The Future of Hunting Faces More Challenges Every Day
Growing up as a young kid in South Central Pennsylvania, I never had to worry about whether or not I was going to be a hunter someday. I grew up in a family and a state that is very rich in hunting tradition and where hunting is a way of life. When I was young, sure, video games were starting to become more and more popular but we spent our days playing in the outdoors. My grandfather passed away when I was five years old, which developed a special bond with my grandmother that I will never forget. We became best friends, spending our days fishing on my parents’ farm, and eventually, she was one of the first ones to teach me about firearm safety and how to shoot with a Red Ryder BB gun. While I would later spend my time afield with my father and other family members hunting, my grandmother was the first one to instill my love for the outdoors, a love and passion that still shines through in everything I do over 20 years later.
I was blessed to grow up in a family where I was destined to be a hunter from the time I was born. The fact that there are many hunters who did not grow up in a hunting family like I did is sometimes overlooked, but they may hold the key to the future of hunting. When I sit in my treestand on the opening day of rifle season, I can look around and see more orange around our farm than I did 10 years ago; which makes it’s hard to imagine and truly grasp that the number of hunters across the country has been declining and doing so at an alarming rate. We need to take a hard look at exactly what is happening all across the country and accept the severity of the situation.
The future of hunting as we know it is facing more challenges everyday. Hunting is not a right of ours, it is a privilege. Now we have cause to be concerned for its future. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the number of hunters has decreased from 14.1 million (7.3% of the adults in the U.S.) in 1991 to 11.5 million (4.4% of the adults in the U.S.) in 2016. These numbers are only going to get worse as 50-70 year old adults make up the largest cohort of hunters today. Folks like my father and uncles, who in the next 20 years, will likely stop buying hunting and fishing licenses. They will begin to phase out of the sport like my grandmother has. This means that those declining numbers are going increase dramatically, which also means less funding for wildlife agencies, and in turn, conservation. If we want to ensure that hunting and our wildlife is here to stay, we all need to do our part to recruit new hunters.
Our society is constantly changing. As I wrote above, when I was a kid, we spent our time playing outside, building forts, playing baseball or riding our four-wheelers, and we didn’t have cell phones. Today, it is so common for both youth and adults to spend so much time on our smart phones or in front of a computer or television. It makes it so much harder to get people in the outdoors, myself included sometimes. Social norms continue to shift in a direction that puts our hunting heritage in jeopardy. We are constantly under the microscope as hunters and we need to make sure we do our best to represent ourselves and our sport in a way that continues to gain social acceptance of the majority. The challenges facing us are numerous and would require too much explanation for this article, but make no mistake, they are there.
As hunters decrease, so does our voice, one that has long advocated for and is the voice for wildlife, both game and non-game species alike. Our North American Model for Wildlife Conservation has been one of the most successful conservation systems to exist, but it only continues if we have hunters to keep it going. There is a major initiative happening across the country to Recruit, Retain and Reactivate hunters, known as R3. If you are not familiar with this yet, I highly recommend that you look into it and learn as much as you can about it and how you can help. The future of hunting depends on it. R3 is looking at new, strategic ways to reach new demographics and create hunters. This is task that cannot be completed by just one agency, organization or group. It will take all of us, coming together and working as one to turn hunter numbers in the right direction. You can do this in a number of ways, and one of the simplest is by taking a non-hunter hunting and being a mentor to them. You never know who might have an interest in hunting and just doesn’t know where to start. A simple invitation could be the first step in helping them in this direction and sharing your passion with them.
A lot of emphasis has always been put on taking youth hunting, and I would never shy away from doing so, but it is important to not stop there. I would encourage you to mentor adults of all ages and demographics, particularly those that are from a non-hunting background. I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to take several of my friends from college hunting, and have been fortunate to have success as seen in this picture. Hunting is about so much more than the harvest though, and I think it is important to share those moments afield with others and put an emphasis on the fellowship and connection to nature. As hunters, we must pass on our passion to others to ensure its future, or face the consequences later. It starts with all of us, and the time is now to mentor a new hunter and get them involved in the outdoors.
As your planning your deer hunts for this fall or winter, include in your thoughts how you might introduce a new person to the sport. Not only will you find it rewarding to teach someone new, you’ll be doing your part to save our sport as well, while maybe changing someone’s life at the same time.
Guest writer Teddy Fisher is a wildlife ecologist working on deer management issues within parks in the Washington, D.C. area. He has a degree in wildlife and fisheries science from Penn State University where he also worked at the Deer Research Center. He will be heading to Clemson University in August to work on a human dimensions of wildlife project related to hunting and R3 (recruitment, retention and reactivation of hunters).