Friday, December 31, 2010

Hunting organizations and the Quality Family Time movement: Get Together !

Of the many factors influencing the slow decline of hunting, angling, and other outdoor activties, one of the most powerful is the ever- increasing competition for children's (and thereby families' time) through the paricipation in adult-organized sports, band, and other extracurricular activities. A huge motivation for parents to enroll children in these activities is the feeling that these activities are part of an "achievement ladder" that will help children get better career prospects later in life. Additionally, the collective competitive pressure that both children and families feel to agree to more practices and events, including increasing practices on many days of the week and weekends, makes if hard for many parents to set limits.

There has been a growing movement in opposition to this overscheduling of families by family advocates/family social scientists. Bill Doherty, a family social scientist at the University of Minnesota has been giving presentations on the negative effects of this trend on children and parents. In the Twin Cities suburb of Wayzata, the parents organized a movement for a day every week when there would be NO sports, band, or other extracurricular activities to improve family time.

The intense scheduling of extracurricular activities are greatly influencing the decline in hunting and angling participation. Being involved with recruiting youth to hunting, and a parent of children that are just starting to consider organized activities, it is striking how powerful the pressure is to participate in lots of them. A young hunter I mentored over the past several years missed last season and was only out for opening morning of deer season this year for these very reasons. Luckily, although he hasn't shot a deer yet, he has had several close encounters, including a shot at a buck this past year, that he's hooked.

The issue of overscheduling needs to be addressed collectively, both through a movement and legislation. Given that hunting especially is being negatively effected by this, being the most time-intensive activity of outdoor pursuits, hunters and their organizations should support the Quality Family Time movement. Given that hunting is a great way for families to spend uninterrupted blocks of time together, the family advocates should in exchange actively support/endorse hunting as a positive family activity.

For many hunting and angling organizations, this is "far afield", even though they are acutely aware of the issue through recruiting youth to hunting and angling. Most of what is referred to as the "hook and bullet" crowd usually focuses politically on securing places to hunt and fish, the details of regulations that affect access to places to hunt and fish, as well management of species pursued. There is also frequently "coalition work" with non-hunting and angling conservation/environmental groups to advance legislation that both constituencies consider important. None of this work is off-base, it makes perfect sense. However, broader discussions need to take place about the social trends affecting hunting and angling. If particpiation is low, less of a support base will exist to back up these advocacy groups.

It may be a leap for family advocates as well. I haven't conducted any formal or informal polls, but research by Mark Damian Duda at Responsive Management suggests that higher levels of education in America is associated with anti-hunting sentiment. Typically these advocates are urban and highly educated, which would make them more likely to view hunting negatively or as a value-neutral activity.

But the reality is, both groups have something to gain through such an alliance. We are against powerful social trends, we need all the resources we can get in this fight.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thanks to neighbors combining resources and deep snow, some of the best hunting is at the end

Trouncing through the snow can have its rewards
Photo taken by Therese O'Fallon

The hunting season is drawing to a close. While there is still a couple weeks of deer archery and pheasant hunting left, the chances for getting out again are slim.

After an initial dry run of four weeks of seeing no deer archery hunting, I had some exciting experiences. I finally put it all together archery hunting in late October, only to have the buck jump my string. I put some meat in the freezer during rifle season, nothing dramatic, I shot two fawns in a managed unit late in the season.

Then, the dynamic of hunters bringing different resources to a hunt, and new snow, brought a really great late-season pheasant hunt. On December fourth, my neighbor Eric and I went pheasant hunting at the farm of one of my family friends near Hutchinson, MN. The place is only hunted by neighbors who hunt each other's land and sections of swamp. Eric brought his dog, Brody, who wasn't intended to be a hunting dog, but has turned into one. Eleven inches of new snow brought birds that were holding very tight. After flushing an intial covey of at least fifteen birds, we flushed birds for the next two-three hours in the frozen swamp. The first flush quickly produced two kills, and after working the huge swamp, we had a couple more, and had missed a few others. Working our way back to the woods, a nice flush set up and we had the fifth, one short of our limit. We downed our sixth in the woods where we started.

It was a beautiful day, the fresh, powdery snow making a patch of hardwood forest invaded by buckthorn a mystical place. The dog had to work hard in the snow, but with all the action, Brody was regularly re-energized. We left a bird for our host, who took pictures and served us coffee and brownies before we left. It was a fitting end to a hunt that Eric decribed as something he hadn't experienced since he was in South Dakota as a teenager.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Maureen Dowd vs. Sarah Palin : who's more anti-hunting ?

In today's New York Times, liberal columinst Maureen Dowd belittled hunting as an unfair activity to animals as part of a critique of Obama's agreement with the GOP. The agreement extended for two years a Bush tax-cut for the rich in exchange for extended unemployment benefits. Likening Obama to a helpless caribou being shot by Sarah Palin as part of her outdoor show, Dowd laid bare her contempt for hunting.

It was a particularly gross piece of cultural warfare coming from a member of the anti-hunting left, with its caricature of hunters and gun owners as a nutty right-wing monolith. One of the few things that Palin has ever said that I liked was "hunting is a great way to get organic, free-range meat". This was dismissed by Dowd.

While I'll probably never see Palin's show, I couldn't help but think of the irony of her loving caribou hunting in the Alaska wilderness, something a lot of us hunters in lower forty-eight can only dream of, and her anti-wilderness and anti-conservation policies. Palin is a strong supporter of drilling in ANWR, which would lead to a decline in caribou populations by breaking their migration corridor, leading to fewer hunting opportunities.

The entire article got me thinking, whose more anti-hunting ? Dowd, who would protect the environment but greatly restrict or ban hunting, or Palin, whose personal love for hunting has no impact on her broader politics, whose environmental policies would destroy ever increasing areas of wild places to hunt and fish ?