Roger Phillips: Enjoy the hunt, you hip, trendy dudes (and gals)

rphillips@idahostatesman.comSeptember 12, 2013 

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A funny thing happened to hunting on the road to its demise — it started growing again, and now dare I say, it’s becoming cool again.

If you’re a hunter (and chances are good if you’re reading this), hunting has always been cool.

The pursuit of wild game sings to our soul, and that’s why we endure frigid mornings in a duck blind, thigh-burning hikes up mountains, and relish packing freezer loads of meat out of a nasty canyon.

But hunting and Johnny Q. have a sometimes rocky relationship.

Hunters have been lampooned as clueless Fudds, or as bloodthirsty Neanderthals. Truth is, we’re kind of the carnivore equivalent of organic farmers.

We just harvest our meals with a gun or bow and give it a fair chance to escape. Unlike growing a garden, there are no guarantees our efforts will translate into a surplus of calories.

Hunters also foot the bills for all wildlife, and provide countless benefits for nonhunters to enjoy, even though they may not directly pay to support wildlife.

While nonhunters vastly outnumber hunters, a growing percentage of the public is recognizing the benefits of hunting.

A recent nationwide survey indicates 79 percent of Americans approve of hunting, according to Responsive Management, a public opinion research organization that focuses on natural resource and outdoor recreation issues.

The organization started tracking hunting approval trends in 1995, and the approval rating has risen 6 percent since then.

Whether 73 percent or 79 percent approval ratings, both are pretty respectable, and the fact that it’s trending upward is encouraging.

I credit several things.

First, hunters have always shown respect for the animals they hunt and genuinely cared about wildlife and the wild country that supports it, but they’ve done a better job publicizing it.

Groups like Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, Boone and Crockett Club, and many other organizations have promoted hunting and conservation together.

“Hunting is conservation,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “It has a tremendous positive impact on wildlife and wildlife habitat.”

Hunters themselves have also evolved from mere practicers of the sport to ambassadors for it.

Many of us grew up in an era when strapping the head of a buck or bull to your bumper and parading through town was acceptable behavior.

But we learned otherwise, and now we’re more discreet. We’ve never lost sight of the fact that killing an animal is an inseparable part of the sport, but doing it with respect and responsibility keeps us in good graces with the nonhunting public.

But despite all that, for decades hunting had a slow-but-steady decline in participation.

That’s also changing. A survey done every five years by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed the number of hunters grew 9 percent nationally between 2006 and 2011.

The face of hunting is changing as well. Flip on one of the many TV channels that devote air time to hunting and you will see gals like Larysa Switlyk, Julie McQueen and Tiffany Lakosky.

They don’t look like the hunters from old days, and I’d rather spend a half-hour watching them than Ted Nugent.

Then there’s the whole “Duck Dynasty” craze. Not exactly a traditional hunting show, but they’re obviously hunters, and people love them.

And there are new voices in the sport as well, people who hunt as a way to gather food as much as a sport and share it with nonhunters.

What it all tells me is that hunters are on the right track, and while there will always be those who oppose us, the court of public opinion is soundly in our favor.

So whether you’re hunting for the trophy of a lifetime or to fill the freezer with one of nature’s finest feasts, savor the whole experience, and don’t forget to share it with others.

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

The sport is changing in positive ways

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