Monday, October 20, 2008

Sake of The Children, part deux

A local writer (New Orleans' Times Picayune columnist Robert Marshall) suspects that hunters ourselves---not primarily outside forces---are to blame for the free fall in recruitment of young people into our community.

His premise rings uncomfortably true:

"A succession of reports has provided hunters with convenient culprits for our demise, things such as 'lack of access' to public hunting lands, cost of hunting, less game, single-parent households, restrictive rules and regulations, etc., etc. and etc.

"But over the years, some doubts began building in the back of my mind. While hunting was declining, other leisure time activities that required hunting-size investments of time, money and travel were growing. In my own community, people who had stopped hunting were buying season tickets to pro and college sports seasons, spending entire weekends tailgating, traveling to distant theme parks and roaming the country as soccer, gymnastics and baseball parents."

He cites a chat with friends in his duck club for further clues to what may be, Nintendo notwithstanding, at the root of the problem:

"Two friends who had dedicated much of their lives to preserving the waterfowling tradition were upset because their state would not allow their children to become hunter-education qualified completely online.

"'You have to attend in person,' they complained, 'and that takes an entire weekend.' I responded, 'So, isn't that how it's always been? Isn't that part of the traditional commitment for serious, ethical hunters?'

"They looked at me like I'd just parachuted from the moon. Their kids couldn't go a full weekend because of 'other commitments.' The soccer (or swimming, gymnastics, track, you name it) coach would bench them for missing practice or a game. They would become a pariah at school.

"The debate came down to this: My friends felt "government" was forcing their kids out of hunting. I felt they were choosing to take their kids out of hunting, or at least letting them opt out."

In my own version of the story, government has less to do with limiting opportunities for new hunters to enter the sport; my personal whipping boys are television and air conditioning and the multitude of little plastic items that seem disproportionately fascinating.

But to my embarrassment and frank puzzlement, I know I'm also at fault. As parent, perhaps the blame is entirely mine: My own children, though capable now and not-disinterested in joining me in the field, are deeply engaged in extra-curricular activity of the entirely conventional modern kind.


Holly Heyser said...

Interesting theory - I do know that as a society, we are busier than ever, and I've heard other families talk about rec sports competing with hunting for their kids' time and attention.

Sports have an advantage. You can sign up for sports almost as soon as you can walk, but hunting has to wait for a higher level of maturity - and by the time you've achieved it, you're already hooked on soccer.

But I still think there are other equally important forces, such as the notion - alluded to here - that everything should be quick and easy. Hunting is neither.

Another big one? Nobody knows how to cook anymore. If you have zero kitchen skills, what are you going to do with that game you bring home? If you can't even cook a big fatty piece of beef, how will you know the handling that's required for a lean piece of venison?

And what about the orchestrated effort on the part of the food-industrial complex to convince people that highly processed foods are not only more convenient, but safer and healthier than all those filthy wild things out there?

And probably a million other reasons, but I should probably get back to work...

Matt Mullenix said...

That hunting requires a greater leel of maturity is true, I think, but only so far as you're talking about handling a firearm.

Every other aspect of hunting (and there are hundreds) can be participated in and even mastered by anyone, including children.

I am making a case against myself, since I have children who could be doing the things---walking in fields, marking game, flushing it, dressing it, handling the dog, etc---but nonetheless I am not getting them involved as much as I should.

What's missing is the fact that hunting (in the absence of organized sport and SUVs to reach the soccer fields across town, and TV, etc) used to be a more holistic endeavor, occupying a larger portion of time and attention. The complexity was greater, given that we once made our own gear, cooked our own game, and spent the year round scouting fields and training dogs and doing all the ancilliary things that hunting requires.

Well, USED to require. Now that we can buy virtually everything, virtually instantly, even virtually in person on the Internet, there is no hunting CULTURE in which to participate.

There is only the activity itself. And that, since we defined it so narrowly now, is reduced to pointing and shooting.

Hell, maybe we've bored ourselves out of hunting?

A hunting CULTURE is what we lack. Not an easy thing to recreate in the face of so many other, faster, flashier options. We have to seek it out now when it used to be all around us.

Again, I am in a great position to share this culture with my kids if I only would. And I do, to the extent that they watch me clean game and help me cook and eat. I just need to get them out more. In falconry there aren't even any bullets to worry about!

Heather Houlahan said...

I have no kids to take hunting with me. If my younger niece lived closer, I think it would be a good thing for her to learn, but alas ...

Many of the fathers who hunt do not take their kids. (Many do, and hooray.)

If the old man has access, etc. to hunting -- he's out there himself -- then the problem cannot be that, right?

Several have told me that they think it is too dangerous for their kids to be out there, where jackasses might shoot them. (The same reason I stopped hunting our abundant public lands, so I do not discount these concerns out of hand.)

So -- overprotective parent, or dangerously careless weekend warriors?

Either way, it's the fault of one or more "hunters."

I think more is going on there, having to do with a learned intolerance for physical discomfort, the demise of patience as a virtue, and a culture-wide conspiracy to regiment children into group activities where they may be easily led and controlled by authorities, and prevented from developing the virtues of free men and women, the virtues of citizens rather than subjects.

