Reversing the Trend

If the decline in hunters is to be reversed, getting more women, and younger, racially diverse folks involved is essential

By Rob Breeding

don’t hate it, but I’m not a big fan of ice fishing. Admittedly, on the few occasions I’ve tried it, I’ve had fun. Still, it just isn’t in my wheelhouse. Rather than drill holes I’m more inclined to drag out bird hunting season into colder months poorly suited to bird hunting, or fly fish on suitable tailwaters.

Still, I try not to cop an air of superiority toward those who play outdoors differently than me. I’d probably give up bird hunting if I developed a severe, potentially fatal allergy to English setters, but that doesn’t mean I think less of those who bird hunt without a pooch (I will be sad for them, however). The same goes for anglers who prefer their water solid.

Anything that gets folks outside, fishing, hunting or generally enjoying the outdoors is a good thing.

That’s some of the impetus behind a two-day ice fishing class for women Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will hold in Kalispell in February. The class is part of FWP’s Becoming an Outdoors Woman program, a program now entering its 26th year.

Sara Smith, Becoming and Outdoors Woman program coordinator for FWP, said the class in part reflects the changing nature of families. Many families are led by single parents, most often mothers, but that doesn’t mean the kids still don’t need someone to help them learn to hunt and fish.

“There’s no reason mom can’t take the kids out,” Smith said.

Smith told me about a woman she spoke with at a BOW duck hunting seminar in the Bitterroot. The woman was a single parent who wanted to get her kids out in a duck blind, but she needed to educate herself first before she could become their hunting mentor.

BOW is correcting the misconception that more than 50 percent of the population can’t possess the knowledge and experience to mentor young hunters and anglers. It also fits in with the more recent R3 movement, an effort in the hunting and angling communities to recruit, retain and reactivate outdoor types.

While the problem isn’t as acute in Montana, we all know the community of hunters and anglers, especially hunters, is aging. There’s nothing wrong with older white males — I’m a card-carrying member of this demographic after all — but society looks more different than the typical hunter every day. Women outnumber men, and the racial diversity of the American melting pot continues to grow.

It’s simply a numbers game. If the decline in hunters is to be reversed, getting more women, and younger, racially diverse folks involved is essential.

If you’re wondering why we should care then you may not know much about how we pay for wildlife conservation. There are two big conservation money pots: hunting and fishing license sales and the excise taxes collected when firearms, ammunition and fishing equipment is purchased by hunters and anglers.

Hunters and anglers tax themselves so state and federal agencies have the money to manage wildlife. As hunting numbers decline, these revenues decline as well. And along with conservation funding, so goes the political clout of hunters and anglers as our numbers dwindle.

BOW has been fighting this trend for 26 years.

The BOW ice-fishing class is on Feb. 15-16. It’s for beginning or intermediate female anglers who want to learn the basics or improve their fishing skills. Participants must attend the evening class on Friday, Feb. 15 at the FWP office in Kalispell. Fishing on the ice will take place Saturday morning near Kalispell. The class is $15 and equipment is provided. You won’t need a fishing license. Longtime Kalispell fish guru Jim Vashro will instruct.

For information and to register, call Sara Smith at 444-5280 or email [email protected]. Registration forms are available at the FWP office or on the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.