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Propagation

This article appears in the May-June 2001 issue of Quail Unlimited Magazine

A lot of the buzz in hunting circles these days hovers around the future of the sport. Gun control advocates and anti-hunting groups like PETA are an ever-present menace to the pastime we currently enjoy. While lobbyist groups such as the NRA and conservation organizations like QU feverishly work to repel the immediate advances of the opposition, the longer-term outlook depends on other factors, one of which is the number of new hunters, particularly young hunters, we can recruit into the sport.

Much like a farmer plants seeds in the spring for a fall harvest or an entrepreneur starts a company with an idea and diligently builds it into a business, a successful future for hunting requires some cultivation in the present. The core group of hunters in twenty or thirty years don't even have driver's licenses today, but they are far from insignificant in the big picture. Around the time that many of us are settling into retirement, these youngsters will, as an age group, buy the bulk of the ammunition and the outdoor clothing, subscribe to the most outdoor magazines, and compose the majority of the membership of conservation organizations. In an effort to sample the crop of what will be this core group of shooters, I spent some time with a gathering of young men attending a summer outdoor camp at Riverbend Sportsman's Resort in Fingerville, SC. The experience proved both illuminating and encouraging.

I should establish at the outset that, for the most part, these were no greenhorns. The majority of the boys attending the camp had hunting experience, mostly on dove but several had hunted duck, pheasant, and quail. Virtually all of them were introduced to the sport by a family member or a close friend, a fact that bears more discussion. Hunting is genetic in a lot of cases; if the grandfather hunted, the father hunted, and if the father hunted, the son tagged along until he was old enough to hunt. It stands to reason that few kids are introduced by total strangers- who would send their child into the woods with an armed stranger? It also stands to reason that family traditions get passed from one generation to the next. But what about the kids who don't come from hunting families? Well, according to my young advisors, that's what friends are for. Several of these young men pointed to others in the room when I asked who took them hunting for the first time. In this case, neighbors and classmates are as good as family. No surprise that the good folks who'll sustain the sport of hunting a few decades from now won't be recruited over the internet or through a classified ad in the Sunday paper, and they probably won't stumble into it by accident. Someone they know, someone they trust and respect will introduce them.

Hoping to shed a little more light on how the younger generation viewed the hunting circle, I asked the group who the most famous hunter in the world was, expecting to hear the names of famous writers like Robert Ruark, Archibald Rutledge, or Gene Hill. Maybe some of the modern trophy hunters such as Chuck Adams who pose with their trophies in Cabela's catalog would be mentioned. Possibly one of the stars of Saturday morning TV or even a dark horse (no pun, please) like Buffalo Bill Cody. I silently dreaded that someone would shout "Elmer Fudd!" Oddly enough, not one of these names was brought up. Everyone spoke of local guys, friends of the family, and guides with whom they had hunted. To them, "famous" meant someone they had met and pulled a trigger with. Someone who, either because of his prowess in the woods or simply because he was kind enough to ask them along, had earned their respect. Not a movie star or a picture in a magazine- a regular guy who went into the field with them. Hmmm, does anyone see a pattern?

It is lunchtime and I'm sitting in a room full of young hunters, each one enthusiastic and more than eager to share his opinions. Amid this boundless energy and fervor I can't help but wonder why all kids, or at least more kids, don't feel the same way. Going back to the well, I asked my informal focus group what kept their non-hunting friends away from the sport. A few of the answers were predictable- some guys and girls are doomed to be couch potatoes or "Nintendomaniacs" and some don't have fathers or other close relatives who hunt. Pity the former as they are, in all likelihood, lost causes, while the latter can be given a chance by nearly any of us who care. But one young man noted that some of his friends were actually scared of guns. The word sounded shockingly harsh and was almost frightening by itself. Children are not born with a fear of inanimate objects. They either learn it through some terrible experience or they are taught it. Either has a grave consequence for our sport. Without pointing fingers at irresponsible media or overzealous (and under-intelligent) personalities, there is more than enough "guns kill people" rhetoric in the air today. Many youth who have never seen a gun in three dimensions have it drilled into their heads like multiplication tables that guns are bad. The kids who believe otherwise have had someone show them otherwise.

Which leads to another question: Is gun safety a problem? The young men at the camp did not think so. Without prompting, they cited figures about the relative safety of the sport when compared to other activities. "It's safer than tennis," one camper told me. More than their statistical knowledge, what impressed me was that these guys were quite receptive to the safety instruction at the camp. They realized its merit and gave it due diligence. There was no "let's hurry up and get done with the safety lesson so we can shoot clay targets" attitude. Instilling the right methods and the right attitude behind the methods at an early age is not always an easy task - attention spans may be shallow and peer pressure may run deep. Lessons learned early tend to stay with you. So do bad habits. Credit patient and persistent adults with success in this arena.

Back to a previous topic- the lack of interest in hunting among so many youth. Sure, there will always be a portion of the population that has no interest in hunting. The Nintendomaniacs likely fall into that category. Video games are their thing, getting outdoors is not. The couch potatoes fall on the cusp - with the right bait, they could be lured off of the couch and into the woods. But there must be something exciting to draw them away from the TV. This is precisely the reason that camps such as Riverbend's are valuable. And precisely the reason that adult hunters should make time for younger sportsmen (and sportswomen).

My conclusion is that the future is not as bleak as some believe. A lot of good seedlings have taken root, and with sufficient water, periodic pruning, and occasional fertilizer, will grow into the solid oaks of tomorrow. As with all old oaks, they will have to endure such obstacles as disease, lightning, ice storms, and the levies of progress.

I'd like to leave you with three thoughts:
  • The role models for young hunters are people like you and me. They look to folks they know to provide inspiration, answer questions, and set examples. Take this responsibility and don't take it lightly.
  • Safety is important and it is not wasted on kids. Provide them with a healthy respect for firearms at an early age.
  • Take a kid hunting. I know it's a cliché, but it's the absolute best hope for our sport. And while you're at it, tell him to invite a friend.

Riverbend Sportsman's Resort, located in Fingerville, SC, conducts outdoor camps throughout the summer. Many thanks go to Ralph Brendle and his experienced staff for allowing me to visit with the campers and talk openly with them about the future of our sport. If you have a youngster who is interested or would like to find out more about the program, please give Ralph a call at (864) 592-1348. Riverbend also offers quail, pheasant, and chukar hunting during the season and trap, skeet, and sporting clays year-round.




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