It’s never been more clear that now is the time to act. The hunter numbers are in, and they’re not good. Preliminary findings of U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation indicate a 5-year fall-off of over 2 million hunters. Since 1980, hunter numbers have fallen from nearly 18 million to the current count of 10.5 million. The preliminary findings are summarized well here. The future of conservation in this country relies heavily on our collective ability to reverse a devastating trend in hunter participation.
But what can we do about it?
1. Accept reality. Lack of access is choking us. Land sales and hunting leases are going to continue to eat up large tracts of land, and public land is going to get more pressure than your old honey hole. I miss my old honey hole, too… you know the one… the place we lost when Grandpa sold the farm, or when that trusty old CRP became a corn field. When you do find a good spot on public land there may be other hunters there, fearing running into you as much as you feared running into them. Be gracious, you’re probably a couple kind words from being hunting buddies. And, please if you take nothing else from this letter, ask yourself who really gives a shit whether they shoot a crossbow, or they shoot an autoloader, or they have the wrong brand of camo. They’re on our team, stop focusing so much on what makes us different.
2. While we’re accepting reality, let’s accept this: The world has changed and will continue to do so. We are not going to rid the world of video games and cell phones. There’s nothing we can do about 80-game soccer leagues for 10 year-olds. People are going to continue to move away from rural areas. Families are going to lose their farms to inheritance taxes. Baby boomers are going to age out of their hunting days in the next 10 years. Anti-hunting and anti-gun organizations are only going to pick up steam during this presidency – just like gun and ammo sales picked up steam during the last presidency. Millennials are going to continue hunting for different reasons than generations-past. As hunters, we need to learn to thrive inside of the constraints of these tectonic realities. Here are some examples of things each of us can do, 1) hold a wild game feed and invite the families from the soccer team, 2) start a trap league, rather than joining a golf league, 3) create hunting opportunities for youth in programs like National Archery in the Schools, and high school trap teams, 4) get your whole family involved in your local Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, or Pheasants Forever chapter.
3. No matter who you are, what you look like, or where you’re from if you care about the future of hunting, you have to figure out ways to bring a new person this hunting season. It doesn’t need to be a kid, the person doesn’t even need to shoot, but we need to invite them to come along. No one learned to love hunting through a social media post or a hunting show. You and I need to intentionally seek them out, invite them, bring them along and teach them. If each of us brought 1 new person every 10 times we go we could reverse this trend. If you’re up for the challenge, consider taking the National Hunting and Fishing Day Pledge. When you do so you’ll be entered to win all kinds of really cool experiences from Bass Pro Shops, NASCAR, and more.
4. Rather than assuming people can feel what we feel from our grip-and-grin pic on Instagram, let’s tell the real story. Take pics of the other things you saw, share how it felt being out with your family, talk about how delicious your venison jerky tastes, share hunting stories even when you don’t fill a tag. Jake, a team member of ours here at Powderhook and as avid of a hunter as you’ll ever meet, recently shared an excellent example of a social post that tells the real story. Check it out here.
5. Remember what got you into hunting. It’s the only thing that works nearly every time: mentoring. If you have the time to be matched long-term as a mentor, please visit this form and submit your information. From there we’ll introduce you to the closest mentoring program we know of in your area. If you don’t have the time to mentor in-person, please consider becoming a Digital Mentor in the Powderhook app. It’ll take you a minute or two a week.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the “Orange Army” to engage. Each of us needs to do more, and we need to start now.
Founder of Powderhook
Photo Credits: Jake Crnkovich