It’s up to us to boost hunter numbers – now

It’s rapidly becoming crunch time for seeking out and engaging the next generation of sportsmen and sportswomen who will become the stewards of our natural resources.

We all have to do our part to share our outdoor heritage in an attempt to pass the outdoor torch for fishing, hunting, trapping and conservation. Time is running out. We are getting older and there’s no one coming up behind us to replace us, especially in the hunting ranks.

It’s not any one thing. It’s a combination of actions, all serving a particular purpose, all with a common goal or objective in mind – getting more people involved with hunting and the outdoors. We have to make that extra effort to become a mentor, write a letter in support of pro-hunting legislation or get involved with a local sportsmen’s club to help educate junior hunters. A little bit of time can go a long way.

For example, the push to allow for 12-year-olds to hunt big game with firearms has passed the Senate but the proposed bill is currently stuck in committee (again) in the Assembly. Assembly Bill A0477 (which is identical to S3156 that passed the Senate) is being held in the Assembly EnCon Committee and is not being released by Assemblyman Steven Englebright, the committee chair.

It’s time to get your pencil and paper out, turn your computer on or pick up your phone and make a personal contact. Respectfully ask for him to release the bill from committee and push for a floor vote. Tell him to support it. And tell whoever your Assembly representative is to get it out of committee and support it. New York is the only state that doesn’t allow 12-year-olds to hunt big game with firearms.

As always, we are fighting a constant battle with mainstream media and the political machine in New York. The emotional battle of letting 12-year-olds hunt with a gun is brought out, without telling the whole story. They don’t mention that 12-year-olds can already hunt with a gun for small game. They don’t mention that these junior hunters must be trained properly through hunter safety education. They don’t mention that every youngster must be accompanied by an adult. And they fail to mention that junior hunters for small game have a very strong safety record based on past performance.

The real kicker is that New York is the only state in the country that does not allow 12-year-olds to hunt big game with a firearm. Yes, we need to hammer that home by saying it again. This is an opportunity to expand our hunting ranks at a time when national numbers are dwindling.

According to the 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (every five years, in conjunction with the annual census), hunting numbers came in at 11.5 million participants. Just under 12 million hunting licenses were sold across the country, helping to support state and federal wildlife programs. In 2011, the number of hunting participants was over 14 million individuals age 16 and older. In 2006 the total number was 18 million.

Not only are there fewer hunters, we are also spending less time in the field. In 2006, hunters went out over 20 times (on average) over the course of a calendar year. In 2011, that number was still a solid 20. In 2016, that number was just above 15 days per year.

I’ve personally noticed senior hunters losing some of their passion for outdoor activities like hunting as they’ve aged. There’s nothing quite like renewed desire when you infuse some young blood into the picture. It can give you a new lease on your hunting life.

And it needs to be more than the physical activity itself. Before they can fully understand the how, they must also understand the why – the need for conservation practices and wildlife management; the need for licensing and the fact that the money is earmarked for fish and wildlife programs; the need for regulations and the need for sound, ethical behavior. They will become the poster person for “hunter” and it’s a role not to be taken lightly.

We also need to pass along the importance of involvement with clubs and organizations. Grassroots clubs and, correspondingly, county sportsmen’s and conservation federations, need an infusion of new participants. Quite often, leadership is not willing to let go rather than bring in new people that could be learning the task at hand. They could also be bringing in new ideas – things don’t have to be accomplished the same way year after year. And when those leaders move on, there is often no one to then step in and hit the ground running. It’s a step backward if it’s a step at all.

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