The future of hunting is in our hands
Hunting in the USA is a 20-billion-plus dollar a per year business. These dollars are not just spent on equipment and licenses, but they also include related expenditures for food, transportation and lodging, as well. While these figures are astounding, there are some facts looming on the horizon that could put hunting in jeopardy in the future.
Due to successful wildlife conservation measures and care of the lands being hunted, game animals are in pretty good shape. However, as good as the hunting is today, government farm bills and continued access to good hunting areas are two factors that could drastically change the rosy outlook.
With a U.S. population exceeding 290 million, the estimated number of hunters is thought to be only around 6 percent of that. In the last five years alone, an estimated 13 to 14 million hunters have decided to sell their gear and give up the sport. With a median age of 35, we hunters had better start making a successful recruiting effort.
If you go to any hunting club, or meeting involving the subject of hunting, one fact simply jumps out at you: Modern-day hunters are aging at a rapid rate, and the number of next generation hunters seen at hunting meetings or gatherings is very small. At the rate we are going, it won’t be long before the number of active hunters will be too low to keep the sport alive.
Another startling fact is how exceedingly low the number is for young hunters that are actually in the field hunting. It could be because there are so many other activities available to young kids today as to preclude the time for hunting. However, it could also be due to the fact that their fathers and grandfathers may not have the time or resources to take them out to the field to hunt.
Even among households that have a parent that hunts, surveys show that only 25 percent of those eligible kids will go hunting. While there are 30 states that have youth-friendly hunting programs, another 20 have rules and regulations prohibiting youth from hunting with a parent or legal guardian.
MULTI-LEVEL L SUPPORT
While the above information would lead you to believe the future is cloudy regarding young hunters’ participation in the sport, there are many ongoing efforts to prevent that outcome. Not only is the shooting industry shelling out large sums of money, many states and local organizations are helping out, as well.
National Shooting Sports Foundation
On a national level, the National Shooting Sports Federation (NSSF) has kids programs for both shooting and hunting. For example, one of the NSSF projects is a program called First Shots, where kids—as well as adults—are introduced to the shooting sports with all equipment furnished, and certified instructors are on hand to oversee their safety.
Another NSSF program is called Step Outside. The purpose of this program is to initiate hunters and target shooters to invite family, friends or others to join them in some outdoor fun. The fun can consist of either spending some time at the range target shooting, or in the field hunting. NSSF also sponsors a program called Take Your Kids Hunting, where winners receive prizes and bird hunting opportunities.
National Rifle Association
Perhaps the most well-known NRA training program is the Young Hunter Safety Training course. In most states, young hunters are required to pass an NRA hunter safety course before obtaining a hunting license. In fact, in many states, younger non-resident hunters are required to have an NRA hunter safety card before purchasing a license.
The goal of the HuntSafe course is to teach young hunters the safe and proper way to handle firearms in both the field and in the home. The young hunters are also taught the responsibility of the hunter’s role in the wildlife and land, as well as wildlife laws and procedures related to hunting.
For graduates of the NRA basic hunter safety course, the NRA has an advanced training program called the Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC), which draws an estimated 50,000 kids every year at the state level. The YHEC is geared to test the young hunters in several hunting skills on a variety of subjects, including identification of game animals, shooting at life-size targets and mapping/orienteering skills.
To get and retain more youth hunters, Pheasants Forever started a program called No Child Left Indoors. This program’s goal is to introduce upland bird hunting to young hunters and their family members on a state and local level. They also learn about wildlife, conservation, habitat and other natural resources.
Pheasants Forever has many chapter youth programs that promote bird hunting opportunities to their local communities, which include youth-mentored bird hunts, conservation camps, fishing tournaments, outdoor expos and hunter education classes.
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
The RMEF has a program called Shooting Access for Everyone (SAFE), which is designed to teach young and novice hunters how to handle firearms in a safe manner, and educate young hunters about conservation and wildlife. Local chapters of RMEF hold SAFE Challenge events that allow participants to compete in air rifle and .22 shooting competition, and also hone their skills on hunting big game from SAFE mentors.
STATE-SPONSORED MENTORED HUNTS
Due to the fact that the rural population is dwindling in the U.S., most people are living in a city or metropolitan area, so the odds are that most kids will neither hear about nor participate in any hunting adventure. In fact, kids growing up without either a parent or grandparent who hunts would not likely be introduced to hunting or various shooting sports.
Mentored hunting is perhaps one of the best ways to get kids involved in hunting who would otherwise be unable to participate. Kids growing up in single-parent households are in an even tougher situation due to cost considerations. The mentored hunting programs may be their only opportunity for disadvantaged city kids.
Mentored hunting programs are designed to let a parent decide when a child is old enough or responsible enough to be allowed to hunt. For example, in South Dakota, a child must be a least 10 years old and must be accompanied by an unarmed parent/guardian that has completed a state hunter safety course.
A mentored hunter is allowed to hunt both large and small game once he/she obtains his/her mentored license. During a mentored hunt, both the young hunter and the parent/guardian are able to experience the outdoors, learn and show respect for wildlife and the game hunted and develop safe and ethical behavior that will remain for years to come.
WHAT THE FUTURE BRINGS
While the statistics indicate that we grown-up hunters have a lot of work to do to recruit and train the next generation of hunters, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. With assistance from the shooting industry and state game departments, more and more young hunter groups are being formed every year. The future of the next generation of hunters is in our hands.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK FOUNDATION:
By Richard Folsland