Is a New Breed of Hunters Joining Our Ranks?

Urban, liberal hunters have slowly joined the hunting ranks for nearly a decade now. They're young and uninitiated, and their motivations might surprise you.

Is a New Breed of Hunters Joining Our Ranks?

Several years ago, national media outlets began covering a trend that was quickly gaining traction: Young urban people — often millennials, often left-leaning nonconformists — were taking up hunting.

These people were motivated by healthy lifestyles and organic food and, sometimes, a distaste for commercial farming. Sub-groups are cited and labeled in different ways, depending on the article you read. This makes it increasingly difficult to identify who these people are and what they’re about. They’ve been called hipsters, locavores, lumbersexuals, lefty hunters, urban hunters and red-meat hunters.

It's not uncommon for staff working in a couple of archery shops — one near Phoenix, Arizona and the other outside of San Francisco, California — to see customers who fit the description of urban hunters depicted in these national trend stories.  Meanwhile, at an Archery Trade Association trade show, the organization launched a campaign introducing this customer type to archery and bowhunting retailers and manufacturers. The intent of the campaign was to increase awareness of a new customer type, a new opportunity and possibly an added revenue source.

urban liberal hunters

Hunting, for suburban and urban young people, is an act of disaffiliation just as a vote for Trump was for young Republicans who gave not a second look at establishment primary candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. Photo: Paul Sherar

Recently, Outside magazine published, "So You Want to Be a Hunter," a story targeting new hunters. Typically, this magazine tends to cater to non-consumptive outdoors men and women — backpackers, kayakers, surfers and cyclists, for instance. Most Outside readers are not hunters. Based on the magazine’s brand and messaging, it’s fair to suggest its audience tends to be more urban and suburban, less conservative and more affluent than the readers of many hunting-centric magazines.

As such, Outside’s Wes Siler gave an eloquent and fact-based defense of hunting and encouraged his readers to give it try.

“Something that contributes huge amounts of money to animal conservation is seen as a blood sport,” he wrote. “The most humane way to put meat on your table is seen as cruel. The healthiest source of protein is seen as gross. But just because other people aren’t prepared to apply critical thinking to their food sources doesn’t mean you can’t.”

Siler uses the article to walk through the basics.

“Never bought a gun before?” he asked. “Don’t be intimidated. Most gun stores are friendly places staffed with knowledgeable people.” He also lets readers know that you don't have to be politically aligned with the NRA to be a gun owner.

The NRA reference in Siler's article underlines a larger point: A more left-leaning version of a hunter has emerged; or at least popular media believes this group exists or it wouldn't be writing stories targeting the leftist, urban hunter.

urban liberal hunters

This ad, which ran in 2016, was part of a campaign created by the Archery Trade Association. The campaign's intent was to make bowhunting retailers and manufacturers aware of a new customer profile, a new opportunity and possibly an added revenue source. Ad courtesy of the Archery Trade Association.

What explains the emergence of such a group?

If you look at trends outside of hunting, the movement makes sense. There’s an air of disaffiliation and nonconformity that’s popular in this country. Both President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump are gestures of disaffiliation, a move away from the more established choices represented by longstanding political powerhouses: the Clintons and the Bush family, for instance. Now, how do presidential elections relate back to hunting? About 94 percent of America’s population does not hunt. So, if one were to take up hunting that would make one disaffiliated from the mainstream. Hunting, for suburban and urban young people, is an act of disaffiliation just as a vote for Trump was for young Republicans who gave not a second look at primary candidates Jeb Bush or established senator Marco Rubio.

Don’t buy the premise of nonconformity and disaffiliation?

Consider this: While most modern Americans are downloading music to their smart phones and enjoying the high-quality sound of a digitized format, guess who isn’t? Millennials. They’re buying vinyl records instead. According to Recording Industry Association of America, shipments increased 52 percent to $222 million in 2015. More recently, vinyl records continue to be a bright spot among physical formats, with revenues up 10 percent to $395 million in 2017. The last time LP (long-playing vinyl albums) sales were anywhere close to what the recording industry is enjoying today was a quarter century ago, in 1989.

There are other “dead” products of yesteryear, like the tobacco pipe, that have surged back to relevance, thanks to young, mostly urban hipsters. They’ve made pipe smoking hip again. In 2014, for the first time in decades, the sales of pipes and pipe tobacco wasn’t down. There are countless stories just like these. Pocketknives are popular again. Heavy, old cast iron — the kind that requires curing — is the cookware of choice.

Maybe hunting is being adopted by an unlikely group because it's utterly unpopular. That's a blasphemous statement to make in an article featured on a hunting website. But if being unpopular does for hunting what it's done for vinyl records, then unpopular would appear to be a popular choice. And unpopular we hunters in fact are. How unpopular? Only 6 percent of America's citizenry still hunt.

Emma Marris, writing for Slate.com, does a good job of providing context to this phenomenon. If there is in fact a new urban hunter emerging, this passage from Marris effectively describes its origin story:

"I think the evolution of the new lefty urban hunter goes something like this:

2006: Reads Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, about the ickyness of the industrial food complex. Starts shopping at a farmer’s market.

2008: Puts in own vegetable garden. Tries to go vegetarian but falls off the wagon.

2009: Decides to only eat “happy meat” that has been treated humanely.

2010: Gets a chicken coop and a flock of chickens.

2011: Dabbles in backyard butchery of chickens. Reads that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg decided to only eat meat he killed himself for a year.

