The year is 2015 and after years of debate among conservation organizations, pro-hunting organizations, animal rights activists and antihunting groups, all forms of hunting in the United States have been banned by the federal government. Is this a real possibility? In my opinion, the answer is yes. Regardless of what some people think, hunting is an opportunity that can be taken away and those who will ultimately decide its fate are the non-hunting public. Currently, the public is mostly undecided on whether hunting is moral, a wholesome activity or still involves the sportsmanlike pursuit of animals.
There are about 12.5 million hunters over the age of 16 in the U.S. It is vital for hunters, both individually and as a group, to demonstrate that hunting is a moral and wholesome activity. This is increasingly difficult because more and more people are further removed from rural lifestyles. Fewer immediate family members are involved in hunting or agriculture where the birth, care and death of animals are parts of daily life. Lessons from the farm are largely lost on today's generation, including hunters.
The fate of hunting will be influenced by at least three factors. First, hunters need to police their own ranks and not ignore questionable acts of other hunters. Secondly, hunters need to communicate more effectively with non-hunting groups. Lastly, to be sustainable, the sport needs new hunters.
Policing our ranks should not emphasize internal debates over archery, muzzle loader or rifle seasons or equipment choice. These things are minor compared to hunters holding one another accountable to ethical and high moral conduct. We can't ignore activities such as poaching and trespassing. Additionally, appropriate conduct extends to the concept of "fair chase" or avoiding the use of technology, gadgets or practices that gives unfair advantage to hunters over the animals being pursued.
Drs. Michael Nelson and Kelly Millenbah published an article in the fall 2009 issue of Wildlife Professional proposing that there may be more common ground between ethical hunters and non-hunters than either group thinks. They point out that, in the debate over the ethics of hunting, dialogue has been replaced by dogmatism, honesty by hostility and progress by platitudes. However, they suggest that a common ground exists: respect for animals. They go on to say that most anti-hunters simply want hunters to demonstrate respect for the animals they hunt and to acknowledge that animals have moral standing. They propose that "wildlife professionals and hunters could recognize the direct moral standing of animals and work to unite this recognition with the possibility of hunting and eating animals."
With the increasing commercialization of hunting and wildlife, the potential grows for this industry to substitute "entertainment" and a "positive experience" for traditional values and ethical concepts, such as fair chase. Some aspects of commercialization, e.g., canned hunts and gadgetry, will appeal to those who are shortsighted and are not vested in the outcome of hunting. Time in the field is at a premium and, with companies offering gadgets and canned hunts that promise increased odds of harvesting an animal... well, money talks.
Statistics show that hunter numbers are declining annually. Probable factors are too numerous to look into here. Traditionally, hunting has been a male-dominated activity, but this is changing. More and more women are taking up and enjoying hunting. In regards to youth, hunting seems to be overshadowed by video games, television, computers and organized activities such as sports and music. An increasing number of youth are not being taught that death is a part of life and that game animals are a renewable resource. It is important that youth and women become involved and participate in hunting and that hunting mentors teach them what fair chase and ethical conduct is all about.
Take a child hunting. Invite your spouse, sister, aunt or a neighbor to spend some time in the field to share your knowledge regarding the importance of respecting animals, hunting ethically, observing sportsmanship and maintaining wildlife habitat. Who is a better mentor than an ethical, knowledgeable and conservationminded sportsman? The future of hunting depends on you.