History tells us that traditions can die. They are not permanent and they are never guaranteed. As with most outdoor pursuits, hunting was once mainstream. From the first day our Founding Fathers landed in the ‘New World’, hunting and fishing was a way of life. In fact, their survival depended on it every day.
But all that’s changed. Rampant urbanization, animal rights activists and other social changes have turned sportsmen into the minority class. In fact, there are more people in America today who do not hunt, do not fish, and do not understand man’s inherent link to our natural world, than those who do.
The dropping numbers of hunters should alarm all of us — not simply because hunting is a liberty which could vanish if not aggressively defended, but because the sporting community has always been a driving force for wildlife conservation. Sportsmen are undoubtedly the single largest group to fund and support state and national conservation efforts. Without them, the ability to fund most conservation and habitat management projects would vanish faster than Congressional accountability.
The solution — and, indeed, the future of the industry — lies with our youth. Without their involvement today, our hunting and agricultural traditions could disappear within the next 20 to 30 years. Is that an outlandish statement? I don't think so because statistics clearly indicate that the hunting industry is on a collision course with reality.
According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, youth participation in hunting declined by 26 percent between 1990 and 2000. If that statistic is not frightening enough, the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation reports that only 25 percent of children from hunting households actively participate in hunting today. This sadly means that we — as sportsmen — are failing to mentor are own children.
Overall hunter participation is dropping too. In 1975, 19.1 million Americans (16-years old or older) had hunted in their lifetime. In 2006, that number had plummeted to only 12.5 percent. That's a steady decline of a quarter percent annually which, if continued, will result in another 5 percent loss in 20 years and a 7.5 percent loss in 30 years.
Current societal trends suggest that an even more rapid decline is possible. The political clout and aggressive strategies of the animal rights activists, runaway urbanization, and the continued collapse of traditional families are immediate threats to our American outdoor traditions.
We've already lost an entire generation, perhaps two, and we must act. Our future is now, and we must promote wildlife management and conservation to our youth just as aggressively as — if not more than — the radical activists who are working to shut down the industry.
Hunting allows families to spend time outdoors and share quality time together. Research also shows that those who begin hunting early in life are more likely to hunt as adults, and we’ll desperately need those adult hunters in the future to conserve wildlife and habitat.
Most experts agree that by the time kids are in the fifth grade, or perhaps even earlier, they are already being pulled away by video games, organized sports and other activities. Children need to be introduced to the outdoors early, because the tradition allows for an appreciation of land stewardship and wildlife and hunting, in particular, teaches responsibility, accountability and respect for life.
The American Deer & Wildlife Alliance (ADWA) and other organizations are working to turnaround this trend. From supporting whitetail deer education in schools to providing scholarships to hosting outdoor camps, we are providing outdoor education on as many fronts as possible.
This summer, ADWA opened its Youth Safari Camp, a series of one-day events that provide hands-on experience on such wilderness survival skills as shelter-building, fire-starting, shooting, field dressing, setting snares and more. Held at the Texas Hidden Springs Ranch in Seguin, Texas, the ADWA Youth Safari Camp events cater to young sportsmen (ages 8 to 15) and features fun, educational outdoor experiences.
Of course, there are other initiatives too. Spikes Magazine, published by the Hunter Heritage Foundation, is now being distributed to hundreds of public libraries and youth camps across the country.
Obviously, we still have a LOT of work to do. Changing a national trend and public perception does not happen overnight, and in some ways we are working against a tide of public indifference. But there is no denying that youth recruitment is paramount to the survival of our hunting traditions and to the sustainability of hunting, as both an industry and an American tradition.
It’s true that traditions can die. But only if we let them.
With the continued support of sportsmen across North America, we can create a better habitat for the business, make sporting activities more mainstream, preserve our American outdoor traditions for generations to come; and we can save hunting. Our future is now.
Stand up for the outdoors,