The Future of our Outdoors
When I went scouting yesterday, I didn’t take a gun to hunt squirrels or rabbits because I was looking for turkey, and any other wildlife I could come across, so I was trying to be quiet. I was in the Pike National Forest, less than an hour from my home, with miles and miles of wilderness around me. It was a beautiful day, and I had the woods and mountains all to myself. At the time I thought that was great, but the more I think about it, I wonder why I didn’t hear anyone hunting, or see anyone else out enjoying the beautiful day.
It got me to thinking about how small game hunting is becoming less popular, which I think is a bad thing. When I was a kid, hunting squirrels and rabbits was pure joy to me, and it taught me a lot of things about hunting and being in the woods. I think hunting small game is one of the best ways to teach young kids the hunting and wildlife skills they should know. But these days, the numbers of small game hunters has dropped significantly. A little bit of research today confirmed what I was thinking; small game hunter numbers are down significantly over the past ten years, and dramatically lower than they were 50 years ago.
This is a perplexing problem. The majority of hunters today are 35 – 55 years old; they make up 48% of the number of total hunters. What is significant about this fact is that this is the age group of people who are most likely to have children old enough to take hunting to carry on that tradition. But if we are only focusing on big game hunting, then we are not giving our children the learning opportunities they deserve. I confess myself that I get more excited for elk hunting than anything else, but I still pursue rabbits and squirrels, turkey, waterfowl, upland birds, and fishing year round. There are plenty of things to get me outdoors all year long, even on the weekdays. My point is that as true outdoors people, we should be constantly participating in outdoor activities and paying attention to conservation topics.
The other thing that is alarming to me is how our demographics have changed as a nation. One hundred years ago, 80% of our population was rural, now 77% of our population lives in cities, almost a 180 degree shift. This alone would partially explain the decline in numbers of people who hunt. Today there are about 12.5 million people who hunt in the US, and those hunters contribute over a billion dollars a year towards conservation through license sales, firearms and ammunition purchases, and contributioins to the local economies of the places they hunt. As has been proven over the past one hundred years, it is the people who hunt the animals who have done the most to preserve them. Our game populations are incredibly higher now than they were a hundred years ago.
But what will happen to all of those conservation dollars if the number of hunters continues to decline? How will wildlife agencies be supported to protect our wildlife resources if their main source of revenue is continually depleted? As our population and city sprawl has exploded over the past 100 years, I find it amazing how our wildlife areas and game populations have been managed to the strong numbers they are at today. I just don’t want to see that go away.
So get a kid out hunting, or fishing, or camping. We have to instill the interest in the next generations.