An Open Letter To America’s Deer Hunters

To: All Deer Hunters, Please Read

Only 5% of Americans age 16 and older hunt. That is half of what it was 50 years ago.

More recently, the number of licensed hunters, mostly deer hunters, dropped from 14.2 million in 1991 to 11.5 million in 2016. The decline is expected to continue as baby-boomers, the largest and most passionate generation of hunters, age and leave our ranks.

It’s a disturbing but very real trend. Many good people and organizations are working hard and spending money on ways to recruit new hunters. We obviously need that and I applaud it, but with all the technology and distractions of the world today and into the future, recruiting people, especially young people, to hunting in numbers that matter is and will be tough and tricky.

To me, the key, our only hope to reversing the trend, is to retain who we have, you and me, who love to hunt and who buy licenses and gear that support wildlife conservation. We cannot do anything about an aging population, but we must do everything we can to keep the viable hunters we have for 1 more year, 3 years, 10 years… Stop the decline now. Use our base of 11 million strong as the foundation to build upon as we steadily bring new people into our ranks.

To do that, every one of us needs to do a gut check and get our priorities straight.

I think back to a time not long ago when a nice and excited fellow sent me a trail-cam photo of a 200-class typical giant that roamed his farm in the Midwest. He was proud of the buck, proud that his land could produce such an impressive animal.

I posted the image on my blog as I normally do, leaving out names and specific locations. This was a tremendous wild animal, and I knew hunters across the land would enjoy seeing it.

Knowing the dark side of the Net and especially social media, I also worried.

Well, most hunters did appreciate seeing the massive whitetail, and most people wished him and his buddies good luck.

Most people…

A couple days after posting the photo, the nice man sent a frantic email asking me to pull the picture off the blog immediately. I did. Seems it was causing tension and trouble in the community. Some people who knew of the deer were mad as hell to see it on the blog and shared all over social platforms, even though I had posted very generically, “Giant lives somewhere in the Midwest.”

Why do big whitetail bucks bring out the worst in some people? I thought the “he needs one more year” trophy hunting mentality of the 1990s and early 2000s had receded. Largely it has, as more and more people appreciate the meat-gathering and the overall experience of a deer hunt rather than just hunting for antlers.

But with the explosion of social media and the ignorant trolls that go with that, “horn porn” will never completely go away.

A big deer with a big rack is a thing of beauty and awe, to be celebrated, to be talked about and shared, to be dreamed about. Will I ever kill such a beast? Will you?

A big buck is not something that should cause envy and greed, divide hunters and landowners, and even cause people to threaten their neighbors, mostly in nasty posts online.

Having worked professionally in the hunting industry and outdoor media for 30 years, I have long witnessed and dealt with this kind small and misguided thinking. I still cannot understand it.

What I do know is that greed, envy and hate diminish our brand as hunters, as they do all things in life. It will tear us apart if we do not stop it. It will further erode our shrinking base and inhibit already difficult efforts to recruit new hunters.

Just when I needed some good news and hope, I saw this on the National Deer Alliance’s website the other day. A hunter from Pennsylvania posted:


“For the first time in 15 years, all three generations of our hunting camp took deer on the same day during Pennsylvania’s rifle season. On December 1st, the first Saturday of our concurrent season, we all shot our doe within 30 minutes of each other. Only an hour after these does were taken, my 83 year old grandfather was able to shoot his first buck in 5 years! It’s the memories and meals that matter the most!” - Jason Crighton

That is what deer hunting and the future of it is all about…or should be.

3 thoughts on “An Open Letter To America’s Deer Hunters

  1. Well Mike I hate to say it but you too pushed the Big Deer mentality like the rest of the industry. Maybe not to the extend of say…Lee & Tiffany or the Whitetail Freaks but Big Deer always showcased ..well big deer. To be fair you have oft posted about the average guy or group of guys in a hunting camp just enjoying the outdoors with no pressure to do anything other than what damn well suited them. I may be your longest posting member going back since the begining because you have always had an emphasis on keeping it real. I hope the “one more year” crowd has truly seen it’s better days. I chase whitetails all over the country an yes I too have bragged about several bucks over 150″ taken doing so but as many do I have evolved to the point where another rack on the den wall is not as important as being in my spartan camp with my son grandson and a few buddies. When I look back on 50+ years of chasing deer, many of them in some distant camp by myself the hunts I remember most are those with my family. Someone once said, ” you can never go back” but if it was possible to time morp I’d give all I own to be a 14 year old kid with my dad sitting in front of a campfire outside our WWII surplus tent on a brisk November evening. I only hope I have instilled that feeling onto my own son and his. That is hunting not collecting bone.

  2. If hunter numbers are at an all time low, why is access to hunting property so difficult? In theory, more hunters need more space. So if we keep recruiting more and more hunters, isn’t that going to translate into less and less land to hunt for ourselves?

  3. I remember when you posted that big buck picture and a guy or two was pretty pissed about it even though you gave no location or names. Was an awesome animal and upset me that these guys got all pissed about it with no details shared. Seems that’s how things are now days with certain hunters and all the social media stuff. It’s too bad and very sad. I take all 3 of my girls out hunting and fishing as much as I can and they love the outdoors. I do best to keep our family and friends passing along the love and passion for it. It’s hard for me to see the declining numbers in our state. Actually sees to have picked up a lot in the last 10 years here. I’m sure I’m other areas it has dropped and will continue to if we don’t help keep it going. Will do what we can here. Always appreciate the work you do Mike for our fellow hunters and hunting community, keep up the good work!

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