he was finally caught slaughtering bison in Pelican Valley, reporter Emerson Hough was there. He wired the story of the slaughter and the arrest to Forest and Stream, which published it. The timing couldn’t have been more effective. After publication, members of the public urged lawmakers to pass the Lacey Act of 1894, which become the first law establishing definitive national park management rules, and it was also the first federal wildlife protection law.

Club members also preached outside the hook and bullet choir in more mainstream publications. For instance, The Century Magazine claimed 250,000 members in the 1880s. Subject matter included history, religion, and literature, including excerpts of Huckleberry Finn and articles by Booker T. Washington. Theodore Roosevelt was a regular contributor whose articles spanned three decades. In those articles, he shared elk hunts near Two Ocean Pass in Wyoming and stumped for various conservation causes like the creation of the Forest Service. Periodicals like this were Facebook of the 20th century, but instead of blooper reels and top 10 lists, they published the ideas that built our nation’s conservation history.

Painters and Cartoons 

No popular literature is complete without pretty pictures. Editors like Grinnell knew this, which is why he enlisted the talent of wildlife artist Carl Rungius. After emigrating from Germany to the United States in 1896, Rungius carried his rifle and easel to the Yukon, Banff, and the western U.S. While hunting moose, elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats, Rungius sketched and painted them. He made wildlife the focal point of his art, complemented by wild and scenic landscapes in the background. Grinnell used those illustrations in the pages of Forest and Stream, providing a visual incentive to accompany editorials espousing conservation of the last remaining wild. 

Last of the Buffalo by Albert Bierstadt.

Rungius was to big game what Albert Bierstadt was to America’s landscapes. Even though he wasn’t a hunter, landscape painter and Boone and Crockett Club member Albert Bierstadt was drawn to the open spaces and scenic landscapes of the American West. Like Rungius, Bierstadt was from Germany but landed in Wyoming a few decades before Rungius. Bierstadt’s depictions of Mount Hood in Oregon and California’s Yosemite Valley romanticized the landscapes. He used light in a dramatic and celestial way, evoking heavenly emotions for his East Coast patrons. This served two purposes. First, it made money. His painting, Last of the Buffalo, sold for $50,000, which was the highest price paid for an American artist’s work in the 1800s. And two, that painting underscored the downward spiral of bison populations across the country. 


While Rungius and Bierstadt are firmly planted in the fine art world and helped further the mission of the Club, J.N. “Ding” Darling was a political cartoonist who did more for conservation than any classically-trained artist. A syndicated cartoonist with roots at the Des Moines Register, Darling worked closely with Aldo Leopold on a long-term conservation plan for Iowa. In 1934, lawmakers approved—and Darling designed— the Duck Stamp, which pumps millions of dollars into wildlife conservation and restoration. The same year, Darling was appointed head of the Bureau of Biological Survey—now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Throughout his career, Darling drew thousands of cartoons on topics ranging from American foreign policy to the slaughter of Key Deer in South Florida. For more than half a century, Darling conveyed the country’s conservation ethic in one cartoon after another. 

Wildlife Photography 

When you earn a law degree from Yale and get elected to Congress, the obvious path forward is to continue to refine your photography techniques and become the father of wildlife photography. Granted, that's likely not what George Shiras' father, a supreme court justice, had in mind, but that's what happened. 

Boone and Crockett member George Shiras III served as a member of Congress from 1903-1905, and in that short time, he introduced a monumental piece of legislation. “A Bill to Protect the Migratory Birds of the United States” recognized waterfowl and game birds as migratory. As such, the bill stated that the hunting of them should be under federal regulation. Most lawmakers saw this as a challenge to states’ rights and let it simmer. After a decade, though, they passed a federal migratory bird law, the Weeks-McLean Migratory Bird Act. 

Shiras in the bow of a canoe at night, waiting to hear a rustle on the bank. On the right, deer explode and flee at the pop of his camera's flash. 

