Things ain't like they used to be, forgive my grammar.
I would say if you are more than 40 years old, it is much more likely you automatically took to hunting and fishing as a kid than today's youth. Since 1991, the percentage of the U.S. population who hunt has declined from 7.3 to 4.4. Many reasons are given for this: fewer dads at home to take a kid hunting; a growing shortage of places to hunt; sports and other activities besides hunting and fishing that take up leisure time; smartphones, computer games, the internet and who knows what.
Regardless of the reasons, the fact remains there are fewer boots on the ground in hunting season than in the past.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service periodically publishes a survey on hunting, fishing and wildlife-associated recreation. The numbers from the most recent survey (2016) show angler numbers may have risen a little, but hunter numbers are still going the wrong way - down. I've written about this before and I'm sure I will again, but how do we address the first of the three R's of dealing with hunter numbers (Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation)?
Where recruitment is concerned, young people and adults need a positive, fun, educational first experience introducing them to the world of hunting, recreational shooting, wildlife conservation and game management. They also need to hear (and some established hunters need to be reminded) that hunters have always been the ones to pay the bills for all things wildlife conservation-oriented.
Since 1937, hunters have paid more than 14 billion (yes, billion with a b) in excise taxes levied on guns, ammo and many other types of gear related to hunting. These funds are filtered to the states for a wide variety of wildlife conservation projects. Remember that these projects benefit all wildlife, not just game animals. Songbirds and nongame animals, from turtles to snowy egrets, all enjoy the benefits.
I am happy to write the Boy Scouts of America have taken on an initiative that addresses hunting's numbers problem. The Summit Bechtel Reserve and Boy Scouts of America are excited to announce the launch of their National Hunters Education Program. This will include shooting skills development, firearms safety and wildlife management/conservation. The mission of the program is to directly impact the hunting/outdoors industry by introducing this exciting sport to thousands of new youth each year.
"This is an incredibly exciting time for SBR, the Boy Scouts of America, and the hunting/outdoor industries. As we grow, we are poised to teach more youth the safe, ethical and moral outdoor responsibilities than any other organization in the country," said Ryan King, the shooting sports program manager for SBR. "We're incredibly thankful for our friends at the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources for assisting with the instructor training program, and we're excited to partner with others in the outdoor industry that recognizes the importance of youth in hunting."
Said Chris Perkins, the hunters education program manager at SBR: "We ultimately want to see more youth in the woods and are fully prepared to give them their first exposure through our education program."
Perkins estimated more than 3,000 youth will complete the course in its first operational year. To learn more, write to email@example.com.
As I have written often, anytime we can get a young person (or an adult) with a shotgun or .22 rifle in his or her hands and teach the safe, responsible and ethical manner of shooting and handling firearms, it is a good thing. This program initiated by the Boy Scouts will do just that with the added bonus of educating about wildlife conservation and management. It's a home run!
Notably, the Summit Bechtel Reserve will host the 2019 World Scout Jamboree, which will welcome more than 45,000 participants from 120 different countries. How many of that number will go through the National Hunters Education Program? I don't know, but I bet it will be a lot.
Things ain't like they used to be, but with programs such as this, we are headed in the right direction.
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.