Tuesday, October 18, 2011

[Hunters] Endangered Species

Suburbanization, animal rights, newcomers -- these and other social trends have Vermont's hunting culture on the run. In this special report, veteran field-and-stream journalist Matt Crawford examines what will be lost, why there might be hope and why even those who don't hunt should care.
By Matt Crawford

Can Localvores Save Hunting?
"We're only ever going to have a certain percentage of people who hunt," said Eric Nuse, of Johnson, executive director of Orion–The Hunter's Institute, a national nonprofit that encourages ethical and responsible hunting. "With this new wave of back-to-earthers being spearheaded by people concerned about the origins of their food, we just might appeal a bit to those who will consider hunting."


  1. Call me a pessimist, but I don't think the "locavore" movement is going to amount to a heck of a lot in the big picture of modern sport hunting. It's a great thing, and I'm happy to see some focus on hunting for something other than great big racks, but what I'm seeing is little more than another hip fad.

    The challenges to the survival of hunting go way beyond getting a few more hunters in the field. The real challenge is how to keep them in the field in five, ten, or 20 years.

  2. Thanks for re-posting this article Eric.

    There's truth to what Phillip says, and I respect his pragmatic view of things in general. He's right about the long term view being most important, but I see things a little differently on this.

    I think all cultural shifts begin and end with fads. One can say the return to natural foods is a fad, yet it's gaining traction and becoming a part of our overall attitudes about food. Italian style coffee was a fad, but it's pretty ubiquitous now. Fads are the waves that come with the greater ebb and flow of the tides. What is happening, or can happen, is that the food movement has changed people's perspective on hunting. That may translate to more hunters, but also how the bulk of the populace reacts to more crucial issues like access to land, budgets for conservation, and game laws.

    Identifying hunting with food is actually a heck of a basis to sustain hunting. It is the original basis, and one could argue that further flung aspects of hunting as sport- culminating in people running around shooting custom bred huge racked tame deer in a fence- is actually the fad. Not saying it's bad, but it's a fad. My grandfather would not recognize this behavior, but he'd identify with someone putting some meat in the freezer.

    Many have moved on from the 30 or 40 year trend of Bambi environmentalism to begin to think about how mankind integrates with nature again. I would venture to say more urban people garden, have chickens and do canning than anywhere else at this point. Sure, for many these are fads.

    But every other person who lives in a city now wants to move out somewhere, and start a farm. Some actually will. So they'll be coming back to the rural areas full of idealism, and what attitude they have about hunting will prove more important than if all of them hunt. This is the fertile ground that the next generation of hunters will spring from. Not every seedling will survive, and that's normal. Not everyone who picks up a rifle will pass it on to their kids, just as a lot of the nascent farmers will figure out how damned hard farming is. But food is probably the greatest defining attribute of all cultures, and it would be hard to find a more stable ground for the tradition of hunting to take root in. I personally think this IS the one way to keep hunting going. Otherwise it's just a matter of kids choosing baseball vs soccer.

    Neil H

  3. Neil - Thanks for your thoughtful comments. There is a lot of truth to the saying that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. I suspect this also applies to all people. What the future of hunting needs are folks to tolerate us even if they disagree with the killing and even more people to support conservation, wildlife management and hunting.
    The locavores I talk to bring great respect to the land and if they hunt, to the animal. Their prime motivation may be meat, but once they start down that road it is hard to believe that the excitement of the pursuit won't kick in.

  4. Eric-
    Thanks. I must agree: Damned right the excitement of pursuit will kick in. I don't think the two are in any way mutually exclusive.

    Definitely, for hunting to survive, the public at large has to be sympathetic in addition to having a viable number of hunters. I've just noticed that in the last 10 years many people's views have gone from hunting being EVIL, to seeing it as the ultimate in "taking responsibility for one's place in the food chain". Is this everything or true all of the time? Maybe not, but it's true enough of the time and I'll take it. We'd be fools not to ride this wave.

    And yes, I consider every meal I kill or grow myself to be special, but when you get down to it, I just love hunting.

    Neil H

  5. Neil -"We'd be fools not to ride this wave." Orion has teamed up with Responsive Management to try to get funding to look at the locavore hunting demographics and motivations. So far, no funding from any of the the money organizations like NSSF or USFWS multi-State Grants program.

  6. Neil, you could be right. I honestly hope you are. And the truth is, especially in the relative short-term, this is definitely a boon to the sport.

    But how different is this "Locavore" thing from the "Back to the Earth" movement in the 70s. Remember, Euell Gibbon and Mother Earth News and all that other stuff? I guess the hopeful thing is that, even after almost four decades, there are some lasting impacts of that movement. I guess we'll see after the challenges in time and effort required to hunt successfully have weeded out the dilettantes and fashionable. Then we'll find out if there's a lasting impact to this movement.

    Eric, I think that my own doubts probably reflect the reasons that you're not seeing the NSSF and other big organizations latching onto the locavore trend. They don't see real staying power. Personally, I think they're missing the boat here, but so far,the "Industry" doesn't seem to be particularly interested in the locavore movement.

    Anyway, enough of my negativity. Whether it's a trend or a fad, the locavore thing has provided me with some new friends and hunting partners. A couple of them will probably stick with it, while there are several who will likely not last too many more seasons... but I enjoy every moment in the field with good, conscientious hunters.

  7. All valid points, Phillip.

    Another reason that NSSF may be not on point is that these folks are largely coming out of urban, often "liberal" circles. Which would also be short sighted, because if you want to preserve firearms rights, it's definitely good to have pressure on both ends of the spectrum.

    One notable difference with the back to the land movement of the 70's is those folks were often hippies with no use for guns. (Though Mother Earth News definitely has a bent that serves hippie and ultra-conservative homesteaders equally.) I know that because huge numbers moved up to northern California, and blended their values with the more libertarian culture of those of us already there. I say us, meaning us as a family since I wasn't born until 1969. But I remember as a kid the people over the hill trespassing on us, banging pots and pans to "save the deer". They lasted about 5 or so years and then moved on. A lot of that mindset was going on. Of course, when I was a kid I wasn't allowed to watch Bambi without supervision, since it was considered propaganda.

    So with this movement, meat is the new vegan. That may be one difference.

    Phillip, I don't really take your skepticism as straight-out negativity, because frankly you're right, it is a fad, but hopefully one that will leave enough genuine changes to how we view food to benefit the perceptions of hunting.

    The immediate benefit is plain to see in such great contributors to hunting blogs, of course some of whom are the new friends you mention. I see it in myself, having stopped hunting when I moved to the city. I came full circle to where I started, but food was definitely the motivation. In my case the economic downturn was a huge motivator, but the fact that I already ate all natural, free range, etc, was a big part of that.

    Neil H

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