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Living in Texas where “camo is the new black” I was blissfully ignorant to hunting’s decline. According to The Tribune Papers hunting may one day become a thing of the past, as Don Mallicoat reports . . .

Oh woe is us. The path to oblivion. By many indicators the future of hunting in the United States is in question. According to an article in Outdoor Life we are in trouble. And don’t seem to be handling it well. In 1982 there were about 17 million licensed hunters in the U.S. In the most recent survey from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 2016 that number was down to 11.5 million. That is a problem unto itself. It’s further complicated by the fact us Baby boomers comprise about one-third of that number. Thanks to the aging process (less physical strength, lack of mobility, etc.) we stop hunting at some point. So what to do?

With the birth of Call of Duty, Netflix and social media, it seems hunting isn’t that high on the bucket lists of today’s teenagers.

That is a question faced by most state agencies and according to the Outdoor Life article they are doing it wrong. Just about all states, and a lot of non-government conservation groups, have an R3 program: Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation. We have one here in North Carolina. Recent evidence is the addition of an Apprentice hunting permit, and specific days and weeks set aside for youth deer, turkey, and waterfowl hunting.

So why aren’t these programs being successful? I have my own theories which I’ll get to. The Outdoor Life article says we shouldn’t be targeting youth. It has a low return on investment. Most of the kids in the programs are in families that are already active hunters. The reasoning is, as they grow older they will simply be filling the shoes of an older family member who stops hunting due to age. It’s a zero sum approach.

Women are becoming more comfortable around guns because the hunting and gun industry has realized that if they want our money, they have to create products to fit our needs.

The key to the R3 program is young adult hunters. Now there is bright news on that front. According to a survey conducted by the non-profit, Shoot Like a Girl, there has been a 200 percent increase in women participating in the shooting sports. Now those aren’t all hunters, but if you watch outdoor TV shows or thumb through your favorite hunting magazine you’ll see a larger number of women writers, columnists, and brand sponsors. That is good news.

Hipsters and millennials hunting? Good luck with that.

But how do you attract young adult men, referred to as hipsters or millenials? They don’t fit the typical hunter mold. Yes, they may want to hunt but not for the same reasons that typical hunter does. The hipster deer hunter is doing it for the naturally organic meat, not the rack. They want to connect with a natural environment because we are increasingly urban and they may live in a large city. They may forsake the usual hunting traditions to pursue that path.

Turn off the tv, put away the phones and pull out some clothes you can get dirty in. Do us all a favor and take your kids outdoors as often as possible.

So how do we change our R3 model to both develop youth as long term hunters and recruit young adults? There is no simple answer but let me offer a couple of my thoughts. First, for both of those groups start out by connecting them with nature. Too often a first experience (particularly kids) is an ATV ride to a deer stand; sitting in the stand with dad or uncle; playing video games; shooting at a deer when dad says, “There’s one. Shoot it.” Sound familiar?

My old school solution is to start them out with small game hunting (squirrel, rabbit, birds). You’re moving around. You don’t have to be super quiet (with exceptions). It is natural that when you walk you observe your surroundings. When they see something that interests them it’s a chance to talk about wildlife movement and feeding habits, and what their habitat needs are. Can’t beat squirrel, rabbit, or bird hunting for that. Driving an eight year old to a tree stand, sitting with Dad while playing video games, and shooting a deer on command is not hunting.

Places to hunt, seems to be a problem for all first time hunters. When you consider the latest iPhone an investment at $800, spending that kind of money on a dead animal isn’t all that appealing.

Part of the R3 equation is access and opportunity. Access is about having places to hunt. Opportunity means having game in those places. This is another place we are failing. North Carolina is blessed with over 2 million acres of public access Game Lands. But is there game to pursue on those lands? At least in our region the answer is no; unless you are a squirrel hunter.

Let me belabor the point: Our nearly one million acres of National Forests are nearly devoid of game animals. Just over 1,000 deer harvested last season. Grouse flush rates are at an historic low. It is difficult to recruit and retain hunters when there is no game to pursue. Then it becomes just a hike in the woods. To recruit new hunters there must be game to pursue on public land. That’s part of the equation.

Hunting satisfies our primal instincts, puts food on the table, preserves natural habitat and controls wildlife. What’s not to love? Save our traditions! Take a hipster hunting today!

