The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Sports

October 16, 2013

State mirrors the nation in hunter decrease; what does future hold?

They come from all corners of the economic landscape — rich, poor and middle class.

Some are highly paid professionals; others work with their hands or behind the counter of a sports store, dishing out shotgun shells and advice.

A few are young but far more are middle-aged or older — a worry for hunters who see their sport in decline.

All feel the heat of scrutiny from growing ranks of people who think what they do is wrong. Many feel the chill from oncoming generations for whom woods and farms and wildlife are irrelevant.

Consequently, images of hunters draped in camouflage and wielding weapons could be a thing of the past by the middle of the 21st century, according to some analysts who contend that hunting as we know it is a dying art. They cite reasons like fewer young people are taking up the sport and there is less wildlife habitat as populations continue to grow nationally.

And according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we’re losing hunters in the Mountain State just like the national trend. In 2001 we had an estimated 284,000 resident and non-resident hunters. In 2011 the numbers declined to 247,000 resident and non-resident hunters.

“Our hunters are definitely on the decline, which is a trend we are seeing nationally,” explained Colin Carpenter, wildlife biologist with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources in Beckley.

There are a number of reasons for his trend, according to Carpenter.

“People are less in touch with the land, and a lot of other activities compete for kids' time nowadays. Land access where people can hunt is an issue, which is why the DNR continues to add land to Wildlife Management Areas to provide more acreage where hunters can hunt.”

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Nevertheless, 14 million Americans still hunt, 9.3 percent of the U.S. adults, down from more than 10 percent a decade ago. They go afield to fuel hard-to-define passions and find satisfaction that draws them back often into old age.

It’s futile to try to figure what Americans at large think of hunting, though. Ask anti-hunting forces and they trot out surveys showing 50 percent of the nation opposed to “hunting for sport.”

Still, hunting season is one of the hottest sporting activities for West Virginians, who are among the nation's highest concentration of hunters per capita. More hunters log time in the woods in southern West Virginia than practically anywhere else in the country.

It has been estimated that one out of every three homes is occupied by at least one person who hunts sometime during the year.

Visit nearly any barbershop, fast-food establishment, convenience store or bar and chances are that you'll hear someone who has a favorite quarry or hunting camp, a favorite gun or bow, a favorite dog or type of camouflage, a mind’s-eye picture of the perfect gunning experience styled by his own reminiscences and the popular culture.

Engage in conversation hunters like Charles Brown of Spring Dale in Fayette County and they’re apt to wax eloquent on nearly any outdoor topic — dogs, guns, game or what have you.

When it comes to their passion for hunting, they are sentimentalists, droning on about the places they go and the camaraderie with fellow hunters.

Even so, some believe (perhaps with good reason) that hunting will not exist by the year 2075.

Hunters obviously hope otherwise.

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Some DNR game biologists believe the biggest threat to hunting is as the population gets higher and places are more densely settled, there will be less land available for hunting.

But wildlife experts admit that the ability of game to coexist is impressive, especially when you look at the resurgence of ducks and deer and turkeys and black bears in the eastern U.S.

Others worry about the future of hunting for different reasons. They fear that what’s happening throughout the nation is, the older hunters are dying off and fewer young ones are coming up. One recent study found that hunting is not something taken up cold; someone must show the way.

“People are living in urban environments and finding other things to do,” explained Carpenter. “Everybody hunted when I grew up, but now those little towns are losing population and people are moving to places where folks don’t hunt.”

He added, “We’re lucky in our area, because we still have a steady number of hunters being introduced to the sport. That’s largely because fathers around here take their sons and daughters hunting with them at an early age. But that isn't the case nationwide.”

Carpenter suggested that parents consult the Apprentice Hunting License Program in the 2013-2014 Hunting and Trapping Regulations summary and find out more about introducing youngsters to the sport.

“We’re always trying to increase the opportunity for people to hunt,” Carpenter said.

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