Photo credit: Josh Kirchner
Photo credit: Josh Kirchner
Every single year as a teenager, I grew increasingly excited about going on my annual deer hunt with my dad. Those were some great hunts and ones that I will not soon forget. We had a lot of laughs, caught plenty of trout, and saw our fair share of deer out there. The first time I was ever around a campfire was on one of these fall deer hunts. So many great memories. When I'd come home, all of my friends would be asking me to tell the story of the hunt and how it went. When I did, I could see it in their eyes that what I was saying was enticing to them. Never once did they act bored or like I lost their attention. And never once was I met with a hunting story from them. Oh, yes. I was indeed in the minority as a child when it came to hunting and the outdoors. Have things changed since then? Is hunter recruitment changing for the better?
It might just be the digital age we are living in, but I get the impression hunting is "cool" right now. Because of social media outlets, I see people all over the place touting about the hunting lifestyle and I think that this is inspiring other people to think about hunting. I have had numerous people get a hold of me through these outlets, asking for my guidance on the matter, why do I hunt and telling me how they wanted to start hunting. Whether they are doing it for the experience, wild game meat, or both, it has turned into something far more than what it was when I was a child. We are seeing the likes of folks like Joe Rogan stepping up and trying to educate people on our way of life. I think this is good and something that will help raise our numbers for the better. Even if everyone doesn't stick with it, I know there will be quite a few that will. Some of us are far more susceptible to "the bug" than others.
Sadly, it seems that the days of dads taking their kids' hunting have passed. What used to be a tradition has become something that only happens in small circles. It's definitely still there, but not as frequent as far as I see it. Because of this, more and more “adult onset hunters” are showing up on the scene: people who did not grow up in a hunting family, but want to partake in the hunting lifestyle we love. Why is that? I find it fascinating how even when someone wasn't brought up hunting that they can still naturally gravitate towards it.
Maybe, that is because hunting is one of the most natural things that we can do? Food for thought. Point being, our numbers are dwindling. The less hunters there are, the harder it will be to hear our collective voice. Our voice is what keeps this thing running. There are many people out there who would love to see hunting go away forever. You nor I are likely one of these people, but that is why hunter recruitment is extremely important.
When I think of hunter recruitment, I am often met with this internal battle. If there are more hunters, then that is going to mean more people in the field. With more people in the field, that means more of a likelihood for someone to be in "my" spot. How selfish of me, right? To put my personal hunting over the greater good of hunting. I get it, trust me. We work our tails off to find these honey holes. Being able to have a place of solace to retreat to and hunt is huge for me. It calms me to know that there are still very wild places out there where you don't matter. The fact of the matter is that everyone out there has just as much right to be on these public lands as you and I do. Whether they are hunters or not. You may disagree and there is a part of me that does as well. That doesn't change what is true.
So, if you are on Team Hunter Recruitment, what can you do? It's pretty simple. You don't even have to talk to anyone if you don't want to. Are you ready? Be a good steward for hunting. When making your social media posts and sharing photos, represent hunting in a good light, a positive one where we share a reverence for the animal we have taken and bask in the experience, rather than the blood. The more that non-hunters see what this truly means to us, the more they will understand why we do what we do. Just this could inspire them to go down and buy a tag and bow. For those that do want to talk to people, think where you were when you started out. These folks are not looking for handouts (well, most of them anyway); they are just looking for a bit of guidance. So, I say give it. Take them on a scouting trip to show them how to glass. You don't have to take them to the honey hole you salivate over in the offseason. Go meet them for coffee and talk about animal behavior and habitat. I literally do this on a regular basis with folks and love every second of it. A little can go a long way.
We were a minority when I was a child and still are to this day. In all honesty, I really don't think that is going to change. What does need to change, though, is instead of crossing our arms, try opening them. This whole hunting thing is much bigger than you or I and the future of it depends on us doing this right. If we constantly remain hermits and are unwilling to inspire and/or point people in the right direction, I fear that hunting will grow less and less. Heck, it might wither away in the long run. I'd hate to see these amazing opportunities taken away from future generations to come. In this different day and age, where hunters are few and far between, it is up to us to shine a positive light on what we love. If not, nobody will see it for what it is.