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October 24, 2018

NSSF Q&A: U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas)

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to post the latest of our occasional Q&A features with an elected official who supports hunting and the shooting sports. NSSF thanks U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture, for agreeing to talk with us.

Who introduced you to hunting?

My dad introduced us. We would go rabbit hunting, jackrabbit hunting, in and around Odessa early on. And then from there, moved toward hunting birds, dove, quail and so it really started with my dad.

What was your most recent hunting event?

My experiences are limited in Congress, because you’re trying to have time to make that happen. Last time was a combination sporting clays and five-stand and in the afternoon did a wing shoot. That was a great event. I really enjoy the sporting clays, because it’s a good challenge and it’s just a lot of fun to shoot sporting clays.

What’s your favorite hunting activity?

Dove hunting, because it’s a good challenge. Doves are coming fast and you’ve got to be able to pick out which one to shoot, and it’s just a great challenge. Shooting clays would be my favorite non-hunting activity, but just a shooting activity that I really enjoy.

What pending piece of legislation related to firearms or hunting is particularly important to you?

I think the Hearing Protection Act is the most relevant issue going on right now. I’m wearing hearing aids, and that is in some measure a result of shooting without using hearing protection, because most of my shooting growing up you just didn’t wear hearing protection. You just didn’t think about that. My left ear is worse than my right ear. I shoot right-handed.

It is not a “silencer” as it is portrayed. The weapons still make enough noise that everyone would be aware of what’s going on. It just prevents damage to hearing.

That piece of legislation ought to happen. You treat it just like a firearm, so there would be a background check and all the kinds of things you’d want to make sure would happen. But it’s not a “silencer” as some of the critics would argue. The guns still make enough noise that if it’s being shot at an inappropriate place, everyone’s going to know it.

What do you see as the biggest challenge or biggest opportunities for hunters or recreational shooters that’s happening on Capitol Hill these days?

The challenge is going to be over the greater gentrification of our country and the fewer positive opportunities people have to shoot guns or target practice or learn about a weapon. There are certain people who have never been around a gun or never handled a gun and have an unreal fear of weapons and firearms. So, the greatest threat to our Second Amendment, the greatest threat to hunting and the personal ownership of weapons and firearms will be this loss of support and knowledge. I grew up in a family where my first gun was a single-shot .22 that I got when I was 12 years old. I still have that single-shot .22.

I think we need to be more supportive of giving folks the opportunities to do that. This may sound a bit odd, but I think having classes in high school where you get a weapons-familiarization process, where they go through and learn the gun safety and all about it, have some positive experiences with target shooting to help people get over that initial reaction, “Oh my gosh, it’s a gun,” when it’s an inanimate object.

A lot of folks might decide they don’t want to do it, but at least having that one round of familiarization I think would be good for everybody.

Do you have a favorite gun that you love to shoot?

Typically, I shoot a shotgun. I’ve got a 12-gauge, but I prefer the 20-gauge. But really, the gun is incidental. I just like shooting.

Explain if you could, the importance of the Farm Bill.

One of the titles in the Farm Bill is the Conservation Title. We’re trying to increase the number of acres covered by the Conservation Reserve Program, which creates areas in which farming is not going on. It allows hunting to occur in those grasslands and other places. The Conservation Title helps preserve areas for folks to hunt in, to get access to and to get outdoors.

How important is farming to the preservation of wildlife and the hunting lifestyle?

They are the original conservationists, our farmers and ranchers. I have never, in all of my experience, come across a farmer or rancher who said, “You know, I want to hand off my land in worse shape to my children and grandchildren than I got it.” There’s nobody out there who’s like that.

Those folks love the land. And they want to preserve the land. Keeping them on that land, whether through the Conservation Program or the Title I Income Support Programs, property insurance or other rural development programs we have under the Farm Bill, is really important. And by extension, having those vibrant communities will allow for areas to hunt that might otherwise be taken out of the areas available for that.

I get to represent Central Texas, where hunting is a big part of the economic impact. I’ve got some communities that if they don’t have a good deer hunt, if the weather’s not good … if it’s too hot, if it doesn’t get cold soon enough and deer season comes and goes, they are in a world of hurt. It’s kind of like Christmas for most retailers. They stay open all year-round, but Christmas is where they make the majority of their income. I’ve got some communities where deer hunting, if they don’t have a good deer hunting season, it’s really hard in those communities. It’s a direct economic impact to District 11 that’s really big.

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