Will your son or grandson, daughter or granddaughter grow up to love the outdoors as you do or did before your joints gave out? Will they learn to know what a fish on the end of the line feels like or how the heft of a gun in your hands feels a part of you? Or will they even know what the changing of the season means—the swift uplifting rush of springtime air or the bittersweet melancholy and beauty of autumn?
These are questions that we, as parents and grandparents, must ask ourselves as we begin the evolvement into senior citizen status. After all, we are experiencing the graying of America. It definitely seems to me that upland outdoorsmen are something of a dying breed. And even those who take to the lakes to fish seem to be falling, maybe more slowly, but still a soft spiral downward.
Growing up, hunting and fishing were a way of life for many. Maybe not as intense as I approach and feel, but jumping bunnies on a Thanksgiving morning was a family ritual or when the sun shone bright on that mid-April Saturday morning it was time to dunk some worms for a mess of fish. Family vacations were spent around campfires on the lakeshore.
Unquestionably, numbers of upland game have gone down. Except maybe squirrels, it seems as though they are popping up everywhere. But how many young brides will fry up a young grey squirrel served up with biscuits and gravy?
I recently read some interesting statistics in an article in the “Pointing Dog Journal.” These numbers are from the Midwestern state of Iowa, which was a pheasant hunters dream in years past and a farmland where young people cut their teeth from the land. In 1964 Iowa recorded a pheasant harvest of 1.7 million birds. Numbers now are well below the million mark with an uptick coming in the early 2000’s when CRP land was at its highest. But here are some telling numbers, in 1963 there were 170,000 rabbit hunters and by 2013 that number was 19,000. Squirrel hunter numbers declined from 150,000 to 20,000. Habitat loss fueled a lot of this decline but there are other factors as well.
Nationwide there has been a huge decline in the rural and farmland population. It has been more than matched by an increase in the urban and suburban population. In rural areas there was access to hunt but where in the city of Lexington and its population of ten acre farms can a young person hunt or fish? And the contact that most city residents have with a semblance of a farmers is at the local Farmer’s Market.
I used to load a shotgun in the back of my vehicle going to school, so I could get a couple of hours stalking squirrels on fall afternoons. That gun in the back of my truck would put me where today?
Hunting, fishing, hiking, rock climbing or whatever you choose to pursue outdoors can often be hard work, physical exercise. This is something that many have forgotten today. Much of society is sedentary and obesity across the world is at an all time high.
Access to land is an impediment in many places. Large tracts of land are now leased for hunting and fishing rights. This is a pattern that is not likely to change.
On the positive side the rise of deer, turkey, and elk populations and their popularity has led to a new generation of a different kind of sportsman. Deer harvest has increased exponentially and a Kentucky elk permit is coveted by many. Deer season and turkey season stretch the hunt time across the calendar. Trail cameras have made scouting time much less of a problem for those with busy schedules.
But a gun and a dog or a rod and reel along the stream bank still offer something to our children and grandchildren. For us one of the most important aspects is time that is spent imparting some values that most in this world know nothing about. It is the smell of wood smoke as dusk approaches, the whistling wings of passing geese or ducks overheard, the splash of a fish as it erupts from the water, the thunder of a grouse as it explodes from the ground. Or maybe it is as simple as a turtle sunning on a log or a bullfrog croaking in the evening, a dogwood or redbud in bloom, or the blaze of the autumn hills. Opportunities may be passing quickly, but I sure know that I want my grandsons to experience these sensations and know that they have lived life at its fullest primal taste. After experiencing this, they must decide for themselves what life holds, but in my heart I hope that I succeed in letting them know that the real world is at their feet.