2012: Gets a hunting permit, thinking “How hard can it be? I already totally dominate Big Buck Hunter at the bar."

And all it (urbanites adoption of hunting) takes is overturning two long-held beliefs among many urban liberals: that it is wrong to personally kill animals and that hunters are all rural conservatives.

In response to this newish interest in hunting, some state agencies are creating educational workshops and outreach programs to help.

“Many state wildlife agencies now offer field-to-table styled programs that are hugely successful,” said Emily Beach, past director of partnership and program development for the Archery Trade Association. “People need and want a trustworthy source to learn how to hunt, beyond the required hunter-safety courses prospective hunters must take in order to obtain a hunting license.”

Beach, who oversaw the development of the archery group’s Explore Bowhunting and Explore Bowfishing curriculums, believes one of the greatest barriers is simply not knowing how to hunt.

urban liberal hunters

In Kentucky, the state’s wildlife agency offers Field to Fork workshops for Kentucky residents who would like to harvest their own local meat, but don’t know where to start. Image: Kentucky Fish and Wildlife

In Kentucky, the state’s wildlife agency offers Field to Fork workshops for Kentucky residents who would like to harvest their own local meat, but don’t know where to start. Its next scheduled workshop is in December, and it's designed for adults who are beginner to novice deer hunters. The cost is an affordable $25 for a two-day event.

The agency’s website describe the workshop as a “hands on program for those who are unfamiliar with the post-harvest process of deer hunting.” Topics covered include butchering, meat safety, meat canning, cooking, vacuum sealing and grinding.  Each hunting workshop is a little different. One might focus on the biology of game animals and the habitats of featured game animals, while another might cover hunting tactics, scouting and field dressing wild game.

Based on similar outreach efforts by state and federal wildlife agencies, like the Field to Fork initiative in Kentucky, it's clear a "come one, come all" mentality prevails — a mentality that may not be shared by many hunters. Yet, with only 6 percent of U.S. citizens hunting, there's not a lot of room for varied opinions. Not when you consider that hunters are dependent on healthy wildlife populations. And wildlife is dependent on conservation projects and long-term planning to keep habitat intact and thriving, in spite of increased urbanization and dwindling rural lands. Of course, none of this is possible without hunting equipment and hunting license sales.  In fact, money generated from license fees and excise taxes on guns, ammunition and angling equipment provide about 60 percent of the funding for state wildlife agencies, which manage most of the wildlife in the U.S.

Don't sleep on the need for new hunters. Based on state-by-state hunter recruitment programs, it's clear a "come one, come all" mentality prevails among state and federal wildlife agencies  — a mentality that may not be shared by many hunters. Yet, with only 6 percent of U.S. citizens hunting, there's not a lot of room for dissenting opinions. Photo: Paul Sherar

Of this possible insurgency of new, atypical, young hunters joining the ranks of hunting’s current 6 percent, Meghan Walsh offered this "outsider" perspective in an article for Ozy.com:

“Even I — someone who for ethical reasons became a vegetarian at age 8 and can’t kill a cockroach — was floating down a river with a pack of twenty-somethings decked out in cutting-edge gear and armed with rifles. And not only that, I was just about ready to go buy my own gun so I could be the one holding Bambi in my sight lines. The irony of it all is that the proliferation of bloodlust, in the end, may be what saves Bambi and her polka-dotted kin.”

Further Reading:

Bloomberg Businessweek: A Camouflage Clothing Line Wants to Be Lululemon for Hunters
There are far more hunters in the U.S. than rock climbers or surfers, and almost as many as there are skiers and snowboarders, according to annual surveys by the Outdoor Foundation. Bowhunting, in particular, is booming; because it requires more tracking, young, fitness-focused people are picking it up. “We’re finding that it’s resonating with the farm-to-table movement,” says Jon Edwards, president of Schnee’s, a hunting retailer based in Bozeman, Montana.

Buzzfeed.com: How Gun Culture Won Over Liberals
The current flare-up in the long political battle over gun laws is coming at a moment when American gun culture is more expansive than ever, having gained a foothold among the type of coastal elites that, just a couple decades ago, would have dismissed the very idea of holding a rifle as obscene and offensive. Hunting and recreational shooting, once viewed by the left as backwater pastimes, have won over a liberal coalition of eco-conscious locavores, hipster hunters, and adventure-seeking New York media elites.

Garden and Gun magazineHunt Couture
When an invitation for a ladies-only dove shoot arrived two Octobers ago, Katherine Parker Clark didn’t worry about her aim. The Charleston, South Carolina, native is a crack shot who grew up hunting with her father and brothers. Instead, she faced a familiar dilemma that has long plagued women in the field: What could she wear that was both functional and feminine? Outdoor gear that fits that description makes for much tougher quarry than dove.

Jezebel: Attention, Hipsters: Hunting Is the New Beekeeping, So Get on That.
The adoption of hunting as a hobby by those who bear zero resemblance to the cast of Duck Dynasty continues! When last we checked in, it was women taking up their rifles in the hopes of bringing home the venison. Now it’s food-supply-conscious, authenticity-seeking urbanites—i.e., hipsters.

Minnesota Public Radio: Hipster Hunting: Is the local food movement boosting deer hunter ranks?
That sensibility is also what got DNR plant ecologist Ethan Perry into hunting. “I’m into gardening, local foods, and hunting fit into that,” he explained. He said he remembers actually being “turned off by hunting as a kid.” But he slowly came around, went out for the first time three years ago, and has harvested a deer every year since.

 

Featured photo: Adam Coker



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