It’s no secret that interest and participation in certain outdoor pursuits, particularly hunting, has fallen during the last 20 years.
“I think mostly we do have some generational issues and differences between how people connect with the outdoors,” said Laura Ryder, hunter and aquatic education programs supervisor with New Hampshire Fish and Game.
But officials also said they’re seeing a sort of resurgence.
“Lately, we’ve seen a lot of younger folks with an interest in getting into hunting,” Ryder said, adding more women, particularly women in the 45- to 60-year-old age bracket, are expressing an interest in hunting. “We’re finding a lot of people want to try it out. They’re maybe not 100 percent sure what they think about it.”
It’s a good thing the state has a gateway for those folks. The state’s Apprentice Hunting License program let’s anyone over 18 obtain a license and hunt, provided they go with a fully-licensed hunter who is over 18 as well. The apprentice wouldn’t be required to take hunter education courses. Instead, they’d get a year to try it out, while under the guidance of a mentor. In its first year, officials saw 1,066 people — 427 of whom were women — sign up for an apprentice license, which costs the same as a regular hunting license. The vast majority of apprentice licenses were sold to people ages 16 to 34. Hunters are only allowed a single apprentice license in their lifetime.
“They can get the idea if they really like it, and then if they do, they can go through the certification program and get out there and go hunting themselves,” Ryder said.
Chuck Joy, a longtime hunter and outdoorsmen, remembered when he moved to New Hampshire in his mid-20s from Massachusetts’s south shore, he spent four or five years “taking his guns for a walk.” He knew he liked hunting and being outdoors, but he needed direction in the woods.
“I had a couple friends take me under their wing and they taught me how to hunt,” said Joy, who ultimately found success in deer and bird hunting.
Given his hunting mentors set him on the right path, it was an easy decision for Joy to do the same thing last year with one of his friends. His friend was on the fence when it came to bird hunting.
“I convinced him to go bird hunting one day last year,” Joy said. “He got his apprentice license and we went out with the dog for an afternoon. He had a lot of fun. At that point, he’d never fired a shotgun before.”
Last fall, Joy took his apprentice deer hunting as well. He wasn’t successful in his first hunt, but the apprentice experience was enough for him to go through the entire hunter certification program , Joy said.
Fish and Game holds workshops and courses, many of which are free. For those starting out hunting, it can be overwhelming in terms of the information you need to know and the gear and equipment you might think you need. But, Joy said, hunting can be as basic or as complex as you make it.
“Some of the most successful guys I know just throw on a pair or rubber boots, jeans and a camo shirt over their jacket,” Joy said.
Ryder has seen people becoming more interested in putting local, natural and organic meat on the table. She said many of the people signing up for workshops might not be people who perhaps ever thought they’d be interested in hunting, but the sustainability and health benefits are drawing them in.
“It’s kind of a basic pursuit,” said Joy, who now enjoys hunting with his son as well. “Men have always gotten meat somehow, in some way. This is really kind of the best way to do it. You can go to a supermarket and buy some meat in a package and not know where it came from or what goes into it, versus deer hunting, where you have to figure out where they are. And not only what the deer are doing, but what the people in the area are doing. Most people don’t get a deer every year. I’ve gone many years without getting a deer.”
That sentiment is born out in statistics as well. Citing a recently released study, meat was the biggest reason hunters said they hunted in 2013. In 2006, the biggest reason was for sport and recreation. Other big reasons, according to the study, were to be with friends and family and to be close to nature.
That last piece does appear to be an area where people have slipped. Children today are less likely to spend as much time outdoors, and there are repercussions for that, including being out of touch with nature, not caring as much about the environment and health issues, Ryder said.
“I think as the population ages … I think people are aging out of the activity, and I think there’s a lot of people who are just not getting outdoors,” Joy said.
New Hampshire’s Children in Nature Coalition has gotten to work on the issue. The coalition is devoted to getting kids connected with the outdoors.
“I think the conversation is up and running and there are a lot of different organizations involved in trying to turn that around,” Ryder said.