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  1. Totally off topic here, but has anyone else tried to call cornyn’s office? Every time I call it goes to voicemail.

    I think he’s not answering the phones so that we have no way to complain about him going full gun grabber.

    F’n coward.

    • Exactly. This was my first thought as well!

      Maybe another factor is cost.
      My sportsman’s pack, (hunting, fishing licenses, deer, elk, bear, turkey and cougar tags) ran $198.00 this year. Up 9% from last year. And I still haven’t yet bought my raffle tickets from the state. That’s gonna run another $50.00.
      My Alaska fishing and hunting license ran $480.00 this year. Tags for deer and moose are going to push that to just under a grand.
      My Nevada license wasn’t too bad. Hoping to draw antelope tag there.

      • good theories. also I would say increased risk-aversion by landowners allowing essentially “strangers” to wander their lands with firearms. real challenge out here in the Northeast at any rate. sadly I believe the never-ending thought-policing by the anti hunting crowd is starting to take it’s toll along with uninterested youth. 999 hunters do the right thing, but it is the 1 bad tracker who leaves a wounded deer to die on the side of the road with an arrow in it that gets the negative attention.

  2. Our lil patch of heaven here in PA we take hunting serious.
    We’re careful about how many or what size game we take, or if we need to take at all.
    A lot of people around me think I don’t hunt because I don’t bag 6 bucks a year.

    There’s more to hunting than killing off the whole population of everything that isn’t human. 90% of true hunting is knowing the animals and the land. Once you master that, finding and killing something is easy.

    The old timers used to tell of huge bucks and flocks of turkeys as far as the eye could see. Today the deer look like North Korean refugees.
    Sometimes making America great again takes patience and tiny steps in key locations 😉

    Of course eventually old ways of everything will be pushed aside, the battle today is that modern farming has made hunting a barbaric and obsolete blood sport…. right…

    I am afraid the real die’ing race is the level headed conservative that cherishes core values and quality life.

  3. Having a place to hunt isn’t just a problem for first time hunters. I quit deer hunting about 5 yrs ago when the last piece of timber I had permission to hunt was leased out. That was unheard of 20 years ago. Then the dbags from Chicago started to show up(we are 4 hrs SW from that shole). They were quickly replaced with local guys who lease out multiple properties so they can shoot 6-8deer a year and hang a head or 2 on the wall every year. Ten years ago there was never any leftover tags from the drawing. Now there are usually about least 100 left. And when they go up for sale over the counter it’s the same guys lined up to buy them. No one else has a place to go.
    So I strictly hunt waterfowl now and even that is difficult. I’ve had more than one farmer tell me I couldn’t field hunt geese anymore because the deer hunters didn’t want the deer disturbed. I cant really blame the farmers for finding a revenue source for property they are unwilling to utilize, but I dislike the guys leasing everything out. They push out people who have hunted the same places their entire lives.
    Now every 2 years, myself and a couple friends throw our names in the drawing for a duck blind on public land (Mississippi river) with hundreds of other people and pray we get lucky.

    • The leasing of land is becoming a huge problem all over, we have the same issue here.

      Land owners have been doing everything they can to make money on ground that used to sit.
      If its not being stripped for timber, its being dug up for coal, or leased for hunting, and thanks to big money lawyers in the 20’s-50’s there are a hand full of people who own hundreds of thousands of acres of land.
      300 members at $400 a year lease is $120,000 a year, which easily covers the taxes.
      Everything that isn’t public land is leased for hunting, It sucks to have to pay $400-$1200 a year and obey strict rules just to enjoy what used to be a great feeling of freedom. The land owners here dictate the caliber rifle, ATV or no ATV to get into the area, party size, game size, everything. Some even require you to carry your own insurance policy or buy into theirs.
      This also causes a lot of grief between people leasing the ground, because they walk on eggshells and fork over a lot of money they get pissy when you hunt in “their spot” or chase “their game”.
      They go as far as to sabotage your tree stands, spread scent (like fabreeze), or turn you into the game warden for things like questionable orange density.

      THAT is whats killing hunting.

  4. Pretty sure 11 million of the remaining hunters are #&% $ ing amishmen occupying northern Indiana. So glad I left there; couldn’t find an acre that didn’t have a half dozen of them on it.

