‘At Forest’s Edge’ is spring’s look at hunting’s future

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What is the future of hunting? As we grow older and it becomes a bit more difficult to climb that tree stand, set out (and pick up) 100 goose decoys, or tie on those hunting boots, it often crosses our minds while we are sitting outside in some nasty weather what is in store for the next generations of hunters. You must have a passion for it.

Joel Spring of Ransomville has written a new book entitled “At Forest’s Edge” and it is another outstanding collection of outdoor adventures by the Western New York scribe that focuses on the future of hunting through his own exploits in the forests and fields of the Empire State.  Between hunting, fishing, outdoor photography, and “outdoor” writing, how the heck does he have time to pull down a full-time job?

“I explored the past in my book The Ghosts of Autumn,” said Spring. “I’ve spent a lot of time with younger hunters the last few years and became interested in what the future of hunting might look like. I think with new, young, enthusiastic hunters coming on the scene, the future of hunting is very bright.”

It doesn’t come without a little bit of hard work and sacrifice. “Mentoring is very important,” insists Spring. “Every year I try to take out new hunters, young hunters, and introduce them to pheasant hunting, deer hunting and, very often, kayak fishing. I’m very hopeful for the future of hunting.”

My own experiences this year allowed me to take a quick glimpse into the future from the eyes of Mike Fox of Lewiston and his 17-year-old son Jesse. I hunted out of their camp in Hartsville (Steuben County) for the regular season big game opener in the Southern Zone. For the second year in a row, I didn’t hunt with any family or friends at our old haunts on the hills of Greenwood just a few miles away. Times change.

“It helps being able to hunt with my son, Jesse,” said Fox, who turned 68 years old while we were breaking bread and sharing stories in camp. “It rejuvenates me. I strongly believe that moving the big game opener from a Monday to a Saturday also hurt the hunting tradition here in New York. It hurt the local businesses, too. I’m not seeing the people in the woods that I used to.”

From a youth perspective, Jesse was quick to point out that he sees very few kids his age going deer hunting. “They are just not into it,” said the Lew-Port High School senior.

Mike George of Niagara Falls was also a member of the camp crew, but it may be his last year of deer hunting at age 77. Mother Nature seemed to be willing to grant him a special wish or two and George took advantage of it. Opening morning, he didn’t get up at 4:45 a.m. like everyone else did. Instead, he rolled out of bed at 8:15 a.m. and rode up to his stand at 8:30 a.m. behind the cabin with his 4-wheeler. At 9:30 a.m. he shot a big doe, and he was back to camp by 11 a.m. getting ready for lunch.

“I think deer hunting has gotten too commercial,” said George. “It seems to be overly sophisticated with trail cameras, scents, specialty clothes and the like. It’s time for me to hang up my boots.”

The flip side could be true, too. Not everyone is tech savvy but hunting tools like trail cameras could be adding a new level of interest and excitement to the next generation of high-tech hunters. Is it a good thing? The jury is still out as to the bottom line for big game hunting and what impacts they could have on the future of the popular pastime. If people aren’t seeing deer during the day, at least they know that they are out there when they see them on the trail cameras.

Bob Saunderson of Fulton (and another member of the Fox camp) thought about growing up in the Niagara Falls area. “Kids today need to look to the outdoors for more recreational pastimes,” say Saunderson. “It’s not like when we were kids. We were outdoors all day, every day. It seems like it’s tough to even get the kids out of the house.” He does have a grandson who is showing interest in hunting, and he hopes to bring him along next year, taking advantage of the new 12- and 13-year-old hunting rule that was enacted in most counties.

Changes are being made that could help turn the tide. The new law that allows 12- and 13-year-olds to hunt deer (except Erie and Rockland counties) with a licensed mentor at least 21 years of age and three years of hunting experience is already making a difference this year. It’s important to get junior hunters out there in the fields and forests at an earlier age.

Some people have been critical of the new law, but if you look at the big picture, New York has fallen behind in the recruitment picture in previous years. It wasn’t until an online hunter education course became available in 2020 due to the pandemic that we saw a surge in new hunters. New York was the last state in the country that allowed 12- and 13-year-old junior hunters to pursue deer with a firearm. They could already use a gun to hunt small game, and they could use a bow to hunt deer (but not a crossbow or a firearm). Remember that is all after passing a hunter education course and while hunting with an adult mentor.

Mark Fox of Youngstown (Mike’s brother at age 62) perhaps said it best when he commented “if it wasn’t for my nephew Jesse in camp, I would be the youngest one here!”

With Christmas just around the corner, it’s a great time to pick up Spring’s book “At Forest’s Edge” as a stocking stuffer. Hopefully it will get you thinking about what you can do to ensure a brighter future for hunting. Changes are happening and we need to learn to adapt sooner rather than later.

Categories: New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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