The lockdowns to prevent spread of coronavirus seem to be having some beneficial, if not unintended, side effects. More people are getting into the woods and finding out nature provides.
There’s evidence that more people are turning to hunting to put meat in the freezer, largely driven by concerns over protein shortages at the local grocery store. Hunting license sales are up. States are taking innovative approaches to helping get new hunters into the woods and people are committing themselves to provide for their own needs to weather future events. There’s a role for experienced hunters to play, too. Novice, and sometimes reinvigorated hunters, are going to need some help.
The resurgence of hunting as a food supply method might seem intuitive to those who grew up or took up hunting even in recent years. Seasonally, there’s at least one species to chase in just about every state. Spring hunting is marked by turkey hunting. Late summer welcomes doves, waterfowl and early starts on deer and pronghorn. Some states have year-round open seasons on feral animals from hogs to axis deer, which is among the finest venison on four hooves.
For others, though, it took jarring news to turn them on to the fact that America’s food supply is vulnerable. Food suppliers are warning the chain from grower and supplier to the dinner table is, in some cases, nearing the breaking point. The alternative is literally roaming free on public lands.
Clean, fresh protein is there for the taking and Americans are taking notice. Combination hunting and fishing licenses in Vermont increased this spring by 25 percent. They topped last year’s figures at this time by 3,187. Taken together with turkey, archery and muzzleloader permits, that’s 7,241 additional hunters in the Green Mountain state so far this year.
Next door, New York State Department of Environmental Conversation reported a 60 percent increase in turkey permit sales. Officials there said sales of licenses and permits are up “significantly.” It’s not just a northeast thing. Colorado Parks and Wildlife said annual big game draw applications were up by over 14,700. Those are for chance to hunt in the fall. Tennessee’s license sales are already $1 million over last year and they just started. Minnesota is up by 15 percent and Indiana license sales increased 36.5 percent over last year.
That makes the odds of getting drawn just a little tighter, but it’s an encouraging trend for growing hunters. Reuters reported the pandemic spurred David Elliot of Toas, N.M., to quit dreaming of big game hunting and take steps to get out. He applied and was drawn for a New Mexico cow elk permit. He doesn’t yet own a rifle and never hunted big game. He’s planning on borrowing a rifle.
States are far from taking a wait-and-see approach. They’re applying pioneering thinking to the way they bring this new group of hunters into the fold. Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources normally requires attendance at a “field day” to complete hunter education studies and earn the certificate required to purchase a license.
This spring, the department is issuing “temporary permits” to get hunters into the woods, get them back to complete the training and keep them interested in hunting. Maine opened turkey season early and suspended registration requirements. New Hampshire did the same, asking hunters not to bring birds to check stations, but use online resources. New York moved all hunter education online and suspended in-person training requirements.
Hunting for food, of course, puts a buffer in the concerns of having enough food. The idea that cleanly-wrapped cuts of meat will always arrive at the butcher’s counter is giving way to the notion that filling the freezer with harvested wild game doesn’t equate to being a conspiracy-theorist doomsday prepper.
“People are starting to consider self-reliance and where their food comes from,” said Hank Forester of Quality Deer Management Association to Reuters. “We’re all born hunters.”
Nina Stafford told the same reporter she killed her first deer in January. Harvesting wild game now has taken on greater meaning.
“The coronavirus has only made me want to go and do it more so that I don’t have that scared feeling of where’s my next meal going to come from,” she explained.
There’s a lesson for even the most seasoned hunters. An entire group of people are now serious about harvesting their meat. It might be small game, birds or big game. They’re all looking to how they can get started and what to do once they get there. It’s a great time for hunters to invest in the next generation. They need to know everything from safe firearm handling skills to how to make a turkey slate call purr. They’re also going to need to know how to safely clean the harvested animals and tips on cooking their new meal.
That’s why NSSF created the +One Movement. It’s a pledge by hunters to take someone hunting this year. The numbers show there are new hunters clamoring to get into the woods, marshes and fields. At the +One letsgohunting.org site, there are all the resources to help someone get started. The site also has resources to learn about state-specific hunting apprenticeship programs and find a way to get plugged to getting outdoors, hunting regulations, firearm safety tips and places to hunt not far from home.
The coronavirus pandemic is changing things in America, but not all those changes are bad. This is awakening many to the importance of being self-sufficient, of taking responsibility for the food on the dinner table and knowing hunting is being cherished for all it provides to the mind, body and soul.
Mark Oliva is the Director of Public Affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.