A: It's a fading pastime because we're becoming more of an urban nation than ever before. Even the rural states -- you go into the red states and those people move out to get the jobs in places like where I am now, Fairfax, Virginia. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey numbers have been slowly going down, though there are some bright spots. The number of women is up 72 percent in the last five years. ... Some of the youth programs now just coming on are bearing fruit. I see that as an important thing. When I talk to a hunter, he usually knows about the ecosystem he's hunting in. he knows where the deer are, and where the grouse are, and what the turkey are doing and this kind of stuff . I think he cares about that resource because he's involved in it so much. When you talk to a non-hunter, they may have a real compassion for wildlife but they don't often understand what the wildlife need, what they eat, what they're doing.
Q: What are three top reasons hunting is good for America?
A: I'd start with money. Hunting and fishing pay for conservation in this country. If you add taxes on our sporting goods (10 or 11 percent depending on what product it is) on the consumer and the manufacturer with hunting license fees, it's just over $1 billion a year just going into habitat restoration and all the other things game agencies do. Non--hunters don't pay that stuff when they go hiking or mountain biking and those kinds of things.
No. 2, hunting actually saves lives. Two hundred people are killed a year in deer-auto collisions and 25,000 people injured out of a 1.5 million accidents nationwide. That's a big deal -- and that's with hunters killing 8 to 10 million white-tailed deer every year. You're five times as likely to hit a deer in urban American as you are in rural America, because you just cannot control deer populations in those areas.
The third -- and this is one thing the environmental movement is starting to understand -- is the ecological disaster that occurs from an un-hunted population of deer or elk and other species. In our Eastern forests, when we let a deer herd go completely uncontrolled they actually end up eating all the vegetation they can reach. You end up with this sort of ecological desert under the canopy, because everything below 6 feet is gone; there's no vegetation whatsoever. The New Jersey Audubon Society in the last year opened up all its lands to hunting and they published a report that said we can't look at ourselves in the mirror anymore because not allowing hunting is destroying our own songbird populations on their own properties.
Q: How do you reverse the downward trend of fewer and fewer hunters?
A: To tell you the truth, it's happening. I don't know if you can completely reverse it. But there are youth programs in many states. I think 11 states now have passed different laws to bring more youth into the sports -- by basically lowering some of the age requirements, and taking away some of the course requirements for the first year; they can try it with a hunting mentor for the first year, that kind of stuff. And the women programs have certainly done that. But there is a change going on in this country right now. The Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation is actually the biggest caucus in Washington. The NRA has taken a huge interest in hunting now; it has done a lot for hunting rights. Beyond that, if you look in the mainstream, The New York Times Magazine recently had a pro-hunting story; they were anti-hunting until just a couple years ago. National Geographic has a feature on the benefits of hunting, both nationally and internationally. Internationally, hunting has literally saved the white rhinoceros and lots of other species, because suddenly it gives the private landowner an incentive to have these animals there because they can make real money off of them. So you see the mainstream is starting to get it. If we can continue as a hunting community to get that word out there with books like mine and articles, there's hope. I guess I'm optimistic.
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