Hunter numbers have been declining in the United States for quite some time. The number of hunters peaked after WW2, and it has been declining since. It is estimated that roughly 50% of adult males were hunters in the late 1940s. Today the number is about 4% of the US population.
You may be thinking this is a good thing because it means less competition for hunting spots on public land. But in the long run, it means that the sport may die off. As the number of people opposed to hunting grows and the number of hunters shrinks, hunters could become an endangered species.
One of the biggest threats from this decline is the decrease in funding. Money for conservation and management of wildlife populations comes from a couple of main sources. One of the largest contributors is the Pittman Robertson excise tax. This is an 11% tax on hunting equipment including firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment. Another major source of funding for conservation is the purchase of state and federal hunting licenses. The Pittman Robertson tax will likely maintain funding because it is also levied on non-hunters who purchase firearms and ammunition (firearm sales have recently been at an all-time high), but the funding from sales of licenses is drying up.
Conservation organizations have come up with a solution called the 3Rs. They stand for Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation. For years, organized programs have sought to achieve these goals but have not had much success—this means it is up to us to help preserve the way of life we love so much.
Recruitment means talking to people about hunting. Tell them what it means to you, why you do it, and why it is sustainable and helps wildlife. If someone seems interested, offer to take them along on a hunt. If every hunter took one new hunter out once a year, the number of new hunters would drastically increase. People who did not grow up around hunters face a barrier to entry of the sport. Potential hunters may have trouble making sense of the rules, finding places to hunt, and finding people to hunt with.
Reactivation means helping someone who was a hunter (but for various reasons no longer hunts) get back into it. Consider inviting older friends and relatives to go out with you to hunt. If someone is too old for long hikes and climbing with treestands, perhaps you can find a place to hunt that is closer to the parking lot and hunt from a ground blind.
Retention can be accomplished by establishing a hunting community. Groups like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers seeks to do this by organizing pint nights and sponsoring events where people share stories about hunting. So many hunters mention how hard it is to find spots to hunt anymore and that it’s hard to find the time. Encourage them to get out, offer to take them to a property you have access on, and share your hunting stories with them.
The situation seems dire right now, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. As more and more people look for alternatives to factory-farmed meat and seek out organic, sustainable protein, hunting can be presented as a great solution.
Hunting means a great deal to me. To ensure that future generations will continue to be able to enjoy this sport, we must all look at what we can do to promote the 3Rs.