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.