I really hope that is not something we have to say in the coming years but to tell you the truth…it is not looking good. All hunters, anglers and shooting sports enthusiasts should be very concerned. Things are about to change. How they change depends on you!
Each state continues to witness declining hunter and angler numbers, a trend that has been occurring for the past 30 years. In 1992, peak hunting license sales Nationally peaked for hunters at around age 38. Today, the peak hunting license sales age has moved to 46. Think of your hunting buddies….see what I mean? What does this mean? Our hunting population is getting older not younger. Every reputable model suggests hunting numbers are going to continue to fall over the next 15 years unless we change. Unfortunately, at that time we may be looking at the point of no return. What will all this mean for the average hunter? Less support for hunting, less opportunities, less access, less supplies that cater to the hunter and a very different model for managing our wildlife.
The Commission, along with a number of key partners are in the trenches in this battle and have been for years. In fact, most experts would suggest Nebraska is one of the most progressive states in this effort. There is a small number of volunteers for the Commission, Pheasants Forever, National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, the Nebraska Bowhunters Association and dedicated hunters that have been on the front lines for some time. They mentor kids, women, men and families. They teach Hunter and Bowhunter Education, archery and shooting sports programs and outdoor skills. The problem is that it currently is not enough.
This spring, the Council to Advance Hunting and Shooting Sports, The Wildlife Management Institute and a few fish and wildlife agencies, industry and NGOs have been quietly working on a National Plan for the recruitment, retention and reactivation of hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts (R3 Plan). This plan will be a road map for all involved to direct their R3 efforts in an organized and coordinated manner. This does not mean that someone else is going to handle the problem. The R3 Plan will require all of us to work together to address this major problem.
Make no mistake. Declining hunter/angler numbers affects each of us. The sad truth is, if every hunter would spend some time making another hunter, the problem would be solved for generations to come. The problem, we are complacent and sometimes even just a wee bit greedy. We don’t want to spend time teaching others when we could be hunting or fishing ourselves. We are all hoping somebody else will handle this issues. Well somebody is not. We need to see ourselves as part of a much bigger picture. Part of the most successful model of conservation the world has ever known. We all enjoy finding time to walk CRP fields, sit in the stand or stroll the woods calling turkeys. BUT, think about this….who made it possible for you to do these things? What sacrifices did they make for you? If you said “Dad” you are not thinking broad enough on this subject. The fact is, there were many who contributed to your opportunity to hunt. The best way we can honor their commitments and sacrifice is to make sure another generation carries on this tradition.
There exists an ethic that needs to spread to every hunting camp across the Nation. These camps need to be filled with new participants. These new participants don’t need to look like us. Not only do we need more hunters, we need to diversify if hunting is to survive. Diversity is a good thing yet in every deer camp across the state you will find a bunch of guys that look a lot like me. As hunters, we need to break down barriers and invite more people to take part in this heritage. We need more women, more youth, more people of diverse cultures to find what we have found….that the outdoors are cool! Hunting is cool! I challenge every hunter and angler in Nebraska. We need to open these doors and open them quickly. If we fail now, the future of our time-honored tradition looks pretty gloomy. BUT, if we are successful? We will honor every person who has made it possible for us to take to the field and enjoy the thrill of the chase. And, we just might save hunting.