“We’ve lost 2.4 million hunters in the last two years,” said Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland, executive vice president of Mossy Oak. “Let that sink in for just a minute.”
On Saturday at the 43rd annual NWTF Convention and Sport Show, the NWTF held a panel called “The Future of Hunting: Preserving our Hunting Heritage.” Strickland, champion caller and Avian-X’s Matt Morrett, Zink Calls founder and owner Fred Zink, From Field to Plate founder Jeremiah Doughty and Primos Hunting’s Jimmy Primos came together to discuss what they expect in the future of our sport and what we can do to remedy that problem. Travis Sumner, NWTF hunting heritage and habitat specialist, moderated the panel discussion.
Hunter numbers at a low
The other panelists shared Strickland’s concern for the decline in hunting participation.
“This is scary,” Primos said. “Hunting license sales have decreased another 20 percent from 2011 to 2016.”
“We’re losing hunters,” Zink said. “Experience is precious, and it’s something we have to fight for and something we have to be aware of.”
The real dilemma addressed, however, was what hunters are going to have to do to help change this.
How to fix it
For Zink, there are two major factors preventing new hunters from getting into the sport – access and opportunity. The NWTF is working to solve the issue of access to hunting land, but providing a new or lapsed hunter the opportunity to get in the field is the easier issue to overcome.
“To me, the battle is in our neighborhoods,” Strickland said. “You have to find that person who wants to go, who’s scared to ask. If everyone does that, we’ll have more hunters than we ever have.”
Doughty pointed out though some hunters may feel they lack the experience to bring in a new hunter, everyone is good enough to be a mentor. Doughty also explained hunters must begin to look to people different from them.
“As Americans, we are a melting pot,” Doughty said. “[We need to change] this idea of being scared to take out someone who doesn’t look like you.”
Primos said once a hunter takes someone on a hunt who had never been before, safety is very important.
“Those that have never hunted, the first thing you have to teach them is gun safety,” Primos said. “It can be dangerous.”
The hunting industry’s role
“As an industry, we have to be a lot more proactive and not just talk about it,” Morrett said. “We’ve got to get out there and do it.”
Strickland said industry leaders also can help by committing to raise money for conservation groups like the NWTF, which actively works to engage new hunters.
Despite some fear for the future of the hunting tradition, Strickland expressed optimism.
“It’s going to take an all-out effort,” he said. “I just feel that with that good old American spirit, we can overcome anything. I believe things will get better. I really do.”
— Heiler Meek