The Cameron Hunting and Fishing Club
the first annual Northwest Missouri Wildlife Conference . . . the best ever held in the state. The verdict was based not on the size of the attendance . . . but on the conference's territorial inclusion--probably the largest in Missouri history."
Grassroots meetings like this were critical to maintaining the momentum of the conservation movement in the state. Proposition Number 4 was soon challenged in the legislature with Proposition Number 5 and Resolution Number 16. The club wrote a letter on May 20, 1941, urging its local representative to vote against Resolution No. 16, which would repeal Proposition No. 4.
The club played a role in conservation advocacy on other issues as well. In July 1941, the club wrote letters to U.S. Congressman John J. Cochran and to U.S. Senators Bennett Champ Clark and Harry S Truman opposing the proposed construction of dams in the Ozarks. They maintained the dams would have negative impacts on fish and wildlife populations.
Gene Hills, who was a postman, Boy Scout leader, sportsman, and author of the weekly news column "Backlashes and Misses," received the Master Conservationist Award from the Conservation Department in 1943. His dedication to passing Proposition No. 4, organizing the first Northwest Missouri Wildlife Conference and helping advance the conservation movement made him a very deserving recipient of this prestigious award.
Over the years, the club's role and scope in conservation expanded. The club negotiated an additional lease when Reservoir Number 3 was completed in 1961. The City of Cameron solicited the experience of club members to serve on a Reservoir Board. They also leased several ponds from private landowners in the area to rear Conservation Commission fingerling fish to a stockable size. Thousands of catfish reared in these ponds were stocked in area lakes and ponds and local streams, including Grindstone and Shoal Creeks, and Grand River.
All club-managed grounds were used to promote outdoor sports, including youth fishing rodeos, fishing clinics, field days, and competitive shooting events. The club eventually purchased a clubhouse. The facility was decorated with various wildlife mounts and was outfitted with an indoor shooting range. The range accommodated up to six shooters and prompted the club to sponsor firearms safety programs for youths and adults.
In 1973, the club organized and sponsored a "Junior Rifle Club," an affiliate of the National Rifle Association, designed to promote shooting safety and ethics to young sportsmen. Eventually, the club's meeting records began to dwindle. Newspaper clippings show the club's occasional involvement in National Wildlife Week and other local events. Ironically, the Missouri Department of Conservation, established through the hard work of the Cameron Hunting and Fishing club and other sportsman's clubs in the state, had the public support and resources to assume many of the management and outreach activities that gave the club purpose. In a way, the club's demise was, in fact, its final measure of success.
When the membership finally failed, the clubhouse was sold and the numerous taxidermy mounts were donated to the Cameron High School Science Department. Proceeds from the sale of the clubhouse and the remaining account balances were placed in a trust fund to finance scholarships for local youth pursuing careers in conservation.
Bill Free left a large portion of his estate to the Cameron Hunting and Fishing Club scholarship fund to help future conservation leaders through college scholarships. In fact, the authors of this article were beneficiaries of the scholarship fund, which has been administered by lifetime club member, Floyd Packard, for many years.
Sometimes it's easy for us to take for granted the plants, animals, habitats and outdoor opportunities we have when they are not in short supply. Thanks to the historic efforts of conservation-minded citizens and sportsman's groups like the Cameron Hunting and Fishing Club, we have witnessed conservation successes that are the envy of the nation. As long as the public continues support of Missouri's Design for Conservation sales tax, those "Good Ol' Days" will be with us for a long time to come.