Posted on Sun, Apr. 10, 2005
Hunter numbers on the decline
As a teenager, Bryan Dinkins and his grandfather would go out before dawn on many a winter morning to hunt duck. They would quietly discuss school and life while waiting for the birds.
Dinkins, now 40, hasn't been hunting in six years. He's too busy, he says, and anyway it would take six hours to drive somewhere to hunt ducks in California.
It's a common lament in the new century, a time when urbanization and hectic lives can get in the way of hunting traditions. Hunting now is not just about when to go, but where to go? How much will it cost? And, more than ever, who will go?
"If we think about how the country was explored and developed, it was hunters, it was trappers," said Steve Williams, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "If we lost that, I think in some way we lose part of the American character."
Across the country, the number of hunters declined from 14.06 million to 13.03 million, or 7.3 percent, from 1991 to 2001, according to the Census Bureau and the Fish and Wildlife Service. The drop was greater in the West -- 9.6 percent.
Hunting has survived through generations by fathers passing the tradition on to their children, and families bonding during hunting trips. But many people have given up on hunting, or never tried it at all.
The decline in Western hunters came even as the population jumped. California had the largest drop -- from 446,000 to 274,000, or 38.6 percent -- followed by Colorado, Arizona and Nevada.
Most hunters said in the 2001 Census and in the Fish and Wildlife survey that they did not hunt as much as they would have liked because they were too busy or had family or work obligations. The reasons were the same for those who gave up hunting altogether, another study found.
As the West becomes more urban, with new residents flocking to cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix, development inevitably leads to fewer hunting lands.
"A generation or so ago, it was still possible to take a son and daughter out to the country, knock on a farmer's door and be out in the field hunting in pretty short order," said George Cooper, spokesman for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
"That's how young people got into hunting."
Those who rely on private land often find they must pay for the privilege, and it can be expensive. Duck hunting for the season may cost $10,000 on a private hunting preserve.
Eventually, it will be up to children to carry on the tradition. But a study by Responsive Management, a public opinion research firm for natural resources issues, found if people are not exposed to hunting before they are 16 or 17, they most likely will not hunt as adults.
And the more people grow up in urban areas, the less likely they are to be exposed to the hunting culture, said Mark D. Duda, executive director of the group.
Many states are promoting hunting by sponsoring outreach programs and youth hunts. In Kentucky, special youth hunts have helped to build junior license sales above 30,000, for the past three years, from a low of about 20,000 in 1996, according to figures released by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.