I see non-hunting outdoorspeople -- backpackers, hikers, climbers, cavers, paddlers -- integrating their kids from the time they can toddle, or even before. Good for them. They are doing the work. (Which is not work for them, but the means to continue their play.)

A parent who is a hunter should be, in the same way, the antidote for the collectivization and domestication of childhood. Why is he or she not?

Chas S. Clifton said...

I have to agree with everyone here to some extent. Whether you have kids or not, to be a hunter today means you must consciously create "hunting culture." You can't just walk to the edge of town and start, at least for most of us.

You must learn and practice weapons training, locate areas, scout them and learn them -- and, I hope, participate in some kind of organized conservation activity.

On the other hand, there ought to be lots of opportunities for kids to be integrated into all of that.

Holly Heyser said...

Heather, great point about the non-hunting outdoorspeople taking out their toddlers. I do hear about some hunters doing that, but not enough.

And Matt, perhaps your kids will surprise you and wake up one day realizing they want to find out what it was their dad was doing. It wasn't until my late 30s that I realized I really did want to emulate many of my dad's life choices.

Nagrom said...

I grew up in a community of hunters. In the 1990's it was still common there for kids to leave rifles in their trucks, or even in classroom closets, coming to class immediately after a morning hunt. It was equally common for them to be excused early, or from most of a day, on Thursday (last day of school, 4-day week) so they could head out to their families preferred hunting grounds for a weekend.
I hope, but do not know, that given the remote and small locale this is still the trend - But, somehow, I doubt it.
Really excellent points about modern life and how its slowly overtaking the older ways. I think this has contributed to an overall lack of seriousness towards hunting, particularly among hunters (non-Hunters havent taken us seriously for years, cest la guerre).
Too many of the people I know who hunt regularly are, frankly, fools. Often drunken fools when on weekend hunts. Its an excuse to go have some time with the boys in the woods. Which is all well and good, but its simply not the way I was raised to hunt. I was, of course, raised by a father who'd grown up subsistence hunting in Colorado - A much different perspective.
Hunting was always, to my eye, work. Good work, if at times demoralizing, exhausting work, but fundamentally good, and fundamentally work. And work takes investment.
I have fallen prey to this as well - Hunting takes time and effort, which I haven't freed up in several years. Seasons seem to align with college semesters, and chasing beer and skirts on the weekends that aren't packed with homework is both more available and easier than putting together a hunt. But its not as worthwhile or fundamentally satisfying. I should seriously work on remedying this. My 30.06 is collecting dust, and while I've never wanted to be a prolific hunter, its probably beyond time that I drag out the skillset and brush the dust off it as well, just in case I ever really need it.
And in a few years, when my god-children (and a few later when my own [planned] kids) are old enough, I'll do my damnedest to involve them too.

Matt Mullenix said...

Great comments, All!

In another story this morning (Yahoo fluff), survey respondents admit to texting at weddings, funerals and on the toilet. I have heard folks talking in the bathroom stalls (presumably on the phone) myself, and of course there is no end to the variety of venues in which you can hear someone's cell phone ring.

When was the last time anyone spent an entire day doing one thing?

Half a day? A single hour?

During the course of writting this comment I have already been tempted to answer an email. Hold on a sec.

Steve Bodio said...

I agree with virtually everyone here.

Norcal C--a bit off- topic but re food: last week we were in the two local markets doing our shopping. In one, the cashier asked what a squash was-- then asked how you cook it, having never had one. This is in rural New Mexico. In the second, another asked what CABBAGE was.

Nagrom-- there are still people in our (mutual) community teaching hunting to hteir kids. Needless to say, it's not the weekend drunks. A huge elk was taken by a 10- year old girl here last year.

Holly Heyser said...

We've had similar experiences. Our shopping cart always confounds cashiers - nothing processed or packaged, except for the occasional Tostitos to go with guacamole.

Nagrom said...

Steve, thats excellent. I am unfortunately so out of touch with Magdalena, despite being just down the road, I almost feel ashamed.

Neutrino Cannon said...

That hunting requires a greater leel of maturity is true, I think, but only so far as you're talking about handling a firearm.

Every other aspect of hunting (and there are hundreds) can be participated in and even mastered by anyone, including children.

You had it right the first time; what we need is a hunting culture. Our society tends to greatly underestimate what children are and are not capable of.

I went to the first part of a lecture by a man who grew up in one of Alaska's native cultures (I regret that I do not recall which) who mentioned, almost off-handedly, operating and navigating the family fishing boat by age ten, as well as having proficiency in firearms, land vehicles, and no doubt all manner of other useful skills.

And yet there is this tredipdation about the outdoors, and especially the spilling of blood outdoors that makes a great many people freeze up, as though a piddling few thousand years of civilized life had bred out of them any ability to do what's natural whatsoever.

Fieldcraft, hunting, ethical outdoors behavior, safe firearms handling, basic first aid, and practical biology are all learned behaviors. As we all know, children are the best learners and quite capable of mastering all the above.