Many die-hard outdoors people declare that the future of hunting is in danger. They claim that by the end of the 21st century, there will be few, if any, hunters and only a handful of anglers left to enjoy the rivers that wander through the countless mountains.
Their reasoning is simple: younger hunters are no longer inclined to join up with older sportsmen, largely because of video games, computers, and the lure of shopping malls, as well as fewer parents interested in encouraging and supervising them in the outdoors, and growing attitudes that condemn the harvesting of wildlife life for sport and for table fare.
Outdoor pessimists contend that by the end of the century, after years of debate among conservation organizations, pro-hunting organizations, animal rights activists and anti-hunting groups, all forms of hunting in the United States will be banned by the federal government, just as it has been forbidden in several other nations around the globe, where wildlife is perceived as belonging solely to the state.
Is this a real possibility, you ask. Regardless of what some people think, hunting is an opportunity that can be taken away and those who will ultimately decide its fate are the non-hunting public, according to outdoorsmen who feel threatened by a swelling turbulence that hovers over state and individual discussion groups, those who gather regularly to debate a wide variety of issues concerning hunting.
Currently, the public is mostly undecided on whether hunting is moral, is a wholesome activity, or even is a sportsmanlike pursuit of animals.
There are about 12.5 million hunters over the age of 16 in the U.S. It is vital for hunters, both individually and as a group, to demonstrate that hunting is an ethical, decent and natural activity. This is increasingly difficult because more and more people are further removed from rural lifestyles. Fewer immediate family members are involved in hunting or agriculture where the birth, care and death of animals are parts of daily life. Lessons from the farm are largely lost on today’s generation, including hunters.
According to Russell Stevens, an outdoor writer and avid sportsman, the fate of hunting will be influenced by at least three factors. First, hunters need to police their own ranks and not ignore questionable acts of other hunters. Secondly, hunters need to communicate more effectively with non-hunting groups. Lastly, to be sustainable, the sport needs new hunters.
“Policing our ranks should not emphasize internal debates over archery, muzzle loader or rifle seasons or equipment choice,” Stevens says. “These things are minor compared to hunters holding one another accountable to ethical and high moral conduct. We can’t ignore activities such as poaching and trespassing. Additionally, appropriate conduct extends to the concept of ‘fair chase’ or avoiding the use of technology, gadgets or practices that gives unfair advantage to hunters over the animals being pursued.”
Michael Nelson and Kelly Millenbah published an article in a recent issue of Wildlife Professional proposing that there may be more common ground between ethical hunters and non-hunters than either group might imagine. The writers point out that, in the debate over the ethics of hunting, “dialogue has been replaced by dogmatism, honesty by hostility and progress by platitudes.”
However, both individuals suggest that a common ground exists: respect for animals. They go on to say that most anti-hunters simply want “hunters to demonstrate respect for the animals they hunt and to acknowledge that animals have moral standing.”
They propose that “wildlife professionals and hunters could recognize the direct moral standing of animals and work to unite this recognition with the possibility of hunting and eating animals.”
Meanwhile, according to Stevens, statistics show that hunter numbers are declining annually, for a variety of feasible factors. Traditionally, hunting has been a male-dominated activity, but this is changing. More and more women are taking up and enjoying hunting.
“In regards to youth,” Stevens says, “hunting seems to be overshadowed by video games, television, computers and organized activities such as sports and music. An increasing number of youth are not being taught that death is a part of life and that game animals are a renewable resource. It is important that youth and women become involved and participate in hunting and that hunting mentors teach them what fair chase and ethical conduct is all about.”
Larry Berry, a retired wildlife biologist formerly with the DNR in Beckley, feels the same way when expressing his views on keeping the sport alive for future generations: “Take a child hunting. Invite your neighbor, your spouse, your sister or brother, your nephews and nieces, to spend some time in the field to share your knowledge regarding the importance of respecting animals, hunting ethically, observing sportsmanship and maintaining wildlife habitat.
“Who is a better mentor than an ethical, knowledgeable and conservation-minded sportsman? The future of hunting depends on you. It depends on me. It depends on all of us.”
Top o’ the morning!