As hunters and conservationists, we have a responsibility to protect and preserve the hunting opportunities available to us for future generations to enjoy.

While protecting habitat and game populations are important, there is more to protecting our hunting opportunities than just those things. Considering the nature of the hunting scandals that have erupted over the past few years, it is absolutely essential that we ensure hunting remains a legal and socially acceptable pursuit.

Why should we care that people consider hunting socially acceptable? According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2011, there were approximately 13.7 million hunters in the United States. That number includes all hunters: big game, small game, waterfowl, etc.

Since then, that number may have increased slightly, but that still only means 4 to 5 percent of the 325 million people who live in the U.S. hunt.

When you look at those numbers, it should be obvious that hunters are a small minority in this country. Fortunately, the number of hardcore anti-hunters is also relatively small as well, probably also consisting of about 5 percent or less of the population. That leaves about 90 percent of the population who do not hunt, but who are not strongly opposed to hunting either.

When you look at it that way, it should be clear that nonhunters actually have a great deal of power over what the future of hunting looks like. For this reason, we as hunters depend upon the tolerance — if not the outright acceptance — of most nonhunters in order to continue to hunt.

Fortunately, most people in the United States have a positive view of hunting, with recent surveys showing approval rates of 75-85 percent. However, support widely varies depending on the perceived motivations of the hunter. Hunting for meat is viewed positively by 85 percent of Americans, but "trophy hunting" is viewed positively by only 28 percent of people.

Most hunters know the real story with trophy hunting. However, if they don't personally know any hunters, nonhunters just doesn't know much about hunting other than what they see in the media and what anti-hunting organizations tell them.

Clearly, anti-hunting groups do not have the best interests of hunters in mind and often spread incredible exaggerations and sometimes outright lies to advance their agenda like the time they tried to tell voters in Michigan that doves were inedible. So, it is up to us as hunters to educate them of the benefits of hunting and set the record straight.

While we don't need to convert everyone into hunters, we do need to show nonhunters that by and large, hunters are good, law-abiding people who genuinely care about wildlife. Additionally, we must educate them on the many great things hunting has done for conservation all over the world. With luck, this will keep the majority of them from supporting initiatives harmful to the future of hunting.

So where do you start? One easy way is to share the fruits of your successful hunt with some friends who don't hunt. Everyone loves good food, and wild game is some of the healthiest and best-tasting meat you can get.

Take the opportunity to discuss with them everything that goes into a hunt: the days and weeks of preparation and study prior to the trip, along with the sweat and wide range of emotions involved in actually killing an animal and harvesting its meat. Show them you're a normal person who enjoys nature and the outdoors, not the psychopathic killing machine portrayed by anti-hunting groups.

You'll be surprised at how successful that approach can be. This guy did the exact same thing with a bunch of friends in Hollywood after his pronghorn hunt. I doubt he turned any of them into hunters with just that one event, but at the very least, they walked away from the encounter thinking something along the lines of, "Gee, I guess hunters aren't so bad after all."

Another thing that you can do is share some of the information contained in the videos below with your nonhunting friends. Both of these videos do a great job of showing the tangible benefits of hunting that have been proven to help wildlife populations all over the world in easy to understand terms.

The first video was produced by the German Hunting Association and translated into English by the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation. Keep in mind that, since it was originally produced for a European audience, it refers to hunting Roe and Red Deer and refers to raccoons as an invasive species. However, the overall message of the video still applies to North America.

The next video was produced by the Professional Hunters' Association of South Africa. It shows how hunting, specifically the controversial practice of "trophy hunting," actually promotes conservation by giving animals value. This results in the protection of wildlife habitat from development, which is actually the biggest threat to wildlife, as well as protection from poachers.

Remember: The future of hunting is in our hands, and we must take positive steps to help protect it for future generations.

Fortunately, we as hunters have the facts on our side, which makes our job infinitely easier. It's just a matter of ensuring that the non-hunting community understands the tangible benefits of hunting and continues to support hunting as the vital conservation tool that it is.

So, go out and share some of your hard-earned game meat with your neighbors. Who knows, you might even get a new hunting buddy in the process.