18 September 2005

Hunting Down

The New York Times reports that hunting is down about 10% from 16.4 million hunting licenses issued a year to 14.7 million in the period from 1983 to 2003, a decline of about 10% in 20 years. This is about a 10% drop at a time when the nation's population has increased by about 17%. Equally important, the story, which focuses on a program in Vermont designed to interest children in hunting, notes that the people who do hunt are graying and not being replaced by a new generation to the same extent as in the past.

I'm not surprised. As people leave rural America for regimented schedules and urban sensibilities, hunting doesn't fit, and people are leaving small towns for bigger cities. Indeed, the only surprise, really, is that hunting isn't declining more rapidly. I'm in the transition generation myself. Every adult male in my parents' generation hunted. My brother and I never did, and only some of my cousins keep up the tradition. This has a lot to do with the fact that my parents grew up deep in rural America. Most of their generation moved to the city. Very few of our nation's immigrations seek out a farm life (although there are exceptions, with both migrant farmworkers and Dutch farmers seeking to set up feedlots in Ohio as two modern examples).

This shift significantly changes gun control politics. Urban non-hunters tend to favor it. Rural hunters tend to fear it. As the balance shifts, so does the politics. This isn't the only issue affected. My parents' generation grew up seing forests and mountains in terms of the lumber and minerals they could produce (although many of those viewed evolved during their own lives). Urban people tend to see forests and mountains as recreation centers and wildlife habitats. The historical rule of Western water law that boating isn't a beneficial use of water for priority purposes makes no sense to us. I'm a part of the "take only photographs, leave only footprints" generation. Camping and kayaking are vital youth industries, with stores popping up in swanky locations in big cities, but we want to see animals, not kill them. Despite having an uncle who spent much of his life working in a mine, and a grandfather who was a lumberjack, I see extractive industries as a necessary evil, to the extent that we can't recycle, rather than as something to be maximized. Hunting is rarely necessary, and my generation is wary after having heard so many cautionary tales of hunting destroying whole species.

Hunters have tried to seize on feminism as a way to restore interest. According to one source, only about 1% of women have ever hunted, while 12% of men have, woman make up 9% of hunters. The focus of the New York Times article was a girl, the best seller list has featured a novel called "The Girl's Guide To Hunting and Fishing", and a couple of my female cousins were introduced to hunting. But, in the case of my cousins, they have never become hard core enthusiasts. And, if you look at the sport as a whole, the changes in gender balance don't seem too dramatic. Is there anything fundamental about that? Probably not. But, nothing in decline attracts many newcomers.

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