Kids don't want to hunt, and the slowly shrinking hunting fraternity wonders why: Is it more one-parent families? Or video games? Or effective propaganda from the anti-hunting wing of society?
The real problem may lie closer to home.
"I'm thrilled that my son likes to hunt with me," an old pal said, "but some of my good friends -- all of them terrific hunters -- have managed to turn off their kids. They wanted to get that buck or turkey rather than set up their kids for success."
Knowing those hunters myself, he's probably right.
Every year, nonfishing parents ask, "How can I take my kid fishing?" Their daughters and sons want to try. Those folks are easy: Not having tackle, they buy the recommended, easy-to-use gear and bait hooks while the kid has a ball, fishing.
Hunting is more complex: First, there is danger from mishandled arrows or firearms. Our mandatory hunter safety classes have so dramatically reduced those accidents that I felt much safer letting my kids shoot than play football. But even good training, even a chance to participate in those "youth hunts" staged by hunting/conservation groups, and even belonging to a "hunting family" won't guarantee a future hunter. Especially if his or her mentor does not follow some simple rules:
1. The kid hunts, not the mentor.
2. The young hunter should be properly dressed, shod, fed and watered. That means appropriate footwear that fits, whether it be for hiking after pheasant, slogging in a duck marsh or sitting on a snowy deer stand.
3. A bow should be the right size and appropriate pull weight for the young hunter. And a gun needs to be appropriate, too: That may mean a 20-gauge shotgun, possibly with a shorter "youth" stock.
I have seen parents hand a kid a 12-gauge, 3 1/2 -inch Magnum, then laugh when the recoil set the kid back on his butt.
That's a real "life lesson" -- don't trust your own father!
Conversely, I have seen several young men become hunters, often wearing Dad's old wool hunting coat (when it fit) and using dad's own trusty slug gun. Handing down these treasures was, of course, symbolic. But more important was that the youngsters were put on good deer stands -- places likely to see passing animals.
Dad did not hover, either, but he did check on the beginner to see how things were going -- maybe suggesting a shift to be downwind or to make sure the young hunter was not sitting cold and hungry. Of course, in waterfowling, daughter and dad will be together anyway -- a good chance to talk about duck identification or wetland ecology while waiting for the next flight to beat into view.
This approach might slow, if not reverse, the steady decline in the number of hunters.
The survey conducted every five years by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service noted that in 2001 (the most recent) just 13 million people -- 6 percent of the U.S. population 16 and older -- hunted that year. It was down 7 percent from 1996, the previous survey. Some 56 million Americans said they were bird watchers.
New York saw an increase in hunters in 2001 -- 635,000 residents up from 608,000 in 1996. (Nonresident license sales were up, too, probably because of our superb turkey hunting and a deer population explosion that increased hunter success).
But hunters are aging. Nationally, the largest age group for "avids, intermediates and casual hunters" in 1991 was 25- to 34-year-olds. By 1996 and 2001, those "avids" had risen to 35- to 44-year-olds. The survey also noted, "There has been a significant decline in participation by the 18-24-year-old group (in 2001) as also noted in the 1996 Survey trends report."
And that's the future of the sport.
So if you care about that future and want kids to prefer to hunt, rather than watch TV or go skateboarding, think about how to make your favorite pastime appealing to them.
That starts with them having an informative and agreeable hunting experience -- not watching you fill your limit or tag your buck.