There was a time when it wasn’t cool to be a hunter in Madison.
I have a friend, an east-sider, who would pack his station wagon with his deer hunting clothes and his rifle in the dead of night and sneak out of town before sun-up. And some 30 years ago, on opening weekend of deer season, some folks would parade around the Capitol Square with blaze orange-wrapped mannequins strapped to their bumpers to mimic the way hunters of that era would strap deer to the front of their cars.
Times have changed. The local food movement, the trend toward “knowing where your food comes from” and the recognition that managing and reducing the deer herd is good for biological diversity have resulted in a much greater acceptance of hunting in urban-liberal towns like ours.
Maybe the greatest and latest indication of that came last weekend, when Cabela’s opened a store in Sun Prairie. Instead of protests, thousands flocked in to see (and maybe even buy) some of the cool stuff packed into the hunting and fishing mega-store outlet.
I thought that was curious because there has been a great deal of concern in the hunting and fishing community that participation (and with it the revenues and political clout that come with it) was on the decline. A 2008 report from UW’s Applied Population Laboratory had one model showing a decline in deer hunters from 600,000 in 2000 to only 428,000 by 2030. But trends actually seem to be following less dire models in that report, with deer license sales holding steady over time and actually going up a little this last year to 608,000. And fishing license sales for 2015 are up 25% so far.
The concern has been that as we become a more urban population, outdoors traditions won’t be passed down from father to son. So the Department of Natural Resources has launched a concerted effort to intervene and create new traditions among not just young men, but young women and other folks of any age who never had the chance to learn outdoor skills. Archery has shown special promise among women.
While it’s way too early to call these efforts a success, there does seem to be some indication that the most dire predictions might not come to pass. But what will almost certainly happen is that the heavily white male world of the outdoorsman will transition into a much more diverse place.
This is something not to be taken lightly, even if you never see yourself in blaze orange. Hunting and fishing is one way in which otherwise conservative folks get in touch with conservation. They may eschew “environmentalists,” but they see themselves as “conservationists,” and through that lens they can find their way to supporting policies that benefit the environment in general. For example, if the state Stewardship Fund is saved from Gov. Scott Walker’s budget ax, the hunting and fishing lobby will almost certainly be able to claim the lion’s share of the credit.
And what might happen in the future when those hunting and fishing camps are invaded by more moderate or even liberal young men and women can only be guessed at.