League Leader: America Needs More Hunters

It’s surprIsIng how tIme can get away from you. It seems like we only recently left the League’s national convention in Ohio, where we kicked off our Clean Water Challenge and efforts to recruit more stream monitors. Yet here I am watching the leaves fall and contemplat- ing hunting season.

We need more hunters – for a variety of reasons. You only need to drive around the roads where I live in Maryland to find one reason: the number of deer struck and killed by vehicles. We eliminated the large predators – wolves and cougars – across the East Coast. Then we created the perfect habitat for deer, including suburban yards filled with tasty flowers and shrubs. So the proliferation of deer struck by cars shouldn’t be surprising.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that there are more than 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions each year, resulting in 150 occupant deaths, tens of thousands of injuries, and more than $1 billion in vehicle damage. I have also heard folks say that the number of deer-car collisions is under-reported because law enforcement officials do not want to take a report unless someone is injured or the car needs to be towed. Many states report more deer “taken” by cars than by hunters. We need to change that dynamic, and recruiting new hunters is the place to start.

Another reason we need more hunters is funding for wildlife management. In 1937, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (referred to as the Pittman-Robertson Act for its sponsors) was passed into law. The Act created an excise tax that provides funds to each state to manage animals and their habitats. In 2011, states received $748 million in excise taxes from hunters and anglers: $364 million for conserving and restoring fisheries and $384 million for wildlife conservation. In 2013, that number was closer to $800 million. These are impressive numbers for funding to conserve, protect, and restore habitat. Unfortunately, the number of hunting licenses sold per year has been declining since at least 1981. This means these funds may dwindle in years to come while costs keep rising.

A new generation of hunters means continued funding for wildlife conservation; habitat restoration; hunter education; and public access to rivers, lakes, and other waters. More hunters could also equate to more League members. The League was founded by hunters and anglers, so it’s a natural fit. You and your chapter can help. Many chapters offer introductions to fishing and/or the shooting sports. These are opportunities to engage a new audience on conservation issues and the League. Some chapters teach hunter safety classes. This is a great way to help new hunters get started while introducing them to your chapter and the League. Other chapters use National Hunting and Fishing Day to get folks outdoors and participating in hands-on activities while showing off chapter amenities and interests.

So while you are sitting in your duck blind or up in your tree stand, think about the next generation of hunters and what you can do to help grow the number of hunters – and grow the League.

Jeff Deschamps is National President of the Izaak Walton League of America.