To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society. -Theodore Roosevelt

Researching the Wild – B&C Impact Series

By PJ DelHomme 

Science and research were cornerstones of the Boone and Crockett Club when it was founded in 1887. Supporting a science-based approach to wildlife research, conservation, and policy remains a focus of the Club today. 


Founding members of the Boone and Crockett Club included politicians, artists, writers, explorers, and numerous scientists. Among the latter were men like Arnold Hague, a geologist who surveyed and documented the unique geologic features of the Yellowstone area. Member Frank Chapman was an ornithologist who explored and documented bird species across the globe. His book, Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America, informed and inspired future scientists and explorers like Roy Chapman Andrews, a real-life Indiana Jones. Research conducted by Professional Member Olaus Murie earned him the unofficial title of the father of elk management. In that same vein, member Aldo Leopold was the father of wildlife management.

Encouraging and supporting wildlife research is deeply rooted in the Club’s conservation ethos.  After all, management of our wildlife resources based on the best available science is one of the tenets of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. In 1948, the Club created its Conservation Grants Program, which assisted the early careers of the brightest wildlife professionals, including Durward Allen’s early wolf and moose studies on Isle Royale; Lynn Rogers's landmark work on black bears in Minnesota; and Maurice Hornocker’s pioneering research on mountain lions in Idaho. Modern-day research methods have changed over the past 130 years, but the issues are no less important. From chronic wasting disease to migration corridors to poaching, Club members conduct research, fund research, and lobby for policy that provides more funding for research. What follows is the 30,000-foot view of the Club’s role in wildlife research from yesterday and today. 

Some of the earliest research work funded partially by the Boone and Crockett Club was Durward Allen's study of wolves on Isle Royale, documented in his book Wolves of Minong.

Cooperative Research 

In the early 1900s, there was a shift in scientific analysis. The scientists who were mere observers and classifiers of nature started to employ science as a wildlife management and conservation tool. The Dust Bowl years that decimated much of the United States punctuated the urgency for a new kind of conservation. Boone and Crockett Club Professional Member Aldo Leopold published Game Management in 1933. In it, Leopold defined the fundamental skills and techniques for managing and restoring wildlife populations. The hurdle to applying these techniques was the lack of trained biologists. 

That’s when Boone and Crockett member Ding Darling pitched an idea to R.M. Hughes, president of Iowa State College (now Iowa State University). Darling proposed an agreement with the college, the Iowa Fish and Game Commission, and others to establish a cooperative program for research in wildlife conservation. In 1932, Dr. Paul Errington, a doctoral student of Aldo Leopold, became the leader of the first Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. Three years later, as director of what would become the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Darling pitched the idea to Congress. He also roped in industry support from companies like Remington and DuPont, which would give money to the program via the Wildlife Management Institute. In 1935, the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units were born.

B&C member Ding Darling's idea to establish cooperative programs for wildlife conservation research came to fruition in 1932.

Today, the program continues to educate, train, and produce wildlife management professionals. It is still run as a cooperative partnership among state fish and wildlife agencies, universities, the Wildlife Management Institute, the United States Geological Survey, and the USFWS. The program has grown from nine units to more than 40 units across 40 states. Members of the Boone and Crockett Club continue to play key roles in the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit Program. Professional Member John Organ served as director from 2014-2015, and Jonathan Mawdsley is the current director.  

For more than 500 graduate students actively in the program, their research runs the gamut of wildlife science. For instance, ongoing research in the Minnesota Unit studies trumpeter swan migration ecology. Trumpeter swan populations there are recovering, and researchers hope to understand more about their basic ecology and behavior to better inform population management plans. In Oregon, another study looks at the short- and long-term effects of large-scale wildfires on female greater sage-grouse demographics and habitat use. In Maine, students are examining the role of predation (bass, pike) on the recovery of Atlantic salmon. 

A true highlight of the program comes out of Wyoming, where researchers led by Dr. Matt Kaufman of the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit launched the Wyoming Migration Initiative in 2011. The initial goal of this project was to examine movements and habitat use in a non-migratory population of mule deer in western Wyoming. Instead, the deer had other plans. Collared deer were tracked up to 150 miles from their home range, and the research spawned an ongoing, 11-state effort to document and map ungulate migrations across the West. 

The point is that the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit Program continues to solve real-world conservation problems while training future biologists and wildlife managers in this dynamic field. 

If you can spare four minutes, watch this outstanding video on the Wyoming Migration Initiative. 

A Living Classroom: The Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch 

Located along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, the 6,500-acre Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch (TRMR) adjoins the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the Blackleaf Wildlife Management Area, and privately owned ranches. Other neighbors and residents include grizzly bears, wolves, elk, deer, cowboys, ranchers, and educators. This unique environment offers the perfect laboratory to study the coexistence of agricultural land uses and wildlife for research purposes. At this working cattle ranch, researchers conduct habitat studies, ranchers demonstrate innovative land management practices, and educators conduct conservation education programs.

In celebration of the Boone and Crockett Club’s centennial anniversary, Club members sought a significant project to serve as testimony to a century of conservation of wildlife resources. Raising private funds, Club members purchased the ranch as a classroom, meeting place, and living laboratory. The mission of the TRMR intertwines research, teaching, and demonstration of integrated livestock/wildlife conservation that is integral to the economic viability of private and adjacent public lands. The Club is also interested in maintaining and enhancing the stewardship roles of rural families who make their living through shared uses and management of natural resources.

