By Ben Smith
I’ve been so excited to see all of the pictures of young people with their first deer lately, and there have been more than a handful. It gives me great joy to see parents introducing their children to the outdoors. I’ve always been a believer that the best way to teach kids about gun safety, and life, is to get them out in the woods and let them experience it. Kids need to understand firearms and the responsibility of having one. Kids, at some point, will have to learn about death. What better way to show them than through deer hunting? Kids need to learn where food comes from and the sacrifice an animal makes to provide us with our meals. Hunting provides these lessons, and not enough people are taking advantage of a great teaching moment.
Being a baseball guy, I’m a little bit of a numbers snob. As a coach, I spend a good deal of my time combing through various statistics that pretty much tell the story of how our season is going. For instance, if our team batting average is high, that means we are probably scoring runs. If our team ERA (Earned Run Average) is low, we are probably keeping the other team from scoring. If you add in a high fielding percentage with the other two, it probably means we are winning games. Statistics matter. You are what your stats say you are. That said, what do the statistics say about the hunting community?
If I’m going to be a numbers guy for baseball, I’m going to be a numbers guy for hunting. And if we are going by numbers, I’m a little concerned at the future of hunting in America. According to recent records by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service there has been a drastic decline in the hunting population. In 1960, there were 14 million hunters in America, which made up about 7.7 percent of the total population. In 1982, there were 16.7 million hunters, but by then that only made up about 7.2 percent of the population. 1982 was the peak year for licenses sold. Fast forward to 2020. In 2020, there were 15.2 million hunters. That only makes up 4.6 percent of the current American population. That’s an alarming trend.
During the period from 1960 to 2020, fishing has also declined, but not as rapidly as hunting. I will report that the national average of hunters at 4.4 percent is far below that of Mississippi. Mississippi stands at 9.1 percent of its population being hunters. I was shocked to learn that sixteen other states have a higher percentage of hunters than Mississippi. So, if only 9.1 percent of Mississippians are hunting, and only 4.4 percent of Americans are hunting, what’s the reason?
Now, the first half of this article is fact based material that you can research for yourself. The second half of this article is going to be my opinion on the matter. Whether it’s facts, or not, there are reasons for the decline of hunting in America. That is undeniable. Our country is entirely different than it was in 1960. Some for the better, some not so much. And since I rarely blame young people, or children, for the shortcomings of our country, I’ll keep with that theme today. The largest reason for the decline of hunting in America is…parents.
After talking with a few hunters, of which I greatly value their opinions, we all agree that kids today have far too much technology to keep them occupied. But we can’t blame that one on the kids, right? That’s a parenting decision. How often have you given your kids an iPad or some video game to keep them occupied? I’m guilty, too. That was time that could have been spent outdoors teaching them life lessons. Speaking of occupied, why do children today feel the need to be constantly occupied with technology? I’ll tell you why…parents. Poor parenting at that. We’ve allowed our children to think that they must have 24/7 stimulation and entertainment. My kids are quickly learning to not say the word “bored” around me. If our kids want to be stimulated all of the time, I’ve got plenty of yard for them to rake.
This might be an unpopular opinion, but I believe that the media has also led to the decline of hunting. In recent years, especially, the media has villainized the hunting community. There’s constant bombardment of how guns are bad for our nation. You can’t turn on the news without some whacko screaming about gun control. Wanna know what gun control is? It’s making a good shot. They’ve also, somehow made it seem appealing to be a vegan. If you’re vegan and that offends you, I don’t really care. If you want to eat nuts and berries that’s your business and your right as a red-blooded American, but let’s cut out the shaming of those that still have hair on their chest and a warrior in their heart.
My final reason for the decline of hunting in America, I equate to the travel ball/lessons parents. Too often we as parents are okay with someone else teaching our children the things that we should be teaching them ourselves. We’ve become okay with paying some “guru” fifty dollars an hour to sit on a bucket and tell our kid to “keep their head down”. If we won’t teach them the simple things like hitting a baseball, how in the heck can we ever teach them the important things about life and death? Or about where their food comes from? Once again, it’s not their fault that they don’t know, it’s ours.
I’m eternally grateful that I had men in my life that taught me things I needed to know. They taught me baseball. They taught me, and showed me, where my food comes from. They taught me responsibility through firearms. They taught me about life and death. If only 9.1 percent of Mississippians are hunting, what are the rest of the 90.9 percent doing to teach their children these things? If we look at the current situation of our state and our country, I’d say that we need more parents taking their kids hunting and fishing. Maybe that’s the key to repairing this great nation.