Hunter participation numbers continue to drop – and it’s a sorry situation

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been conducting a nationwide survey of hunting and fishing participants every five years since 1955, primarily for the benefit of fish and wildlife agencies across the country as they try to understand participation trends in these activities.

The recent release of the preliminary 2016 survey indicates the gloomy fact that the number of hunters — in a steady decline for many years now — has experienced a sharp drop-off of over 2 million hunters since the last survey in 2011.

Since 1980, the overall nationwide number of hunters has dropped from nearly 18 million to the current level of 10.5 million.

That is an alarming figure, and may well be the fateful notice of a continual decrease that cannot be reversed.

The world is different from my youth, when just about everybody seemed to be a hunter, with little else to attract their attention. Now, the everyday lives of children seem to be rapidly changing, and it certainly appears as if it will continue to be that way. Hunting is losing possible participants to video games, cell phones, portable computers, TV that offers hundreds of viewing options and youth sports leagues.

It’s a difficult, perhaps impossible, task for those advocating hunting to turn them away from these modern activities to find the time it would take to get them interested in hunting.

Consider also the fact that the baby-boomers who grew up as hunters will reach the end of their hunting days over the next decade or so, subtracting even more from the numbers of remaining hunting advocates. There may be no reversing this trend.

There are other factors that also may hasten the rate of hunter decline. One is the loss of public land for hunting, which many of our elected officials seem intent on selling to raise funds they have wasted elsewhere. Another is the rise of private leases for those hunting spots in private ownership where hunters hunted in the past at no cost. Fewer places to hunt means fewer hunters.

It is a sad, almost desperate time for the hunting world.

It seems that many of those who do not hunt ignore the fact that hunters — through money spent and strong pressure on political parties — have saved much land, water and wildlife. And with the nonsense that anti-hunting and anti-gun groups spew continually, it may no longer be doable to teach the non-hunting public just how much they owe those who hunt.

Perhaps bringing education into schools about the world of hunting, and the general world of outdoor activities, will impress enough young people to eventually reverse the trend of sinking hunter numbers. Youth programs outside of school, with knowledgeable mentors teaching and offering active outdoor participation for the young, is another step that offers hope for not only saving hunting, but all outdoor activities.

Like anyone reading this, I don’t know when my hunting days will end, but relatively speaking, it cannot be far away — the years pile up no matter what we do. And once I stop hunting, I, too, will become a mere statistic of past hunters no longer hunting. It seems clear now that there won’t be new young hunters to replace me.

It’s a sorry situation.

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