Over the years, graduate students and professional scientists have conducted numerous studies on the ranch. For instance, a 2001 study conducted by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, collected data to assess the impact of ungulates on browse plants. That study provided background information for other studies, like Scott Thompson’s 2002 graduate thesis that examined the impacts of ungulates on woody vegetation. 

Chris Hansen checking one of the trail cameras on the TRMR. His research explores the conservation benefits of sustainable land use on mammal communities, specifically focusing on rangelands and urbanization. The map illustrates the sheer number of cameras placed around the TRMR.

While data tables, graphs, and dissertations scratch the scientific itch, ground-breaking research by Boone and Crockett Fellow Chris Hansen brings the wildlife of the TRMR into homes across the country. His Ph.D. dissertation examined how different land uses affect plants and animals. He placed trail cameras in various locations on the TRMR as part of his research. After sifting through tens of thousands of photos, he sends the absolute best of wolves, badgers, bears, deer, elk, and more to the Club. It’s posted in a slideshow on the Club’s website: Caught on Camera.  

B&C's first endowed professorship was at the University of Montana, with Dr. Hal Salwasser serving as the first chair.

University Programs and B&C Fellows  

In 1993, when the Club moved its headquarters into the historic Milwaukee Depot station in Missoula, Montana, it also funded the first endowed professorship at the University of Montana to guide graduate-student research and offer public service in wildlife conservation and ecosystem management. Dr. Hal Salwasser held the first endowed chair, and the University Programs would eventually expand to universities across the country. Today, the University Programs supports three endowed chairs: University of Montana, Texas A&M, and Michigan State. 

The goal of the University Programs is to develop a diverse community of well-prepared wildlife conservation leaders, which means students need mentorship and financial support. The Club created fellowships under the University Programs umbrella to help mentor and fund the research of future professionals like current Boone and Crockett Fellow Daniel Bird

Born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Bird was raised on the Santo Domingo Pueblo Indian Reservation, where he is an enrolled tribal member. He has completed his undergraduate degree in wildlife science at New Mexico State University and master’s at Purdue University. He plans to become a wildlife biologist for tribal communities to sustainably manage natural resources while maintaining unique cultures, languages, and indigenous ways of living. His Ph.D. at the University of Montana involves working with the Blackfeet Nation in northwest Montana to research the impacts of fences and proposed fencing expansion on elk migration movements and habitat use on the reservation and broader landscapes.

B&C Fellows conduct various conservation and wildlife research, from black bears to sandhill cranes and everything in between.

Another fellow, Nora Hargett, received the Douglas R. Stephens-Boone and Crockett Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where she conducted undergraduate research focused on nest characteristics of sandhill cranes in Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin. Fellow Samantha Courtney is at Michigan State where she conducts research on chronic wasting disease, creating risk models on how the disease is transmitted. Managers can then use the models to inform them on how to make the best management decisions for their areas. Recent fellow and Professional Club Member Charlie Booher currently works for the Club as a policy consultant and says he appreciated the program for both its flexibility in his field of study (policy) and financial support as he earned a master’s degree in wildlife biology and public administration.

Topical Research


Today, there are a number of research topics that Club members have directly dedicated time and/or funding toward, including poaching and chronic wasting disease (CWD). Little research has been conducted on poaching, which is why Kristy Blevins and Boone and Crockett Club Professional Member Jon Gassett worked with the Club, corporate sponsors, and private donors to initiate the Poach and Pay Project. Using modern statistical, scientific, and sociological methodology, the goal of the project is to provide an in-depth public education campaign designed to deter poaching—all backed by quantifiable research. 

Perhaps an even greater threat to wildlife is the spread of CWD, a highly contagious, always-fatal disease that affects cervids such as deer, elk, and moose. Even though the disease was detected in 1967, there are still many unknowns, especially in terms of wildlife management and what the disease could mean for hunting in the future. In 2002, the Club and other non-profit groups formed the CWD Alliance. Today, the Club administers a grant program to fund ongoing CWD research. In addition, former Boone and Crockett Fellow Dr. Sonja Christensen at Michigan State University has recently created the CWD Research Consortium, which connects major research universities nationwide with federal and state agencies.

To inform members of pressing wildlife issues and research, the Club has routinely published articles in Fair Chase magazine, like the ever-popular Trophy Points series. Complied and edited by Professional Member David G. Hewitt, these articles inform members on timely issues affecting wildlife. The Science Blasts series in Fair Chase, written by Johnathan Mawdsley, director of the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units, keeps members informed of important research and trends in wildlife science. 

Since the Club was founded in 1887, its members have championed causes related to the conservation of our wildlife resources. Supporting and conducting research on behalf of those resources align with the Club’s mission and, frankly, it’s one way to ensure that wildlife and the ecosystems they depend upon will be here (and healthy) for future generations to enjoy. We owe it to those who came before us to leave this place a little better than we found it. Finding solutions through sound science and research is one way we’re going to get there. 

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.  


Support Conservation

Support Hunting

Support Conservation

Support Education

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

-Theodore Roosevelt