While this is a conservation achievement, it pales when compared to Shiras’ contributions to the field of wildlife photography. His laboratory was the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was here Shiras captured the nocturnal activities of wildlife using pioneering techniques in both trail/tripwire cameras and flash photography. From a canoe, he and a companion would quietly paddle at night until they heard movement along the shore. Shiras would aim his camera and flash toward the sound and hope for the best. His other ground-breaking technique involved a trip wire placed along a game trail. When an unsuspecting animal tripped it, an explosion of magnesium and potassium chlorate powder illuminated the surrounding area, and the camera took a photo on its glass plates. 

His technique and photographs caught the attention of Gilbert H. Grosvenor, the editor of National Geographic, who printed 74 photos from Shiras in the July 1906 issue. Grosvenor hoped that devoting an entire issue to one man’s pictures would excite readers, and that’s exactly what happened. A copy of the issue made it to the desk of President Theodore Roosevelt, who implored Shiras to create a “big book” of his photographs depicting wild animals and their habitat. His big book of photographs was eventually published in 1935. 

A Publishing Legacy 

The Boone and Crockett Club’s greatest achievement is undoubtedly forging North America’s conservation ethos and acting upon it for over 130 years. Arguably, the second-most important contribution from Club members is their tendency to write about their adventures and ethics. Their ability to weave conservation into the tales of their adventures in North America and in far-off lands exposed the Club’s mission and work to a vast audience. 

Boone and Crockett Club members have long been prolific writers, publishing books on everything from wildlife policy to wild game cooking. 

Just a few years after the Club formed in 1887, it began publishing the Acorn Series of books, which contained essays about hunting, conservation, and anything else that might interest hunters of the day. In that seven-volume series, Club members wrote on everything from bear hunting in Mongolia to bison hunting and conservation in the American West. In addition to the Acorn Series, Club members wrote hundreds of other books recounting their real-life tales of adventure. You can see a number of those tales at the Club’s store

In 2012 the Club began its B&C Classics Series.

In 1932, the Club published its first big-game record book, chronicling the rise of big game conservation in North America. The Club is currently compiling content for the 15th edition of Records of North American Big Game

Other notable publications focus on the biology of big game as well as the history and influence of the Club since its inception. In the 1970s, the Club participated in a pair of big game symposia, which produced The Wild Sheep of Modern North America (1974) and The Black Bear in Modern North America (1977). Around the same time, the Club published an extensive history of conservation in the United States. Interestingly, years before publication, the Club commissioned author James Trefethen to write a history of the Club. In researching the book, An American Crusade for Wildlife, Trefethen found that the history of the Club was indeed the history of conservation in the United States. 

Today, the Club’s publishing program continues to serve as a tool to promote its mission, vision, and goals to the public—hunters and nonhunters alike. To date, the Club has published over 90 volumes on various topics, from cooking wild game to profiles of early Club founders. 

Back when the Beatles and the Cuban Missile Crisis made newspaper headlines, hunting and the Club's Big Game Awards were covered in mainstream magazines like Sports Illustrated​​​​​​.​

For myriad reasons, books are no longer the primary way the Club promotes its mission. Modern-day media has played a larger role in getting the conservation message out there. In the 1960s, Club members like Duncan Barnes played key roles in popular magazines like Sports Illustrated, where he was a staff writer. In the 1980s and ‘90s, he took the reins at Field and Stream. Today, other Club members have their own podcasts, host television shows, and produce videos on platforms like YouTube. B&C staff continues to work with magazine publishers, website managers, and book authors to promote the same goal of spreading the good word about the conservation of wildlife and wild places. To think that the Club had its genesis in a bad book review makes that legacy all the more compelling. 

About the Impact Series

The Impact Series is dedicated to showing how sportsmen, members of the Boone and Crockett Club in particular, saved the wildlife and wild places of the United States. Early members of the Boone and Crockett Club comprised the movers, shakers, and initiators of the American conservation movement. They were hunters, anglers, explorers, lawmakers, soldiers, and above all conservationists. These members established laws that allowed our wildlife resources to flourish. They also protected landscape-scale geologic marvels and American icons like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Denali, and many, many more. These members may no longer be with us, but their legacy remains. This series aims to honor their accomplishments and remind us of the good work still yet to do.

PJ DelHomme writes and edits content from his home in western Montana. He runs Crazy Canyon Media and Crazy Canyon Journal.  


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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt