- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2006

As urban and suburban areas grow while America’s open spaces appear to shrink, well-heeled animal rights groups who see a window of opportunity are on the attack. Here’s a chance to slam-dunk recreational hunting because the animal religionists are convinced the American public is no longer interested in the hunting tradition. The pendulum, they believe, is finally swinging over to their side.

Don’t bet on it, however. Anti-hunting attacks might be planned by such groups as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), but the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a trade association representing 3,200-plus member companies of the firearms industry, for obvious reasons is ready to enter the fray on behalf of hunters and target shooters. Why not? Imagine what would happen to the NSSF and its supporting members if recreational hunting and plinking were to come to an end.

With current threats to one of mankind’s oldest activities — hunting — the foundation continually conducts and compiles research on new trends in hunting and shooting sports participation, sales, demographics, business environments and more. The results of the most recent findings are astonishing.

For example, one of the research categories concerned the retail value of a hunter. It found that during his or her lifetime, the average American hunter spends $17,726.59 on equipment. Now add needed licenses, lodging, food, fuel, specialty magazines and meat processing, plus assorted other expenses, and the total lifetime expenditure leaps to $96,017.92. Do you seriously believe a birdwatcher, bowler or kayaker spends as much?

Are hunters numbers up? — A 2006 study not commissioned by the NSSF suggests there are more hunters in the United States than previously thought. Nearly 12 percent of Americans 16 and older, or 26.4 million people, said they hunted with a gun or bow last year. The study was conducted by the Outdoor Industry Foundation, which normally focuses on more politically correct activities, such as paddle sports, hang gliding and rock climbing. It was the organization’s first look at hunting. The NSSF is optimistic about the numbers but wants more research because the National Sporting Goods Association reported only 20.6 million active hunters. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey that counted how many licenses were sold said there were 14.7 million people who purchased hunting permits. (That number is low because there are many Americans who are exempt from purchasing licenses, including landowners, farm tenants, those under 16 and, in some states, those over 65 and service people on active duty.)

However, public support for hunting is on the increase. A study done by the national Responsive Management polling group showed Americans in large numbers support recreational hunting. When asked why there’s an increase in such support, Mark Damian Duda, the executive director of Responsive Management that conducted the survey, said his company’s research shows that public support grows as Americans learn more about the role of hunting in wildlife management, coupled with a visible increase of deer in urban areas.

“Without hunters, many game species would go unmanaged, unbalanced, with populations too high or too low to suit an environmentally conscious America,” Duda said.

Cornell University supports hunting — New York’s Cornell University says young hunter will likely become a future environmentalist. A study by Cornell researchers shows that children who hunt, fish or play in the wild before age 11 are more likely to grow up with deeper understanding and respect for nature. Domestic outdoor activities such as gardening also positively influence adult environmental attitudes and behaviors, but their effects aren’t as strong. When kids become truly engaged with the natural world at a young age, the experience is likely to stay with them in a powerful way, shaping their environmental path. Interestingly, the Cornell study says participating in Boy Scout, Girl Scout and other formalized outdoor education programs has no effect on adult attitudes toward the environment.

What about the good old days? — An NSSF-financed study discovered the good old days apparently are being eclipsed by good current days. A majority of U.S. taxidermists report growing numbers of customers and an increasing workload. But quantity alone isn’t on the rise. The average specimen of America’s most popular hunted trophy, the whitetail buck, is getting larger over time, most taxidermists agree. The NSSF conducted a 2006 national survey to research taxidermy business trends, operations and challenges. More and better trophies spell good news for hunting today, although the taxidermists warn that trouble is coming from the animal rights movement. Like all supporters of wild game and hunting they also worry about wildlife habitat loss.

For more information on NSSF and its research programs, visit www.nssf.org or call 203/426-1320.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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