The number of hunters continues to drop nationwide and with it the connection to the land of the next generation.
According to USA Today,, hunting license sales have dropped from 19.1 million in 1975 to only 12.5 million in 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports. It’s a continuation of the trend that is both cultural and generational.
Last weekend, I took my son David and my six-year-old grandson, Alex, deer hunting. David worked his way down the mountain as Alex and I still-hunted along an old logging road.
We didn’t see anything in our short hunt but Alex got a taste of the hunting culture my grandfather and father gave me 45 years ago. It was much easier for my father and grandfather to spark my interest because we lived on a farm.
After years of following them into the field, I finally could carry a gun with them as we walked from our house back through our own fields to the adjacent forest preserve. Eventually, I was able to hunt by myself, something I did almost daily during hunting season then.
I'm not much different than most hunters of my generation. A study conducted in the 1990s by my friend and former employer Tom Heberlein, a retired rural sociologist from the University of Wisconsin, analyzed the responses of 1,000 Americans conducted annually each year about hunting.
People who live in rural areas, skilled blue collar workers are among the groups most likely to hunt, he found. Both groups have declined significantly as a percentage of our population.
College-educated people are less likely to hunt but higher incomes are more likely to hunt. Heberlein found that the number of hunters declined by about 5 percent a decade. So running that out on the computer, he estimated that there would be no hunters by 2050. This number shocked the hunting world at the time. However, Heberlein noted that if he ran out the numbers of the decline in farmers they would hit zero at 2020.
Farming won't end in 2020 because it is going through a massive restructuring economically technologically and socially. Fewer people farm and even fewer depend on it full time.
Hunting is changing as well. More women are joining the sport.
Today, many states are making it easier for parents to take their children hunting or for new hunters to get started, USA Today reported. That has prompted slight increase in hunter numbers since 2004.
And there is a growing understanding of the importance of connecting people with the wild in all kinds of ways. Hunting and eating an elk shot from the same ecosystem in which we live brings us closer to nature just like buying local crops.
It’s not just good for the land but good for the soul.
Ted Kerasote of Jackson, Wyo., in his excellent book examining hunting, "Bloodties," got to the heart of these feelings.
“Wild elk, along with all the other creatures and plants of nature, are what the earth still provides from her initial grace," he writes. "They can't be planted or harvested or ranched; they can only be received. Whether the means of receiving them is a spear, a gun, or one's plucking fingers matters less than the state of mind moving hands to action."
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