The numbers are in.
Each year the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission releases a report showing both current and historical data related to licensed hunters, the hunter education program, and the number of hunting incidents and fatalities. Mining through the data can tell you how successful the program is working.
And in North Carolina, the program is working well.
The 2011-2012 hunting season saw an increase of over 16000 licensed hunters in North Carolina over the year before. While that is significant in itself, there is more to the story. The nearly 522000 licensed hunters are the most North Carolina has had since 1994-95. Sandwiched between those years were many high 300000 to mid 400000 licensed hunters.
Another story that can be deduced from the numbers is we are doing a very good job of bringing new hunters into the mix. The 19246 hunter education students that were certified during that year were the second most since 1993-94. These students are primarily taught by volunteer instructors who go through a weekend long class. The instructors are taught on not only the course material, but various teaching methods that help the student understand the material thoroughly.
Why are we picking up these extra hunters? It is not a simple one sentence answer. I personally believe it can attributed to a large variety of factors.
First, society as a whole seems to be at least tolerant of hunting. While anti-hunters are often the most vocal, the bulk of the population is either for hunting or has the mentality ‘to each his own’. In hunter education classes we teach how to be ethical. Ethics is not just whether you should do something that is lawful or not. We discuss how bloody clothing and photos showing the impact wound can be a detriment to what hunting symbolizes. Hunters are often painted as being barbaric, and scenes such as these only enhance that mentality. It seems now, and this is totally unscientific, that the anti-hunters are often painted as the fringe now, and their antics are magnified consistently.
Television shows such as River Monsters, Man vs Wild, Survivorman, Swamp People, and Duck Dynasty have captured the imagination of the viewer as many have never seen nature in this way, nor have they seen the people that interact with nature do so in an ethical manner. These shows may have done more for the acceptance, or at least tolerance of hunting than any other thing.
But society as a whole is not the only factor. Programs such as the Hunting Matters mentoring program have been a success as well. This program in particular asks the hunter to pledge to mentor a new hunter over the coming year and show them our hunting heritage. In return for this promise, the hunter will receive a hat and bumper sticker from the NCWRC.
Walter Deet James, who began the Hunting Matters program a few years ago recently wrote a piece for me explaining why it is important to recruit new hunters. Even though our numbers are increasing, our percentages as a nation are not due to overall population growth. Deet explains that if our numbers do not grow in correlation to the overall population, it will become easy for hunters and outdoorsmen to lose their say, and vital programs for both hunters, anglers, and wildlife may lose their funding.
Funding from programs such as the Pittman-Robertson Act is how the state gets much of its money to furnish our volunteer instructors with material for the over 19000 students certified last year.