The decline of hunting

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange has been hunting for over fifty years, and notes there are fewer hunters every year.

(LANGE) I haven’t hunted much this year. But last Friday I did drive across Vermont to the Adirondacks for the annual big weekend at hunting camp.

Fifty years ago everybody in camp was local. There were four bunks, and the road up the mountain was a lot tougher. The company was much smaller. But the children of the original hunters, and now even grandchildren are coming, so the circle has grown. The current camp has running water and a hot shower, sleeps a dozen, and has a room for heavy snorers. Full-size pickups now climb the mountain with no scratches or dents.

I’ve been reading about the decline in hunting among the young. So I took stock of the gang in the room. Two men had grown sons with them. Others either had kids who weren’t interested, couldn’t make it, or were too young to be at camp. Several were the last members of their lines. And a quick inventory of arthritis, sciatica, and cardiovascular disease suggested this can’t last as long as we might like it to.

Many people find it hard to feel bad about that, but there are impacts. Game species can proliferate to starvation or nuisance levels, and there’s less money for fish and game departments. This will become important to non-hunters when necessity requires licenses or permits for other recreational uses of public lands.

Vermont is second only to Alaska in its number of hunters per capita. But in the last 17 years it’s seen a 20 percent drop in the number of resident hunting licenses. The decline is steepest among men less than 30 years of age.

There are theories about why. First, young people have more recreation options than their parents had. And when a hunter does go afield, he finds that field shrinking every year. More landowners are posting their property. Like it or not, the American dream is a big home in the country, which soon becomes suburbia, while rural flavor and values fade. The new folks don’t want men with guns in their woods.

Organizations like the National Rifle Association bear some responsibility in this. They often ridicule or verbally abuse people who advocate restrictions of non-sporting weapons. Those abused may feel threatened. What else can you infer from the bumper sticker, “This vehicle insured by Smith & Wesson”? Landowners lump militant gun owners with neighbors out for a morning hunt. They don’t argue with armed men; they express themselves with posted signs.

The aromas of venison and salt pork, slum-gum, and gravy emanated from the cook stove. Conversation filled the room. In the gun rack below the mounted heads stood the rifles of long-dead hunters. My own will be there someday, I hope. Its presence will signify that its owner once gained some merit among this band of friends on the wooded mountainside.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer, and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire, He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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