Hunter Recruitment: Are we the problem or solution?

By Eric VorisNovember 22, 2021

I had just harvested my first Arizona black bear after four brutally long years of striking out on that species. Bears in the Grand Canyon State are about as plentiful as leprechauns, so most of the battle is just seeing one. So as you can imagine, my sense of accomplishment and pride was through the roof.

More than that, we glassed him up three ridges over, so there was an hour of climbing through nasty terrain just to get to him, made the shot, processed him and threw him in our packs, and then spent three hours packing him back to camp. It was a deeply satisfying experience.

Are Hunters Eating Their Own?
The author's hard-won black bear photo received its fair share of compliments and criticism.

But, the bear I killed was far from a giant. He was a young bear, just barely making the five foot length, but a perfectly legal bear to shoot. As I got home and started telling the story to people and sifting through photos and video to begin sharing the experience, I knew what was going to happen.

Yes, there’d be overwhelming encouragement from a community of hunters who know just how hard it is to kill any bear, but I also knew that the armchair quarterbacks would come out to diminish the accomplishment – and they did.

Maybe you’ve been there. If you haven’t, you’ve certainly seen other people in that boat. Some new hunter posts his grip-n-grin with the spike he just shot, and the comments light up with people criticizing his accomplishment. “That buck still has milk on its lips.” “Why’d you shoot the baby…let them grow for us real hunters.” “You gonna mount that guy on a playing card?” 

If you get a young or new hunter who’s a little on the sensitive side, you could literally chase the guy, or girl, out of hunting altogether, just by being a jerk. And as a community of hunters, that is absolutely something we can’t afford. 

We’re the Visiting Team

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but hunters are in the vast minority in America. Yes, there are some positive things happening, and it seems tag sales are up at least in parts of the country. But it’s still not considered “normal” to be a hunter.

The most recent statistics say that somewhere around 4-5% of the US population is hunting. And anyone who pays attention to the numbers knows that everyone is worried about the Baby Boomer Bubble. 

The theory is that Baby Boomers make up a vast majority of hunters in the US, and that generation is quickly approaching the age where they simply stop hunting. Unfortunately, we’re not replacing that generation of hunters as quickly as they’re aging out. 

Are Hunters Eating Their Own?
Are all hunters really on the same team?

Add to the scary numbers the fact that there is a large cohort in this country that doesn’t understand hunting and would love nothing more than to see it go away entirely. It’s not all doom and gloom, and I don’t want to just bum everybody out, but the simple fact is that we as hunters do not have home court advantage in this culture. 

Because of that, we need to do everything in our power to band together and stand strong in the face of opposition. To quote ol’ Honest Abe himself, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” If we don’t figure it out and start supporting each other, anti-hunters won’t have to destroy us because we’ll just destroy ourselves

New Hunters Need Encouragement

I know some reading this article have been hunting their whole lives because hunting is just something that’s been passed down in our families for as long as anyone can remember. You likely have fond memories of that first deer hunt when you found success on a small buck. You may even have the antlers still hanging on the wall or in the man cave.  

And here’s what I would bet – no one in deer camp that day did anything but encourage you and celebrate your first harvest. Seriously, what kind of sociopath would mock a kid for shooting a small deer? Kids are supposed to shoot small deer…it’s part of the learning process. 

Jack with his opening day buck
Watch what you say to a young hunter. Your remarks can have a lasting impression.

But, here’s what happens in our modern hunting world: we see an “adult-onset-hunter” harvest the same small deer as his first trophy, and it creates this weird dissonance within certain experienced hunters. You see a 12-year-old smiling behind a spike and think, “Wow, good for him…the future of hunting.” 

You take that exact same photo and drop a 32-year-old in the shot, and suddenly this guy’s just not being patient and stealing what would be the next 200-inch deer from the herd. But without any context it’s easy to forget that the 32-year-old is at the exact same spot in his hunting journey as the 12-year-old. He’s just getting a late start. 

If you’re a lifelong hunter, you may have forgotten just how steep the learning curve was. And how much discouragement can come from potentially years of failure before you finally succeed and harvest an animal. If a guy goes through all of that struggle, only to have what to him is a great accomplishment get criticized by the people he thought were his, “brothers in hunting,” it can potentially be devastating. 

We need to support up-and-coming hunters! We should offer encouragement, advice, and help when they’re looking for it. The number of newbies I’ve seen blasted in hunting groups because they had the nerve to ask for a little advice on a tag they just drew is heart-breaking. Let’s welcome these newbies with open arms because we desperately need them in the mix if hunting is going to have a future.

Protecting Your Own Hunt

Yes, social media has made it much more difficult to be a hunter in some regards. Suddenly the entire world has the right to share their opinion on whatever you’re doing in the field. That’s a lot of pressure.

But, that’s not the only method or reason that hunters turn on their own. Most of us have a couple honey-holes we love to hunt, and we get fiercely protective of those spots. So, when you roll up to the trailhead and see another truck parked there, we feel like someone just peed in our Cheerios.

In my home state of Arizona, we’re actually in the middle of a huge debate over the use of trail cams that was largely started by guides fighting with each other (literally in some cases) over water holes in trophy units.

Are Hunters Eating Their Own?
The way we handle other hunters on public land can make or break the way they view hunting, as well as other hunters.

At the end of the day, if you’re hunting public land, you have to accept the public nature of it. You don’t own the forest, and that other hunter has just as much right to be there as you do. So, look at getting away from other hunters as just another part of the challenge of hunting.

Be courteous, follow the general first-come, first-served rule of getting to hunting spots, and just communicate when you run into other hunters. You don’t have to give away secrets or anything, but if you can both share your general plans for the day, you can easily figure out how to stay out of each other’s way.

I get that this is easier said than done, but try to look at encountering other hunters as a good sign that hunting is still viable and may be growing in your area, rather than feeling possessive, as if someone is taking something from you.

If you happen to encounter a new hunter out there, please go out of your way to help the guy. You don’t have to suddenly become his guide or anything, but maybe even offering some encouragement that you definitely see bucks in here this time of year could help.

Hunters like to say, "We're all in this together." But do they really live that out when they encounter other hunters on public land?

Maybe you’re even willing to part with some tip that could help him find success. The worst thing you can do is lie to the dude, send him in the totally wrong direction, and actively work against his success. 

Eventually he may get discouraged and quit hunting altogether, and we’re not in a position to be losing hunters right now. Again, hunters are a relatively small bunch, so we need to have each other’s backs whenever we can.

Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

Now, you may be thinking, “well, that’s not me…I’m not the jerk posting hate on some guy’s trophy pic.” Good, I think that’s most of us, actually. But, at the end of the day, we have to police our own.

Maybe you’re not throwing shade yourself, but do you jump in and defend the hunter with the legal, ethical, but small trophy? Do you remind the trolls online that they were once just starting out and maybe they should cool it? 

Moving outside of the social media world, what are you doing to help bring up new hunters? Have you invited anyone to hunt with you? Are you mentoring anyone who’s just trying to figure things out? If we don’t all do our part to bring new hunters into the fold, we may lose this pastime that we all hold so dear. 

So, let’s go recruit some new hunters, help and encourage them along the way, and let’s stand by them rather than cutting them down. It’s the only way our hunting heritage will continue from generation to generation. 

Eric Voris
Eric Voris is a passionate adult-onset hunter, and the creator behind Late to the Game Outdoors. He is an accomplished writer, filmmaker, and content creator in the outdoors space, and spends his time chasing animals with his bow across the West. Eric lives in Arizona with his wife and three kids, dodging rattlesnakes and hunting together whenever possible.
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