Media Clips

Hunters, where will your kids be Saturday?

Published on October 21, 2010 under News & Events


Saturday is the opening of Minnesota’s 2010 pheasant season. Do you know where your kids are?

If so, and you’re pheasant hunting, they’re probably not with you. And if you’re duck or goose hunting, chances are even less your child (or children) are accompanying you.

Or so license sales of Minnesota waterfowl and pheasant stamps to young hunters ages 16 to 22 in the past 10 years would indicate.

Take pheasant hunting. In 2000, the state sold pheasant stamps to 8,167 hunters ages 16 to 22. Last year, the figure was 6,706.

Granted, in two of the intervening years — 2003 and 2007 — slightly more pheasant stamps were sold to this age group (9,711 and 8,284, respectively) than were sold in 2000. But the trend is clearly in the wrong direction.

The drop-off in young duck hunters is more remarkable still, and parallels the loss of waterfowlers in general in Minnesota.

Take a look: In 2000, Minnesota sold 16,613 waterfowl stamps to hunters ages 16 to 22. This year, the number is 11,175, slightly down from a year ago.

In fact, the last time Minnesota sold more than 13,334 duck stamps to this group was 2004.

Matters look even grimmer if you break out the youngest kids in the 16 to 22 age group. In 2000, 1,307 hunters age 16 purchased state waterfowl stamps. This year that number was 708, and last year it was 553.

And pheasant stamps sold to 16-year-olds? In 2000, the number was 576. Last year (which is better used for comparison, because many ringneck hunters have yet to purchase their 2010 licenses), the number was 372.

In fact, in no age class, 16-year-olds through 22-year-olds, were there more pheasant or waterfowl hunters in 2009 or 2010 than in 2000.

I asked for the data from the DNR to confirm (or refute) my observations in the field, namely that few hunters take their kids with them any longer.

I say “any longer” because it wasn’t always the case, in my experience. Years ago, it was common in Minnesota to see adults and their kids hunting pheasants and ducks together.

Granted, adult hunters are aging, and many no longer have young kids at home. Also, the number of Minnesotans between the ages, say, of 16 and 30, is significantly smaller than the number of Minnesotans between 50 and 64. So it makes sense that fewer young hunters would be in the field today than was the case 30 or 40 years ago.

Still, the apparent drop-off of young Minnesotans from duck and pheasant hunting in only the past 10 years should alarm anyone interested in sustaining these traditions and the wildlife populations they support.

What can be done? Whatever it is, Pheasants Forever seems to be headed in the right direction. In the same 10-year period, the number of “Ringneck” (youth) PF members rose from 6,825 to 18,173 — the result, said PF vice president of marketing Bob St. Pierre, of an intense effort to recruit young people to the group’s banquets. (Between 2000 and 2010, PF’s overall membership also rose, from 92,255 to 125,085.)

What happens when the figures being compared between 2000 and 2010 aren’t pheasant or duck stamps sold to young hunters, but the number of people graduating from the state’s hunter education program?

There you get a different picture, because that number has stayed fairly constant during the decade at about 23,500.

I’m sure many of those graduates are hunting deer and not birds, or are not hunting at all. But it’s important to note also that, according to DNR enforcement Capt. Mike Hammer, about a third of the hunter-ed graduates today are female. Yet a far smaller percentage of adult hunters are female, in the neighborhood of 10 percent.

Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl and the Minnesota Waterfowl Association also have aggressive recruitment programs that attempt to attract young people to hunting. There’s self-interest here: the groups’ futures are dim if young members aren’t in the pipeline.

But the broader interest is the one we should keep in mind, namely that the people involved in day-to-day conservation know that throughout history, the cost of protecting wild habitats has fallen almost exclusively to hunters. As their ranks thin, less of that work can be accomplished.

So: The pheasant opener is Saturday.

Where will your kids be?