By: Bernie Kuntz
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reported earlier this year that almost 15 million people bought hunting licenses in 2009, the largest figure since 2002. This is a 3.6 percent increase, which according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) is the largest annual increase in hunting license sales since 1974. NSSF also says that hunting license sales increased in 24 states in the five-year period from 2005 to 2009.
Frankly, I am surprised at the numbers, because many state wildlife agencies and sporting magazines are filled with doom and gloom about the future of hunting. Among those who are worried about the future of hunting is Shane Mahoney who is a biologist, hunter, angler and internationally known lecturer on environmental and resource conservation issues. He also writes the “Conservation Corner” column for Sports Afield, and is an authority on the North American Model of Conservation. I have heard Mahoney speak, and he is indeed electrifying!
Mahoney writes that he has “argued and pleaded for two decades for a direct engagement with the general public on the merits and relevance of hunting in modern times.” He claims that public support for hunting is fragile, “weakening and headed for collapse,” and points to social and demographic trends that support this contention.
He calls for lecture tours and public forums on hunting at our universities and colleges — something that was done at Montana State University exactly 20 years ago. (I remember hearing a panel member at that symposium — a newspaper editor from back East, who said the subject of hunting “never came up in conversation” in the newsroom. That’s what we are up against in preserving hunting.)
Mahoney also suggests “breaking into the mainstream media, delivering radio and television messages on the benefits and social relevance of hunting today.” Interestingly, during the almost 14 years I worked for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, I had a four-times-a-day, seven-days-a-week radio message that was always pro-hunting and angling. The problem is most of the old cadre that I worked with have retired or been fired, and the replacement information people are largely non-hunters! Note that I also worked more than seven years for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and for a short time for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, and witnessed a propensity in these agencies to hire non-hunters. This trend certainly can’t help ensure the future of hunting.
Mahoney also correctly points out that a “significant percentage” of today’s 30 million hunters will die or otherwise quit hunting during the next 20 years. He believes that “recruitment processes currently developed have little, if any, chance of replacing them.” He contends that this will have little effect on hunters who can afford to travel and hunt, but it will have more drastic implications for the hunter who hunts locally — the vast majority of hunters.
Mahoney has spoken in the past about the detrimental effects of lack of access to hunting lands, and that continues to be a problem with the future of hunting. (If you have trouble finding a place to hunt in North Dakota, for example, imagine what it is like in New Jersey or California!)
One subject I have never seen addressed by Mahoney is the onset of hunting videos, and their spawn — the endless, tasteless procession of 30-minute hunting programs on outdoor channels. If you watch these, you will find that 90 percent of them are objectionable with fist-pumping, knuckle-bumping and other locker-room-like behavior.
The shows themselves are non-stop commercials for outdoor gear, gadgetry, “scent-free” clothing, trail cameras, camouflage-everything, and food plots. A large percentage of these shows involve little more than shooting from blinds, and certainly do not depict the hunting most of us know and treasure.
As a life-long hunter, I find this rampant commercialism to be downright obnoxious. Add the unending preoccupation with trophies and the size of antlers, and the face of modern hunting appears rather odious, in spite of that 3.6 percent increase in hunting license holders.