Growing up as a kid in rural Pennsylvania hunting was an intrinsic part of life. Nearly all of the men called themselves hunters, at least during deer season, and even a few of the women. The anticipation of joining their ranks was enough to fill a youngsters dreams and even sometimes keep him up at night. But those days are no more.
With hunter numbers declining across the nation, wildlife conservation agencies have rolled out the red carpet in an attempt to lure youngsters into becoming lifelong customers. Pennsylvania has instituted special youth events, youth only hunting seasons, and mentored youth hunting with no license or minimum age requirements as a way of introducing kids to hunting.
Wildlife conservation agencies have historically depended upon hunters for much of their funding so it is no small surprise that they are pulling out all of the stops in an attempt to shore up their customer base. How successful these efforts ultimately are will not be seen for a number of years however; I have not seen any data suggesting that it is making an appreciable difference.
Having been an avid consumptive hunter in the past I have found my own attitudes and values changing over the years. No longer is filling a tag or bag limit a prerequisite for a good day afield. Instead, I find that my most memorable moments are those when I am capturing images of wildlife.
Society's view of the appropriate uses of wildlife is changing. Hunting will play an important part in wildlife management for the foreseeable future however wildlife agencies need to be looking for alternate means of funding as hunter ranks shrink. Wildlife viewers/photographers are a largely untapped resource. However for it to be successful; wildlife will need to be managed for all of the users rather than for the single purpose of hunting. The question that remains to be answered is whether wildlife agencies will embrace the change or continue floundering in the paradigm of the past.