I was curious about the discussion we were having in class today, so I did a quick search on the internet and found declining hunting populations in the U.S.
“New figures from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show that the number of hunters 16 and older declined by 10 percent between 1996 and 2006 – from 14 million to about 12.5 million. The drop was most acute in New England, the Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific states, which lost 400,000 hunters in that span. The primary reasons, experts say, are the loss of hunting land to urbanization plus a perception by many families that they can’t afford the time or costs that hunting entails.
Some animal-welfare activists welcome the trend, noting that it coincides with a 13 percent increase in wildlife watching since 1996. But hunters and state wildlife agencies, as they prepare for the fall hunting season, say the drop is worrisome.”It’s hunters who are the most willing to give their own dollar for wildlife conservation,” Patterson said.”
12.5 millon out of about 300? So a little over 4% of the population over 16 hunts every year? Add on a few more for unlicensed hunting and people who hunt every couple of years, and that still can’t be more than 10% or so.
Possible reasons for this? Article goes into some of them, I was just thinking about some more.
- Increasing expense, or perception of expense, of hunting. This can mean gun control or increased prices on licences, but also the development of rural areas at the expense of wildlife refuges making it more difficult to travel to good hunting grounds.
- Rise of animal welfare values. I don’t mean this in a a PETA sense, although that’s happened too, for some people. More specifically, the generations that have grown up after Bambi and Vietnam are less likely to look at gun ownership as a natural extension of the second amendment, and more importantly are less likely to think about hiking into the woods to freeze and smell like deer pee so you can kill, skin, and gut adorable woodland creatures as a pleasant way to spend a weekend.
- Decline of “traditional” American folk and rural culture overall in favor of a cosmopolitan-suburban “central culture”, and where it’s enduring and taking a stance for itself, it’s being commercialized, institutionalized, and politicized in ways not everybody agrees with (e.g. the NRA). The article refers to “soccer moms” having percieved people like the NRA as making hunting and gun ownership more dangerous, and so the new suburbanites aren’t as likely to shove their kids outdoors with a .30-06 in September as they were. The article talked about how birdwatching and wildlife photography expenditures have increased in recent years almost to the level of hunting, while hunting expenses have rapidly declined
- Racialization and gender of hunting. Again, this is nothing new, but black people in the US originally came from super-rural backgrounds, and you can read some Zora Neale Hurston if you don’t believe me. A lot of Hispanic immigrants in the US also come from pretty heavily agricultural or pastoral cultures and lifestyles. The article above mentions Bill Richardson (remember when he was relevant? I liked him) airing an ad that showed him hunting during the last election. At the same time, you never see ads on TV1 or Telemundo with smiling minority families going off to rural outskirts of L.A. or Detroit to bag deer. You barely see those ads with white families, really, especially suburban “soccer mom” types, women in general make up only a few percent of the hunting population. Again, I feel this has a lot to do with the way hunting has been institutionalized and politicized, as well as other social and economic factors within those potential target communities.
Hunting nowadays is just not a very proselytizing institution. If you are in a community that does it, where it’s locked into the culture and traditions of the town, then it goes without saying, but if you aren’t in one, it may as well not even exist. There’s a large population in the middle that just wants to hunt and pass on the traditions down to their kids if they’re interested, a small population that’s extremely defensive about the second amendment and has very politicized, aggressive views on the whole thing, and to the rest of America, they’re the ones that speak for the hunting community. And the only real programs I’ve seen to encourage more hunting are in the “battleground areas,” places like Vermont or northern Virginia, where suburbanization and generalization of culture that’s been going on in America basically since radio and television got popularized are killing local traditions, and hunting with them. The people these programs are fighting for are the kids that would have learned to hunt under the old way of life, but now are more interested in their Nintendo DS or texting their friends.
I’d like to add that I’ve never been hunting, and no one in my immediate family up to my grandparents hunts or has hunted since I was born, although my family comes from rural Kentucky and Pennsylvania. We do fish from time to time, but even then it’s been years. I would like to go hunting, I suspect it would make me a more rounded person and put me more in touch with American traditions and the life cycle, while throwing a little money at the game commission and helping to keep deer populations down.
Hunting is obviously not going away as a way of life in a lot of places–rural Ohio and Pennsylvania among them. But look at those percentages–1% in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey–all of these places need game revenue and have wildlife populations with no predators in need of management! Compare this to 19% in Montana and 17% in North Dakota–basically the entire male population cohort from 20-50 years old. But the numbers are going to keep shrinking wherever Wal-Marts go up and as a national multimedia system based around idealizing urban and suburban consumerist lifestyles keeps going strong.