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The future of hunting needs a helping hand

If hunting in general were a business — which some can make the argument it is — we as the committee members in charge would be in full-on panic mode.

It’s estimated that in a five year span between 2011-2016 that we lost nearly 2.2 million licensed hunters nationwide — not exactly an exciting trend. There are many reasons as to why one chooses to stop hunting, but for me and my experience, hunter burnout would have to be one of the biggest. Hunter burnout is simply like any other kind of burnout where we lose the passion and drive that once pushed us into the outdoor activities which we once enjoyed more than many other things.

In the height of deer season, with my friends all over the country posting photos filling up my social media feed, I reminisced about my prior experiences. Many nights as I drift off to sleep, I often find myself running visions of previous hunts through my head.

Moments where, often in hindsight, I’ve found them to be instances of incredible peace and joy throughout my life. Images flash through my brain from taking first time hunters of both young and old remind me that we’re never too young or old to start hunting. It also reminds me that we’ve never drifted to far away from this pastime to jump back into the fold.

As someone who spent their entire childhood around hunting and the outdoors, I never dreamed that I would drift away from the sport — but I did. Starting in 2008 I began to drift away from some of the things that brought me great joy, specifically turkey hunting. From 2008-2011, I lived in an area in southern Maryland that was liberal in deer harvest limits and full of beautiful mature bucks. I was lucky and successful enough that it came to the point where the hunt lost some of its challenge and purpose to me.

So after a few years of very little interest in hunting, a spark relit the fire I once had when I began taking other people into the woods, specifically wounded veterans, and began to help them find their own success. Over the years, I’ve heard from the mouths of hunters time and time again “I don’t mind if I never pull the trigger again and just help others.”

Unfortunately, there are a few questions that loom in this situation — what if there’s no one for them to take? What if they just hang up their hat, their gun and never buy a license again? What can we do to stop losing hunters?

The sad fact about these questions is that there are no specific answers. For me, many years before my kids will be able to hunt, it became about helping others learn the the same way my family helped me to learn many years ago. In short, we need to find a way to create more hunters and to encourage others to keep at it.

Of course, some hunters will reach the end of their lives each year, health problems will eliminate some, and in some cases finances limit the ability to purchase a license. Sometimes, it’s simply because they have nowhere to go, or aren’t willing to go unless invited.

There are an abundant amount of mentorship programs for all variety of hunters, they just need to be sought out. Programs that take children and youth, hunters with physical limitations due to all kinds of hardships, and even programs for folks who have no place to go. All you have to do is ask around. Wildlife and game officers and officials are generally very aware of and often connected in ways to these types of organizations.

The unfortunate fact is, the sport of hunting is declining in popularity. There are many folks who burn out and are never coaxed back into the sport like I was. If you find that you’re one of those folks, I really hope that you’ll try to find someone to mentor or someone to mentor you in order to stay connected with a tradition that desperately needs some life breathed back into it.

My hope is that you’ll keep at it, never get discouraged, and remember that hunting is one of our many incredible connections to the many generations of hunters that came before us and will come after us.

Hunt hard, hunt safe and shoot straight, friends.

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John Knouse writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.

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