Several years ago there was a significant concern among state fish and game agencies and hunters that this way of life was disappearing due to lack of participation (see post here). In fact, between 1991 and 2006 the number of hunters decreased by approximately 1.6 million. According to the United States Census Bureau and the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting & Wildlife-Associated Recreation, 14.1 million people ages 16 and older hunted in 1991. By 1996 the number was down to 14.0 million and in 2001 it was 13.0 million. In 2006, the number of active hunters reached its lowest point since 1991 with 12.5 million hunters. In 2011, however, the number of active hunters grew by 1.2 million, rebounding to a total of 13.7 million active hunters. What could be causing this increase?
A previous blog post explored women's role in hunting. The number of female hunters has grown consistently since 1991. The 2011 census, showed a total of 1.5 million female hunters (up from 1.1 million in 1991). This explains a portion of the total increase in hunters, but not all of them.
Part of the increase could be due to immigrant populations. A 2010 post describes hunter education courses directed at the Hmong community in northern California, who are somewhat distrustful of government authorities. More Hmong may be buying licenses due to this directed effort. I have hunted in California since I was a young, and I have also seen an increase in Hispanic hunters. These populations may be contributing to the increasing number of hunters in the United States, but that is not the entire story.
What if I said that part of the increase was due to hipsters? Yes, hipsters. I know it seems almost humorous at first, but I recently came across two articles talking about the increased interest in self-reliance in America. A New York Times article entitled “Blessed Be My Freshly Slaughtered Dinner” describes a relatively new eat-what-you-kill movement in America. People are turning to backyard gardens and chicken coops to fill their refrigerators and pantries with vegetables, eggs, and meat. Some who have larger properties and live outside of the city have the ability to raise larger animals such as goats, sheep, and pigs to provide their meat. A famous example of this self-reliance movement is when, in 2011, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook declared that for one year he was only going to eat meat that he killed. He killed farm-raised chickens, pigs, and goats but left the butchering to others. Although Zuckerberg didn't butcher his animals, many do. Some "hipster locavores" organize slaughter days where people show up to, well, slaughter and butcher animals for their meat. Others decide to take a different approach and take up guns and bows to kill their own meat in the wild.
A 2012 Slate article entitled "Hipsters Who Hunt" describes the progression from hipster to hipster hunter as:
2006: Reads Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma about the ickyness of the industrial food complex. Starts shopping at a farmer’s market.This article did more than just describe what is happening in the hipster community. The article encouraged urban liberals to throw away their preconceived notions of hunters, and rural people generally, as "jerky guys with big trucks and a fondness for the country music and Republican candidates." See The Geography of the Class Cultural Wars. I agree that these tired notions of what a hunter is, and more specifically what a rural person is, need to be done away with if there is to be any understanding between urban and rural people.
2008: Puts in own vegetable garden. Tries to go vegetarian but falls off the wagon.
2009: Decides to only eat “happy meat” that has been treated humanely.
2010: Gets a chicken coop and a flock of chickens.
2011: Dabbles in backyard butchery of chickens. Reads that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg decided to only eat meat he killed himself for a year.
2012: Gets a hunting permit, thinking “how hard can it be? I already totally dominate Big Buck Hunter at the bar.”
Part of the article addressed problems with wildlife-human conflicts in suburban areas (especially those areas in the eastern US that are overpopulated with wild animals). At the end of the article, the author proposed that changing urban perceptions of hunting and encouraging more urban liberals to hunt would solve the problem by reducing the numbers of animals in the ecosystem. This seems like a fairly rational solution to the problem of overpopulation.
The author had another solution, however, that showed a fundamental lack of understanding about rural people and hunters. She proposed that we change policies and provide incentives to move rural people and people who live in urban sprawl into the urban core. The thought behind this idea is that it would "leave the woods for the deer and turkey, except when we visit to admire them and/or shoot them for dinner." The notion that the wilderness belongs only to the animals belittles the rural population. The author thinks that she, as an urbanite, knows what is best for rural populations. Further, it seems as if she views rural people as somehow less than human because they don't live in the cities where she feels humans belong.