Thursday, February 22, 2007
Bill Cochran's Outdoors: Look in the mirror: hunters are getting old
Bill Cochran's Outdoors
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- The good and bad of the 2012 saltwater fishing season
- Column archive
Bill's Field Reports
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- Quail Unlimited calls it quits
- Field reports archive
Look around your hunt club or circle of hunting buddies and there is a good chance you will see a lot of gray hair. Maybe all you have to do is peer into your mirror.
Hunters are growing old. When one of us drops out of the ranks, there isn’t always a youngster to take our place.
That means we aren’t just getting older. We also are becoming fewer.
This has been a concern of hunters for several years, and now, rather suddenly, it is receiving widespread attention in the mainstream media. Examples:
>A recent piece by Newsweek/MSNBC.com contained a lengthy article titled “Why hunting is on the wane in America.” It was written by Steve Tuttle, who described himself as a lifelong hunter who lives in western Virginia.
>On Feb. 11, the Washington Post carried an article titled “Habitat loss, cultural shift add up to fewer Virginia hunters.” It was picked up by a number of newspapers across the state.
>This week an editorial cartoon on the decline of hunting license sales appeared in several Virginia newspapers. It was the work of Jim McCloskey of the Daily News Leader in Staunton.
“Hunting in America has entered a long twilight,” said the Newsweek piece. It pointed out that the number of hunting-license buyers has shrunk nationally by about 2 million since 1982.
The Washington Post reported that license sales in Virginia have declined by nearly 100,000 the past decade. The declines occurred the same time Virginia’s population was growing by about 1 million residents, and deer and turkey populations were the best they’ve been in modern history.
Both Newsweek and the Post blame the trend on fewer places to hunt along with a cultural change that sees many youngsters expressing a stronger interest in Gameboys than rifles. The rural tradition of hunting being passed down from dads to sons isn’t as well entrenched in urban situations.
The latest figures on hunting license buying trends, reported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in January, showed that license sales nationwide slipped 1.4 percent in 2005 from the previous year. Officials were happy that it wasn’t more. A 1.4 decline doesn’t appear to be much until you add it up over a decade. Then it becomes 14 percent. National sales have been tracking downward since the mid-1980s.
Virginia came in a little better than the national average according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife data. It posting an almost-holding-its-own 0.1-percent decline. Neighboring West Virginia was down 6.2 percent. In the cellar was Massachusetts with a 15.1 percent single-year decline. Arizona was at the other end with an 8.1 percent increase.
Some of the best information on the aging trends of hunters in Virginia can be found in demographics data collected during recent surveys on Sunday hunting. A Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ random sample of 5,000 licensed hunters from across Virginia revealed the average age to be 45.2 years. That’s about the same as the national average.
A Virginia Deer Hunters Association survey was even more silver-headed. More than 70 percent of the participants, from a survey base of 5,000 members, were age 46 and older. Only eight percent were in the 18-to-35 age bracket.
To stop the bleeding, hunters know that more needs to be done to introduce women and youngsters to their sport.
The Washington Post reported that interest in hunting among women is “flourishing,” quoting an NRA report that revealed a 72-percent increase in women hunters since 2001. Women now make up 16 percent of active hunters, the article reported.
No question, there are more women hunters, yet in the DGIF Sunday hunting survey, only 3.2 percent of the participants were female.
The greatest opportunity to reverse the decline of hunters is to recruit more young people, male and female. The National Wild Turkey Federation is doing that through its JAKES program, and so are other organizations, including a shooting program by 4-H.
One new group, Families Afield, says the biggest deterrent to attracting new hunters are state wildlife agencies that have thrown up barriers that include restrictive age limits and mandatory hunter education. Virginia does not make the group’s Top 20 list of hunter friendly states.
More about that in a future report.