Up the Creek: How hunting traditions are changing
Up the Creek
Ken M. Blomberg
Earlier this week, during a northern cold front snow storm, I came to a personal realization hunting traditions are changing in a major way. Buster, my cocker spaniel sidekick and I took note of the weather and headed to the nearby Mead Wildlife Area to hunt waterfowl. We checked all our familiar spots including areas around the Smokey Hill Refuge. The winds were howling, snow was in the air and ducks and geese were plentiful in isolated flowages and ponds. What was strikingly missing were duck hunters.
Granted, our first visit was on a Friday, but when Saturday rolled around and many access points were void of vehicles and signs of hunters, I began to scratch my graying head. The one exception was a pair of camo clad young boys loading up their gear to launch their boats into the Little Eau Pleine River.
Earlier this month, while up north grouse and woodcock hunting on public lands with good friend Pastor Craig and his son Josh, I was surprised when we failed to see a single other upland hunter. Years ago, vehicles with dog boxes were common sights at logging road trail heads. Today, they seem to be far and few in between.
We’re on the doorstep of the whitetail deer rut and avid bowhunters should soon be out in their stands in good numbers. Record numbers? Not likely. Let’s look at the data.
According to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), as part of the 2015-2017 State Budget, Wisconsin’s legislature directed the DNR to consult with stakeholders and prepare a report to the Joint Committee on Finance on a plan to address an imbalance in the state’s Fish and Wildlife Account. The department’s Social Science Team has gathered, compiled and synthesized social and economic information to help inform the department’s efforts in response to this legislative directive.
A July 2016 legislative report by DNR’s Social Science Services Section revealed, “Fishing and hunting have long and deep roots as important economic drivers, leisure pursuits, cultural symbols and personal identities in Wisconsin, but a review of the current participation research and socio-demographic trends suggests each recreation may be on a different trajectory. Hunting participation has been on a four-decade decline nationally in both absolute numbers and on a per-capita basis. Wisconsin seemed somewhat insulated from this national trend until about a decade ago. Age and cohort analyses conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2011 predict a 28 percent decline in the number of male gun deer hunters by 2030. Declining participation among adult hunters has and will continue to create cascading effects on efforts to recruit youth into deer hunting. Small game hunting has also declined sharply in Wisconsin, while demand for waterfowl and pheasant hunting remained flat for the past 15 years. Turkey hunting participation grew dramatically during the first decade of the 2000s, but has decreased slightly over the past 5 years.”
Those numbers should sound an alarm. They have indeed, and have spawned a myriad of hunting recruitment programs, including those for youth, women, and non-hunting adults interested in learning more. Those numbers, if left unchecked, will bankrupt DNR’s budget, since nearly 90 percent of the agency’s budget comes from two sources, both of which rely on anglers, hunters and trappers. Revenue from the sale of licenses and stamps accounts for the majority of funding used to pay for the conservation and management of fish and wildlife resources in our state.
Programs like DNR’s 2018 youth deer hunt earlier this month, where youth hunters 15 years of age and under had an opportunity to hunt deer and gain valuable hunting experience under the watchful eye of experienced hunters. That explains the big grin on my niece Zoey’s face in the accompanying photograph. I do believe she’s now hooked on hunting.