There is little doubt that fewer persons are choosing to spend a couple of days chasing Whitetail Deer. The deer is by far the most-hunted animal in the area, but still they flourish here right next to humankind. In fact, they reproduce and lose caution in areas where they quickly become a nuisance. It is the growth in the human population that pushes them out of their natural lifestyle and into our backyards and roadways. With a record number of deer existing and it being so highly sought after, why the decline in those who purchase a license to hunt them? From where I sit, the answer is multifaceted.
Around our home counties of Washington and Greene, the major problem could be different from the problems found in the northern and eastern mountain counties. Here, our No. 1 problem seems to be growth of the humankind along with a growth of those yellow “No Trespassing” signs on every fence post and tree along the country roads. More and more, we have started to look like Texas, where there is almost no public land and hunting deer is a moneymaker for rich landowners. Many situations involve a person not farming the land but buying it so they have a private hunting ground for themselves and their family. In other words, it has become more and more difficult to find land to hunt. Having a piece of private land to hunt on is a valuable asset to be carefully guarded.
This is not the problem up north, where we find game lands that sometimes reach 30,000 acres. In our area, there is a sprinkling of game lands but they have a reputation of being crowded and overhunted. Notice I said a reputation, for it can be far from the truth. I have to believe that the problems up north are not the same as here. Many years ago, it was starvation and a lack of deer that were the most pressing issues in the north. I’m sure coyote numbers being so high effect this area’s deer population.
But one must not forget a problem that affects both the farmland and the mountain hunter. Not to be overlooked is the land lost because of gas drilling. You don’t think it amounts to much, but remember every piece of land used by the drilling becomes a safety zone and is lost to hunters. Nothing comes for free.
I have to believe that the loss of deer hunters fall mostly among the casual hunter and not those with the passion to hunt under even the most difficult of conditions. Long ago I predicted that the loss of our small game would lead to a decline in the number of hunters. Pheasants and the hunting of them has become similar to local trout fishing – put and take. We stock them and take them. But unlike fish, you can’t throw the pheasant back once you have shot it. Years ago, it was small game that drew the younger crowd to the fields to hunt. Young people then, and today, want to shoot at something and waiting all day on a stand and seeing nothing is not an attraction to them. It is just too boring.
Now it is the state bird that seems to be in trouble. When is the last time you have seen, let alone flushed, a grouse? The decline in small game has for the most part been ignored and maybe we are paying the price for this apathy.
Everyday change in what is done with our sliver of free time is another factor. Back in my youth, hunting didn’t have to compete with sitting in front of a computer playing video games. We are raising a population that knows little about the difference in a grey squirrel and a fox squirrel let alone a maple tree from an oak tree. People seem to be much busier these days and with less free time.
Perhaps it is necessary but the laws, or should I say rules, that go along with hunting have become many and complicated. This is one place that the Game Commission has improved on. But while most field officers have good manners and use courtesy with the public, I have witnessed a situation that was very unnecessary. How they behave in the field affects how the young hunter sees them in the future. I was present when a field officer arrested a youngster for drifting away from a group of bear hunters. It was the perfect situation for the officer to give the boy, who incidentally had more hunting experience than many adults I know, a good lesson in obeying the rules. He could have made a friend of the uniform. This young man was an excited kid who had just downed a bear and forgot to stay very close to his hunting partner. The field officer marched the boy to his vehicle and embarrassed the hunter in front of everyone present. That over-the-top chewing out, along with a healthy fine, didn’t sit well with the young hunter or his friends that day. Public relations are an important part of the job. This is no criticism of all field officers, for most of them do a great job and are very underpaid for what they do.
All and all, these are but a touch of the many problems facing today/s hunter and just a tip of the iceberg when we ask why aren’t we drawing more hunters into the fields and woods of Western Pennsylvania?