  5. Here in the Hunters Paradise of Texas, hunting is strictly a rich man’s sport. Your viable choices are:
    A. You own some huntable land.
    B. You have connections with someone who owns huntable land (friend, relative, a trusting neighbor).
    C. You have enough disposable income to pay someone for the use of their land, ie. a lease.
    Our so-called public land is too little and often too remote for a casual hunter to simply make a spontaneous decision to just jump in the truck and go hunting one nice morning. This puts us at a HUGE disadvantage to attracting new hunters who may be reluctant to put a great deal of time and effort into a new hobby they haven’t already committed themselves to.
    But with the vast majority of land in Texas being privately owned, there are few alternatives or solutions. It would be nice to see our state offer incentives to landowners to refrain from clear-cutting and developing their land to keep it as a hunting preserve and allow it to be used by the public… But the tax dollars aren’t there for such an idea and few landowners would be willing to expose themselves to the possible (probable) liability concerns.
    I see no easy solution. Hunting may continue to flourish in other states but Texas in the long term is doomed to be a Wealthy Hunters Only state if it isn’t already.

  6. Hunting going away would be bad, but there will always be a need for the RTKABA while there’s the 2nd Paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.

  7. I just took up hunting 3 years ago at age 48. My brother took it up at the same time at age 49.

    The biggest problem is finding someplace to actually hunt. We’d like to hunt deer. We already know how to field dress one, and rudimentary butchering as well. We have yet to find any private property that will allow us to hunt, as private land is already leased out to wealthy individuals, or the landowners do not want the legal risk of hunters on their property.

    So we are stuck hunting for pheasant and rabbit on public lands, both which are packed on days when they are stocked. The prey can also be difficult to locate without having dogs (pheasant not so much, but rabbits are nearly impossible without dogs). We might have to just save our money and start hunting once every 2-3 years at a hunting preserve.

  8. I’m 27 and my shooting buddy from work is 23. Both of us own about a dozen firearms and are avid reloaders. We both have immigrant parents and nobody to show us where to hunt on public land in Arizona. So basically the next generation will own guns and carry on the 2nd amendment, but without a parent to show you the way it’s almost impossible to get into hunting. We’re going to try and figure out the coyote and javelina thing, but elk in northern AZ is pretty much out of the question.

  9. Perhaps if states (Texas an exception) didn’t make it such a colossal pain in the a** to actually get a tag and hunt more people would be interested. I can’t be the only one who finds it insane that some units can take 20 years to actually get a tag. Oh, then you 7 days to harvest (most rifle seasons here in Colorado) The state is literally overrun with Deer yet all Deer tags in all units are by draw only.

    Don’t even get me started on the goat rope of stamps to shoot some Ducks…..

    I really wish we had a more European approach to game management. It one of the few areas I think the Euros do much better….

  10. “But how do you attract young adult men, referred to as hipsters or millenials?”

    No, they’re referred to as beta males or pajama boys, and those limp-wristed fools can barely walk and chew gum at the same time.

    My store caters to hunters, and even in MA there are a lot of them (and plenty of big white tails and turkeys to hunt). I can’t even guess how many hunting and sporting (fishing and hunting combo) licenses I’ve sold. But none of the hunters have been young men or women.

  11. From my perspective as a landowner:

    We don’t like bullet holes in our houses, vehicle, property, or livestock. Bad/inexperienced hunters giving the rest of you a bad name.

    My granddad had a shot cow one season.
    I have dug a 30 caliber slug from a hunter out of my moms house and now no one gets to hunt those prime mature oak acres.

    Always know your target and what is behind it. That is why I have said before it is important to take your kids with you WITHOUT a gun so they can observe how to hunt, signs, patterns, safe handling, harvest & processing.

  12. Here in California, last 3 seasons in OC/SD/Riverside many areas were off-limits to Rifle or shotgun hunting due to fire danger. The dry conditions don’t support healthy wildlife populations. Most people I know that hunt have not hunted in a few years because of it. I am thinking of starting bowhunting because there is less competition and you have a longer season

    • Yep. The last big set of fires here in NorCal missed my favorite hunting spot. But they closed the roads in for weeks.

      I’ve taken up the bow as a retirement activity. If I get good enough at it I would consider hunting with a bow.

  13. Yeah, the only kind of hunting people can afford is urban hunting. Fairly illegal but pigeons and starlings are pest birds and no one is going to really notice if some racoons and possum go missing.


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