Makeover needed: Hunting

Nature is relentlessly fecund, demonstrated by the dramatic increase in the nation's White-tailed deer to an estimated 20 million today. At the same time, the sport of hunting is in a slow, steady decline, insufficient to cull the herd. Each year, 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions cause over a billion dollars in damage to vehicles and injury several hundred people. The deer don't make out too well, either. I suspect a well-placed bullet is preferable to death by windshield.

The decline in hunters also threatens the livelihood of many in areas dependent on the money hunters spend on their sport, an estimated $6.7 billion in 2006. Hunters also spent $700 million in various licenses and tags in 2006, money that often provides the lion's share of funding for state wildlife management programs.

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Perhaps Sarah Palin will make hunting sexy again, but failing that, hunting is in need of a makeover if it is to remain a meaningful wildlife management tool and tourism lure. How could this be accomplished?

The first hurdle, I think, lies in our society's disconnect between the meat we eat and the source of it. While we encourage the killing of animals each time we buy chicken nuggets,many people find the actual process distasteful and would prefer never bloodying their own hands. Perhaps the personification of animals in cartoons and television is in part responsible.

Others are uncomfortable at the enjoyment hunters take in a kill, equating it with cruelty. Still others are disturbed by the reverence some hunters hold for their weapons, inferring some vague threat in it.

Wildlife organizations have attempted to recruit new hunters with training courses, to some success, but not enough.

So how could a makeover be accomplished, to return hunting to a mainstream activity? I think the sport could use-

1. More Tom Hanks types, fewer Todd Rundgren Ted Nugent NRA zealots. Years ago, Curt Gowdy hosted a show on ABC, The American Sportsman, in which noteworthy people from all walks of life participated in outdoor sports. The show demonstrated the great empathy hunters and anglers feel for their prey and the environment. Today, hunting seems to have become the domain of Republicans, and it needs a more diverse audience.

2. Focus on the experience, not the equipment. Ask most hunters about the hunt and they will talk about the camaraderie, the peace of the woods, the challenge, the beauty, the satisfaction of providing ones own food. They won't, usually, spend much time talking about their weapons.

3. Leverage the growing movement of favoring locally grown, or self-grown, food, by promoting hunting as a consistent and logical extension.

4. Emphasize that every plant and animal in the world is part of the food chain. Each harvests and is, in turn, harvested. I hold my place on the food chain, above cows and below bacteria. And for those that eat only free-range animals, there's no more free-range animal that a deer or elk.

5. Point out the essential role that hunting tax revenue plays in maintaining wildlife and wild areas.

Frankly, I'm not sanguine about the potential for a makeover for hunting; it seems to run counter to the modern weltanschauung. I expect that, before long, states will be licensing professional hunters to thin herds and bring the meat to market, much as they did in the early 1800's.

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