The outdoor sports face an unknown future. Hunting and fishing license sales are decreasing at an alarming rate. The population of hunters could be under 10 million for the first time in 2025 after numbering 19 million just 30 year ago and 12.5 million in recent years. The average hunter is now 45 years old and that age continues to rise.
The numbers point to one thing: the sports are failing to recruit. Historically, the ranks of sportsmen were maintained by impressive numbers of youth and young adults who, following in their parents’ footsteps, became outdoorsmen themselves. This is no longer the case. There are far too many diversions for today’s youth. Kids have become shut-ins, scorning the outdoors and preferring to play video games, surf the Internet, use their cell phones, or watch the hundreds of channels available on TV.
But, all is not lost. You can still get your children to participate in outdoor activities. A few years ago a Cornell University study determined that in order to get people actively involved in the outdoors you have to try it early and often. They cited the 11-year-old mark as the deadline, a crucial point in childhood development. If the teen years are reached with no exposure to outdoor pursuits it will be too late, as teens strive for acceptance amongst their peers and become sponges for pop culture, rabidly taking to the earlier-mentioned electronic pursuits.
That said, the elementary school years are a perfect time to hammer home the importance of the outdoors. Take your kid outside and make it active and fun. The Cornell study said gardening and animal husbandry work to a point, but the greatest results are from wild activities like camping, hiking, and fishing.
It’s also true that today’s youth don’t take to outdoor sports based upon messages they receive in school or from media and entertainment. From an early age they are taught that guns are bad while lessons learned in schools lean towards an "environmentally-conscious" approach, indicating all life is precious while implying hunting and fishing are evil. As a parent you must open up discussions with your children to determine if this is what they have been taught or are led to believe. Educate them on the safety and history of firearms. Make it a point to debunk the animal rights myths. Explain what hunting and fishing mean to you. A child’s education is just as dependent on you - if not more so – than it is upon schooling.
Another way to help promote the outdoor sports is through Scouting. The Boy Scout and Girl Scout programs expose children to monthly campouts, summer camps, hikes, canoeing, fishing and other activities. Not only do these groups expose kids to the wilderness, they also introduce them to like-minded peers who they may develop strong friendships with, giving them added incentive and a companion for fishing and hunting.
It should be noted that kids also take more to fishing than they do to hunting. This may be related to the early exposure concept identified by Cornell. Adults are more apt to take kids fishing at an early age, because it’s easier and the kids can handle it. These same adults may be unsure about taking young kids along as hunting partners because of their inability to remain silent, thus scaring away wary deer or turkeys. So, unfortunately, the kids don’t get to see hunting in action until well into their teens when they can remain silent or carry a gun a field. By then, it may be too late.
To get a youngster indoctrinated in hunting, you as a hunter should take up game that does not require silence and allows movement. Take a kid rabbit, grouse, or pheasant hunting. Such hunting is active, allows the kid to be noisy, and allows you to expose him to hunting (sans gun) as soon as he/she can handle walking in the woods. That early exposure is key to planting the seed for later interest.
All of these tactics, coupled with a greater focus on getting kids away from the computer, will guarantee that you can turn your son or daughter into a hunter or fisherman. By carefully exposing youngsters to the same hobbies that you have, you will give them an interest bound to stay with them for the rest of their lives and, ultimately, they could become your best friend afield.
Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column originally ran in the 23 April 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers