Giving talks to Rod and Gun clubs around the state is enjoyable for me. It’s a good chance to rub elbows with good people who share a common interest. I learn a lot and always come away with new insights and topics to write about. Most of the time, the food is good, too.
During a talk I gave recently at the Pine Tree Rod and Gun Club in Westbrook, I said as much. Looking around the room there, at the American Legion Post, I was encouraged to see more younger faces than I usually see at Maine Rod and Gun clubs. I said as much, and told them this: “During the 10 years or more that I have been speaking to clubs like yours, I have noticed a common theme- aging memberships. More and more gray beards like me, and fewer and fewer young faces.”
Many of the older members smiled and nodded in agreement, but behind the smiles there was also a look of concern. What is going on out there? Will our hunting heritage simply wither on the vine because younger generations fail to find anything enticing or worthwhile about the hunt or life in the great outdoors?
The Westbrook gathering offered causes for this social change in our society. They ran the gamut from more and more single parent households (no Dad to take Johnny hunting or to “bring him along”) to computer games, increasing anti-hunting sentiments in the popular culture and a more sedentary society.
Jake Carr, president of the Westbrook club, said that his group shared my concern and had discuused the subject in the past. Then he put a tough question to me. ” Do you have any thoughts or ideas on what we can do to increase the ranks of youthful hunters?” he asked.
“Well, the good news,” I said “is that the national sporting organizations and state wildlife agencies have awakened to the issue and are developing outreach programs to attract youngsters to our sport. National groups such as Families Afield, and in Maine, groups like the Maine Youth Fish and Game Association at Pickerel Pond and special Youth Day deer, turkey and waterfowl hunts are specifically designed to provide outdoor mentoring opportunities for youngsters.”
Statistically, there is more good news. America’s divorce rate is declining. That may help some. More significantly, there has been an increase in young hunters. This week the national Shooting Sports Foundation issued this press release:
America’s oldest outdoor tradition may be growing younger. New data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show that young people represent ever-larger portions of America’s ebbing hunting population. The ratio of hunters age 6-15 has grown nearly 4 percent since 2001. Of the three outdoor activities tracked by the federal conservation agency, only hunting showed an increase in the percentage of youth participation. The ratio of young anglers fell more than 5 percent while young wildlife watchers showed the largest decline at 10 percent. The statistics are part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. The survey shows that hunters age 16 and over slipped more than 3 percent to 12.5 million since the previous survey in 2001, while hunters age 6-15 held steady at 1.6 million.
As for Jake Carr’s question, I simply told him that there are youngsters with a natural inclination to try hunting but have no place to turn for mentoring. Many are kids with no fulltime Dad to bring them along, or simply have family elders with an interest in hunting. The challenge is to identify these youngsters and help them. For state Rod and Gun clubs, a step in the right direction would be to simply promote the availability of outdoor mentors. Then, the youngsters and their parents would know where to turn for help.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” heard at 7 p.m. Sundays on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.net.