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Hunting may be saved by angle of approach

Feb. 2—Concern for the future of hunting as a commonly-practiced activity in America has led the conversation in small, backwoods camps and sweeping national conventions for decades now, all to very little statistical good. A newly-ermging trend in society appears to hold more promise than most of us ever dreamed we might see.

Those olf us who've watched the numbers of our nation's fellow hunters steadily decline have preached the attributes of the outdoors as we see them to those we thought might join our ranks, but results clearly indicate that path will not succeed.

In every state, generally with very little variance, anyone between the ages of 16 and 65 must purchase a license each year to be able to hunt. Even as our nation's population has steadily increased, the numbers of those sales have trended the other way. Reading license sales as bellwether, hunting peaked in America in 1982 with nearly 17 million participants. By 2016, that number was down to 11.5 million. Maybe the more revealing number is this: Today, roughly five percent of people in America age 16 and older actually hunt, roughly half the rate of participation found 50 years before. This rate of decline is only projected to increase, and exponentially at that.

The year 1982 does not seem all that long ago, but national participation's peak at that point is due to the Baby Boomer generation — those born from 1946 to 1964. The elder half of this demographic has generally aged out of participation, and the younger half is standing by to follow. Members of this generation came to hunting, almost without exception, because the meat hunting could provide was important to fulfilling their need to eat on a regular basis

They found many varying rewards in the outdoors that lie adjacent to that fact and, quite often, remained hunters more to experience the adjacent joys than to meet the original need. A new generation pursuing that original need alone may well hold the key to hunting's return.

For those of us to whom hunting is an integral part of our lives and identities, who've supported or taken part in efforts to make our numbers grow, the countless obstacles that arise and the slow pace at which our efforts succeed is frustrating. We're adding drops, one at a time, to a bucket with a flowing leak.

Thankfully, an emerging trend toward locally-raised or grown, naturally-produced, unmanipulated sources of food may very well prove our traditions' savior, though not in the way we had foreseen.

On the rise for quite some time, this trend has been on a steady build, following a variety of habitat-conscious motivations, each as individual as the individuals who pursue them. Generally referred to as the locavore movement, this trend has begun to make a real impact coast to coast with its arrival in the hunting world, and its potential appears to far outstrip the best possible results of anything we've already tried.

The locavore practice generally looks at food production from an all-encompassing point of view, considering all the resources required to bring a loaf of bread or a cut of meat to the table, as well as what its health and nutritional impact turns out to be once it arrives. Its participants appear from all walks of life, all races and creeds, and are arriving on the outset of hunting as adults who've never hunted before, having come because of the truly unparalleled dietary goodness the meat of wild game can provide.

Often, these practitioners look at hunting differently than we do. Many would no more pose in a photo with a deer they took than you or I would pose for a photo with a sack of onions we just bought at Kroger. Seeing what I've too often seen of behavior by traditional hunters, I can't say that's necessarily a bad thing.

Frequently, simply as a matter of the law of averages, these new hunters come from backgrounds that differ from ours, they're from social groups different from our own and, generally, they appreciate the hunting experience differently than we do, but our mutual reverence for the table fare hunting provides is perfectly common ground.

What we can do to help, to really reach across that gap, is to simply be supportive of the idea, be helpful to the practice where we can, be mentors when possible to those along their way as they find for themselves, as we all once did, a life to love in the outdoors.

Kevin is the weekend edition editor for the Daily Journal. Contact him at kevin.tate@journalinc.com.