Tracked By The Future

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By Steve Knight

Sport hunting has gone through a continuing evolution in Texas since World War II, when rural-reared G.I.s returned home and landed in cities and not back on the farm.

The biggest change in hunting has been in focus, away from small game hunting to an explosion in the number of deer hunters as white-tailed deer populations expanded around the state. Today, there are more than a million licensed hunters afield in Texas. That number has remained constant for more than a decade, even as the state’s population has grown.

Although hunter numbers are stable, wildlife agencies, conservation groups and others are concerned about hunting’s future as Texans become more removed from the land and personal interests change.

So, does hunting even have a place in 21st-century Texas?tracked3.jpg

“You bet,” said Clayton Wolf, TPWD Wildlife Division director. “It may look different than it did a hundred years ago. Motivations to hunt may be different than ours or our predecessors.”

Wolf cited the movement toward foods locally sourced in the consumer market. “Hunting is a part of that.”

With hunter numbers static, the concern is recruitment. The bulk of Texas hunters are Baby Boomers, according to data compiled by TPWD.

Where will new hunters come from?

As they approach their 70s, Boomer interests in hunting wane. At the same time, the next generation— Generation X—is often seen in hunting ranks as the missing generation.

The surprising statistic lies with the Millennials, those born since the 1980s. They are taking up hunting, and their numbers have almost doubled since 2010, according to a TPWD review of license sales by generation.

These new hunters are headed to their blinds with a much different view of what is a successful hunt, said Matt Dunfee, programs manager for the Wildlife Management Institute: Their interests are more toward food than trophies.

“It has almost everything to do with an ecological and ethical need to get their own food,” Dunfee said of Millennials’ interest in hunting and other outdoor activities. He said hunter recruitment needs to be approached from a motivational basis.

The indicators that food is a primary factor is supported by annual survey done by Responsive Management, an international research firm that focuses on natural resource and outdoor recreation issues. RM research shows the number of hunters who say they hunt for meat has doubled since 2013.

Citing responses received from participants, this idea is fueled in part by the locavore movement, sourcing food locally that is free-ranging as well as chemicaland hormone-free.

Dunfee said the motivation for the Millennial generation to hunt is the ability to gather food from a locally sustainable source and share it with others.

“Their inherent values align very much with activities outside,” Dunfee said.

Recruitment, retention and reactivation are keys in the hunting’s future.

“It is a national issue,” Wolf said. “Strategies may need to be modified.”

Steve Knight grew up hunting and fishing in Texas and has passed his interest along to readers of the Tyler Morning Telegraph and TexasAllOutdoors.com since 1976.

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