Posted on | December 29, 2008 | 1 Comment
Ecra Creative Group
I didn’t hunt as a kid.
My father simply wasn’t into it. And in those days, if your father didn’t hunt, odds were, you didn’t either. But I was alone among my peers in elementary school. They all hunted with their fathers.
Each fall (the specific date varied by the game season), every boy I knew traipsed up north with their dads, bothers, cousins, uncles, and dogs to shoot God knows what God knows where.
The actual act of hunting didn’t appeal to me – I still don’t much care for the idea – but I missed the bonding adventure it must have been to spend days and nights learning to track game, understand the environment, and safely handle firearms. I felt I missed out.
For my kids, however, it is a different story.
They don’t hunt either, but unlike me, they don’t miss it.
The numbers tell us my children’s apathy is hardly unique.
From its peak in 1975 of 19.1 million, the number of hunters has declined over 30% in 30 years, to just about 12.5 million in 2006. That’s about 220,000 fewer hunters each year, a trend that shows little sign of abating. Extend the trend another 30 years, and we get about 6.2 million hunters in 2035.
But trends at this rate hardly act in a linear fashion. We know from population dynamics that a rate of decline in this range is not sustainable, and will likely accelerate. To quote population jargon, hunting is in danger of extinction.
Why, might you ask, would someone like me (who does not hunt, nor has a desire to) care if that were to happen?
Lot’s of good reasons: Hunting promotes a tangible connection to the environment, important (especially for children) if we hope to be better stewards of our natural resources. A side bonus – hunting requires open space preservation. That’s good for the environment and bad for urban sprawl. Also, hunting links the act of killing to the act of eating. A bit more respect for both would be welcome.
But if hunting is such a good idea (at least for a certain percentage of us), what seems to be the problem? Is it that hunting no longer “fits in” to an overworked lifestyle? Have our children’s schedules become so full of organized “lessons” that we – as parents – have abdicated part of our own responsibility as teachers? Have greedy landowners made it harder to get access to good hunting areas? Have overzealous license fees and rising equipment prices started to push hunting out of our price range?
Those could all play a role, but I think the key problem is simpler than all that: Hunting has an image problem.
Put simply, hunting has not effectively counterbalanced three vexing media narratives.
1. Hunting is not safe.
You can’t blame your local paper for reporting on the few people each hunting season who never make it home. If kids were involved, that makes it all the more heart wrenching. But if you examine the actual mortality rates as a direct result of hunting as compared to all other sporting activities, you discover you are more likely to be seriously injured or killed in your backyard swimming pool. Of course, most people don’t run around their pool with a loaded rifle.
2. Hunting is a drinking club for men.
Everyone needs a release. I am not sure I can paint a better picture than a few beers around the fire late at night. But somehow, we are sold the story of an unshaven brute with an open bottle in one hand and a loaded rifle in the other firing at anything that moves. That makes for an amusing mental picture, but it’s hardly accurate. Every hunter I’ve met seems to follow a variant of two simple rules: (1) If there are kids, there is no booze, and (2) If there is booze, there is no gun. Simple.
3. Hunting is violent.
If you believe this, actually go on a real hunting trip. You may fire your weapon. Once. You may not. The “shoot” part is a tiny portion of the entire event.
Here’s the problem: With fewer and fewer people actually hunting, these three narratives will continue to erroneously define the hunting experience, further driving mainstream people away and discouraging new hunters from joining in.
What’s the solution? Many states have set up training programs to educate young hunters. They also have set aside public land for hunting, and more effectively publicized regulations. That’s a good start, but this is not a “top down” sort of problem state governments can easily solve.
Hunters must become more active in the education of non-hunters. They must organize. They must speak with a unified voice. The myriad of hunting organizations do a notably sorry job of outreach. In the vacuum of public discourse, the one well-organized group – the NRA – controls the bulk of the narrative. I am not sure that is helping engage the widest possible audience.
The rhetorical challenge is deceptively simple, but easy: Convince your average suburban mom from a non-hunting family that sending her children out into the woods with loaded weapons is a good idea. And perhaps, convince her to go along.
Good luck hunters. You are going to need it.