Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hunting is on the Decline in America

Hunting sportsman Steve Tuttle has an evocative lament of the decline of hunting in America in this week's Newsweek.

He notes that he wept at making his first kill as a boy, a rabbit that was still alive upon retrieval: "My father reached down, picked up the rabbit by its hind legs, and gave him a karate chop on the back of the neck, killing him instantly. He looked up at me and said, 'Good shot, boy!' and handed me the rabbit."

Tuttle says that was the day he became a man:

There aren't that many boys today who grew up the way I did—kids who are willing to put down their Gameboys, pick up a rifle and head out into the field. Hunting in America has entered a long twilight. The number of license holders—roughly 15 million through 2004—has actually shrunk by about 2 million people since 1982, when the population was 230 million (versus 300 million today). Since 1990, the number of license holders in Massachusetts has dropped by 50,000, or 40 percent; in California since 1980 the number has fallen by almost half, from 540,000 to 300,000. In Michigan, there were 1.2 million licensed hunters in 1992—but fewer than 850,000 in 2004. Hunters are aging: about seven in 10 are older than 35 (in 1980, only four in 10 were over 35). The reasons for hunting's decline are pretty basic: fewer fields and streams and hills full of game to hunt (Census data show that urban America more than doubled in acreage from 1960 to 1990); more restrictions and lawsuits; more videogames and diversions to keep junior (and his dad) on the couch.

Many people are not sorry to see the hunters go. Groups like PETA, the Fund for Animals and the Humane Society of the United States have long lobbied to curtail hunting around the country. The Humane Society's Web site describes hunting for sport as "fundamentally at odds with the values of a humane, just and caring society." To city dwellers and suburbanites, hunters can seem bloodthirsty. The people who live in hunt country are also wary of reckless weekend warriors. Farmers have been known to hang THIS IS NOT A DEER signs on their cows. Where I grew up, on the slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Bath County, Va., my father was a game warden who would investigate hunting accidents, and he brought home stories of careless hunters falling out of deer stands or tripping over fences and blowing their limbs off. One of my neighbors got shot just by stepping out of the passenger's side of the car. His buddy, the driver, had illegally laid his rifle across the car roof to steady his shot. According to the International Hunter Education Association, there were some 800 total hunting "incidents" involving shooting in the United States in 2002, the last year for which complete statistics are available. Seventy-five of those resulted in fatalities.

Most hunters, however, are taught to be careful. I learned, like most boys do, from my father, Bill. With him, there were strict rules to follow as you worked your way up the gun ladder, from BB gun to .22 rifle, to .410 shotgun to .20 gauge, and finally to 30.06 deer rifle. If you didn't respect the gun or what he said, you didn't get to move up or go hunting. Every time you picked up a gun you checked to see if it was loaded and the safety was on. You never mixed drinking and hunting. You always stored the gun and ammunition separately, and never kept a loaded gun in the house. You always knew where your buddies were, and you shot to kill, so the animal did not suffer.

Read the whole thing. This article touches upon one more piece of the traditional ways of America that are fading into history. We'll always have hunting, of course. It just won't be the coming-of-age activity that it had been throughout our wilderness experience.

My dad always had guns around the house, be we weren't a hunting family. Outdoor sports ran stronger on my mom's side of the family. My uncle was a mountain man, who engaged in just about every rigorous action sport one could imagine.
I last wrote about gun culture in this post on whether teachers should be packing firearms in the classroom.

No comments: