I just finished listened to a compelling, engaging and inspiring podcast (Episode 041) from Randy Newberg (someone who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite voices in the outdoor world)
His guests were Gray Thorton of the Wild Sheep Foundation and Shane Mahoney, a hunter/conservationist who is as wise as they come. I have become familiar with Shane's writing through Sports Afield over the last several years, and I truly appreciate his mindful approach to hunting and the communication that stems from hunters.
About an hour and a half into the conversation (it's well worth it), Shane made several interesting points about the generational motivations for hunting evolving. The guys my age are not necessarily drawn to hunting for the same reasons as our fathers and grandfathers. Historically, you hunted because your Father taught you to hunt, and his Father taught him to hunt. The lineage appears to be less clear in 2016 than it was thirty or sixty years ago.
In 2016, we are plenty aware of the implications of humanity's impact on the environment. However, modern society is simultaneously growing more insulated from engaging with the natural world. We are seeing this play out in various ways, but the point that Shane made during the podcast was that despite the fact that 95% of Americans do not personally participate in hunting, the growth in new hunters is not necessarily coming from rural locations, but often from cities; as the folks who are furthest removed from the source of their food take an increasingly personal interest in the natural world, and obtaining their own food in the wild.
I would certainly group myself in that category. My friends more closely represent food bloggers than trophy hunters. You could give them a tape measure and a mule deer, and they couldn't accurately score it for $1,000... but you give them a tenderloin and a kitchen, and I promise you won't be disappointed.
In fact, a backyard flavor feast at Sean Woolsey's house was the first place I had the pleasure of tasting Antelope meat. Tom Aiello brought meat from a DIY hunt in Wyoming the previous Fall. The tender steak was cubed and marinated with some blend of whiskey and brown sugar, and placed in a cast iron Lodge skillet in Woolsey's pizza oven. In an evening filled with mouth-watering platters of food, this particular dish drew plenty of special attention. It was tender, bursting with flavor, and unlike anything most of us had ever enjoyed.
I had already applied for, and struck out on drawing a Pronghorn tag in Wyoming that year. So it only added insult to injury for me personally, but as you can imagine, the masterfully prepared game meat set imaginations afire for more than a few of my Southern California-based peers.
So far, I am the only one who has since punched a tag on my first big game animal, but the spark is certainly present. Conversations continue to develop and plans will soon follow. Hunting is taking root with a brand new audience, and it has everything to do with sustenance and genuine experiences, and very little to do with trophy scores and bravado.
Don't get me wrong, my Dad and I absolutely intended to, and did, shoot the two biggest bucks we saw on our trip (both in body and horn) but that was a matter of being selective and waiting until we found a buck that grabbed your attention, not so much worrying about fractions of inches on a scoring system.
That is in no way intended to belittle organizations like Pope and Young or Boone and Crockett, because the work they do is extremely valuable. Our human nature is to bastardize the system and make it about ourselves, when it was intended to be about the species. Don't take it from me, take it from Rowland Ward:
"[Rowland Ward's Records of Big Game] is not there to establish records in the sense of biggest or best, nor to glorify the hunter. It celebrates the animal and it does not matter whether the animal's horns, tusks or teeth were picked up in the veld from one of the had died of natural causes, was killed by a predator, or was shot by a hunter. By establishing the benchmark for what constitutes a trophy (particularly where the standards are high) the book makes a most valuable contribution to ensure that trophy hunters concentrate on those big, old lone males which have long since passed on their genes to younger generations."
-Rowland Ward Company 2015
All of these theories about what is drawing the younger generations to hunting takes on a very clear significance for groups like the Wild Sheep Foundation, whose funding relies on membership, and the group's ability to attract new members.
If the motives for new hunters to get involved in hunting is evolving, so must the organizations that rely on hunters to protect and promote wildlife species. And evolve they must, because the reality is the work of these conservation groups is paramount to the flourishing of our natural world and the magnificent species we observe, document, pursue and occasionally hunt.
(Shane also spoke about the evolution of gun-writing and sporting literature, which echoed feelings I have had for several years now, and a subject I will gladly expound upon in a separate article.) In the meantime, do yourself a favor and start chipping away at that podcast episode (Episode 041).