The numbers are in, and it doesn't look good.
No, I'm not talking about the numbers for the current amount of deer or turkeys in your area, or what the acorn crop will look like this fall. We are talking about hunter numbers, and as with the past couple of years, they are down.
Really, this is old news to many of you out there, and we have talked about it more than twice in these pages. As the older hunters (like me, incredibly, I don't know how this happened) begin to "age out" — that is, quit hunting for one reason or another — this contributes to hunter numbers in general going down.
Now, my brothers and sisters in camo, most of you know this, and it could be that many of you are starting to experience this yourself, the dilemma of the older hunter at the crossroads. Are you going to quit hunting altogether? (Not an option for me.) Are you going to slow down to just a few trips a year? (That would seem almost as bad.)
As age and the years creep up on you, one may start to think about this more. Let's be honest, it would be easy to quit. You can think of a dozen different reasons to do so: lost all your good hunting spots, all your old buddies are gone or have quit hunting themselves, the game populations just aren't what they used to be, you really don't care if you kill any game anymore, and on and on.
I am sorry to be the one to tell you this, boys and girls, but a lot of that is just making excuses.
Most of us can remember that intense fire we had to go to the woods in our youth, how there was nothing like it. All we could think about was opening day of hunting season, and often the night before there was no sleep, for when we closed our eyes, visions of deer, turkeys or squirrels danced around us. The need and want to go on the hunt was virtually all-consuming, and we could not wait to get there.
If we are honest, this is what we really miss about hunting: that old passion, the ecstatic feeling of freedom when we got to the woods and the fields and the duck marsh. So I am here to tell you how you can regain that zeal for the gun and the dog and the touch of antlers from long ago.
I can hear the groans from some of those in the back, but I will forge on past that. The naysayers are those who have not even tried this, and they may become the biggest advocates of this once they do.
Let's look at a few ways to get started.
Tell your hunting and fishing stories.
For some of us, this is a given — we will tell our stories no matter what — but stay with me here.
In mixed company, there may be some eye-rolling and sighs of "Oh, not this story again," but just remember you never know when a potential new hunter and convert will be listening. Your experiences may be old hat to you and some around you, but to the person who is interested in how to get started in the hunting game, those stories are gold and you are telling them what they want to hear.
Seek them out and encourage them.
Invite folks around you to share a dinner with wild game.
Many new hunters start by being attracted to the lure of taking wild, free-range fish and game. There is a contingency out there for whom this is the main reason to start hunting.
It is my belief, though, that the lure being mainly to get "free" meat (those of us who have hunted for a long time know this is a misnomer) will soon change as these new hunters will start to recognize what types and ways of hunting they enjoy and will go whether they take any game or not.
Answer questions from new hunters on social media.
Again, I can hear the groans from the older codgers, but remember this: We are dealing with a new bunch of potential hunters out there. They communicate differently, they get their news and information differently from the way you did if you are a baby boomer. There are those on the Book of Faces and other social media who ask honest questions about the hundreds of things that come up in a new hunter's mind. Sadly, they are often ridiculed in these forums by those who pose as experienced great white hunters and seem to enjoy deriding someone who is just trying to learn.
Be the one to honestly answer their questions without being too preachy and overbearing. Make your answers short and sweet, then offer follow-up help if they need it.
Your sincerity will come through, and these new hunters may seek you out.
Tell them to get in the truck and come with you.
As always, we are cramped for space here, and this little sermon was meant as a "how to get started" theme. But when it is all said and done, the best thing you can do with potential hunters is just take them with you hunting.
I know it is hard sometimes. You may have to go to the trouble to pick them up and take them home, you may have to outfit them with a few things (that shouldn't be a problem for many of us who have enough gear for a dozen other hunters), and you will answer a lot of questions on things that may seem obvious to you. But listen to me, here is what you are going to get out of it.
Can you remember the first time you called to a turkey and he actually answered back and came to you? How about the first time a twig snapped and the leaves rustled, and it wasn't a squirrel but an old buck with antlers like a rockin' chair sneaking by you? Or maybe geese and ducks flying in on a blood-red sunrise?
All of these things can be yours again for the first time as you see them through the eyes of a new hunter. I can think of no better reason to be a hunting mentor.
You weren't ready to quit hunting yet now, were you?
"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at [email protected].