During my career as an outdoor writer and photographer – which started back in 1977 – the traditional outdoor sports of fishing, hunting, and shooting have seen alarming declines in participation. I’ve been reading participation studies for many years, and observing programs aimed at getting more beginners started, and/or keeping people in the fold… and wishing that gloomy stories about the future would be replaced by news that more people are becoming actual, active participants.
So far, trends of decline continue.
For the past 10 years or so, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I grew up in a family headed by what we would call an outdoor generalist. My dad loved to hunt, fish, shoot, camp… anything outdoors, especially if it had to do with pursuit and capture. Friends and acquaintances would sometimes ask, “do you have any pictures of your dad where he’s not holding something up that he just caught or shot?”
As the seasons changed, we would switch from fly fishing for bluegills to casting for muskies to jigging for walleyes to grouse hunting to deer hunting to pheasant hunting to ice fishing to turkey hunting, and the cycle continued. There was always something in season.
Since my dad passed away in 2002, I have spent a lot of time looking at old photos and 8 mm movies (both Super 8 and Regular 8, if you remember those) of our family fishing and hunting adventures. Comparing the world we live in now to those days makes me worry more about the future of the traditional outdoor sports. Those images remind me of how much fun we always had out there, and they cause me to look at the world we have ‘developed’ and think that too many people are missin’ the boat.
Too many people spend too much time insulated from the natural world.
It’s harder, for many people, to find a good place to go fishing, hunting, or shooting. And it’s harder, for almost everybody, to find someone who can teach them the basics of whatever they want to try. Success–defined as catching fish on purpose, creating shooting opportunities when you go hunting, and hitting what you’re aiming at when shooting–is what helps beginners form a lasting attachment to the outdoors, and the traditional outdoor sports.
I have decided to dedicate the rest of my career to helping reverse the trend of declining participation in my favorite activities.
More details to come…