Changing Demographics and the Next Sporting Generation
Hook & bullet. That is a term members of the mainstream media use to describe the outdoor community, particularly those of us involved in communication, such as yours truly.
Although hooks and bullets are certainly a very important part of this page, there is much more to the story.
The wild creatures that drive us to the field are the glue that holds the outdoor community together. After all, there could be no deer season without deer or bass tournaments without—well—bass.
Pigeonholing from so-called proper media types is understandable, but the “hook and bullet community” has dug that hole even deeper, much deeper.
Not every kid is going to become a full-on, camo-wearing, gun-loving hunter nor a passionate wade-fishing fanatic. And we should not expect them to.
I realize that probably caused a few gasps but it is the truth.
There have always been hunters, and there have always been gatherers, and they serve equally important roles.
Because of a constant media barrage of animal rights drivel, hunters in particular have a “if you’re not one of us, you’re against us” attitude. The result is a large number of young hunters and, to a lesser extent, anglers who have very little knowledge of the habitat they hunt, the game they pursue and no interest in anything that cannot be killed.
They would not know a ringtail from a badger, nor a sand eel from a moray.
The outdoor experience for many has been turned into a means to enhance one’s status on social media by posing with kills and catches alone. And while we should celebrate outdoor triumphs (I certainly do) appreciating all wild things is important.
Yes, even stuff we cannot kill.
Some kids are just not going to hunt or fish, but it does not mean they cannot go to the family deer lease or enjoy time on the water. However framing the outdoor experience in a macho, mine is bigger than yours, frat-house type of way we can drive away children not bent in that direction. In fact, we have done this to entire generations.
Girls are particularly prone to dislike anything even loosely associated with “redneck” but like all of us have a God-given spirit for spending time outdoors.
The first time I taught one of my Kingdom Zoo classes, I was shocked that 75 percent of participants were girls.
After my spring session, I started asking why and then realized it was how the classes were promoted and taught. It wasn’t billed as “come get your tough on” in the outdoor class. It was simply about enjoyment.
The next generation of conservationists needs to be the most passionate and dedicated ever because of the growing problems facing our resources.
But where are they going to come from?
When reverence is considered weakness, and we are driven by bag limits instead of sum total outdoor experience who will truly care enough about habitat to stand when trouble comes? The few have always risen to benefit the many but the few are getting fewer.
A friend of mine and I have talked at length about who will take up the mantle of waterfowl conservation and agree that all it will take to lose about half of the waterfowl hunters under age 30 is a severe drought on the nesting grounds and a three bird limit.
Perspective is extremely important and that demographic has nothing to draw from but big fall flights and liberal limits.
In the end that will separate the chaff from the wheat, but it will also greatly decrease the number of duck stamps sold. These are numbers that hunter groups such as Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl can use to lobby for pro-sportsman and conservation issues, as well as a host of other problems.
As a community, we need to reevaluate what we are teaching young people and take time to enjoy what is out there.
Your daughter who tags along to deer camp may never become an adult hunter, but if she gets a proper outdoor education including up close and personal wildlife encounters at a formative age, she may become a biologist who makes a real difference in wildlife research.
Your son who seems a little awkward chunking a topwater on the bay may not become an every weekend fisherman like Daddy, but he may hold public office one day and hold the very key that preserves your fishing and hunting rights.
The young people whom I work with every week are seeking authenticity perhaps more than anything else. The outdoor industry and we as individuals need to figure out how to unapologetically promote our consumption-based, pro-conservation lifestyle. If we do this and embrace those who do not enjoy fishing or hunting, they might become our best allies, and we will be much better off.
We live in a complex world. Changing attitudes and socio-economic demographics demand that we take a hard look at ourselves to broaden our base.
Story by Chester Moore