Hunter numbers will not grow in the future

There are many programs that states are using to create more hunters. These are good programs, and a lot of effort is being used to get more folks into hunting.

Im not talking about the number of hunting licenses and permits, for those numbers are on the increase in some states.

Im just talking about warm bodies that hunt.

The number of hunters is important for the future of hunting.

We lose hunters every day as older hunters stop hunting for various reasons, or they die. If we had an influx of new hunters, younger hunters, and those numbers exceeded ones lost, that would keep hunting growing. But that doesnt happen and it may never happen and here is why. Youngsters who reach the age when they can start hunting have many other activities that they enjoy. Years ago, lots of kids in school hunted. All your buddies hunted.

Many owned beagle dogs used to hunt rabbits. Weekends were spent hunting. Many of those kids lived in the country, rather than in big towns or cities. None played soccer.

It wasnt available.

None played video games, or were on cell phones. They didnt exist. Few spent much time in nature and the outdoors, though the importance of that is now being seen and there are more outdoor experiences happening. The list of things young people can do is large, and those things compete for a young persons time. All of this means fewer young people take up hunting.

Its hard to keep people in hunting or recruit others into hunting because finding places to hunt is difficult. Years ago, with more of us living in the country and more friends our age who hunted, it was easier to find private land to hunt. A friends farm. A relative s farm. How many kids today have a friend who lives on a farm? Add to that the fact that more and more rural private land is leased by owners to small groups of hunters.

Public hunting lands get crowded, so groups of hunters find a property and spend money to lease it. It is a growing phenomenon and it takes potential hunting lands away from most hunters.

Traveling to states where resident hunter numbers are lower, could be a way to find land to hunt, but doing so is more expensive than ever. To do that, you need to lease a property to hunt, either with a few friends or by yourself. And those lease prices keep going up. Or you need to hunt with an outfitter, a guide that provides hunting, food, and lodging. Even the average hunters who can afford to hunt out-of-state are seeing a new phenomenon.

Guides are now finding that some hunters are willing to pay large money to hunt out-of-state. So those guides can charge higher prices and take fewer hunters to make the same money they made before by taking larger numbers of hunters at lesser prices.

They can make the same or more money by taking 10 hunters and charging more, than taking 20 at a lesser price. Less food to buy, less gas to get hunters in the woods, less money to hire a cook for twice as long, less money to hire assistant guides, etc. Less work all the way around for those guides. But it makes it harder for the average hunter to find hunting areas out-of-state.

Hunters also stop hunting or dont take it up because of a lack of free time. Family obligations are more varied than they used to be. Theres always some family thing going on during weekends. Jobs seem more demanding as well.

People who have never hunted need help to get into hunting. Finding mentors for anyone who decides they want to hunt, but dont have any family members who hunt, can be difficult. Difficult for the mentors because it takes time to do that, and difficult for new hunters because they cant find mentors. There are all kinds of mentoring programs out there, but few hunter participate in them.

The argument that venison is healthy has attracted some urban nonhunters into hunting.

Sharing wild game with your friends who dont hunting helps to interest some in hunting. Thereare programs that do just that, but the number of hunters created is relatively small. The truth is that the world has changed and our lives have changed too. Those changes make recruitment and retention of hunters more difficult than they once were. And that means that the number of hunters in the future probably wont increase by much, if at all.

DR. SAMUEL is a retired wildlife professor from West Virginia University. His outdoor columns have appeared, and continue to appear, in Bowhunter magazine and the Whitetail Journal. If you have questions or comments on wildlife and conservation issues, email him at [email protected]