Every hunter and angler has those friends who love to get fish and game from you, whether it’s jerky after you kill a deer or whether you’ve smoked some salmon from the last run where you got into a whole mess of them. People come out of the woodwork for venison chili simmering in the crockpot in the break room and always, always there’s someone so bold as to ask you for some backstrap or steak.
I’m here to tell you, no more! No more free meals! We face an unprecedented recruitment, retention, and reactivation problem in hunting today. With Boomers and some Gen Xers aging or injuring themselves out of the hunting population and the increased urbanization of America causing a steady decline in license holding hunters and anglers it seems to foreshadow a way of life in peril. Venison diplomacy or sharing our harvest, whatever you choose to call it, is one of the best ways that we can be ambassadors of our sport, draped in the blaze orange cloth of our people. Even if people don’t agree with the killing it’s very difficult to argue with the organic free range protein that came to the table through your physical labor, and when people learn more about your craft — they’ll realize your extremely hard work and diligent research. Nothing worth doing comes without a little bit of pain, and the labor you put into hunting and fishing often means long days, sore muscles, and a lot of hard work. It’s easy for non-hunters or non-anglers to trivialize how you obtain your meat for the freezer when they’ve never done it.
It’s one thing to share that work with your family, it seems another to share your success sometimes with your friends who jab at you relentlessly until you get a deer, and then ask when you’re going to bring in steak! Correct me if I’m wrong, but these same people don’t poke at others with warehouse club memberships asking when they’re going to bring in pot roast, do they? “Hey Bill, I heard pork chops were on sale this week and you had a killer day at Costco, when are you going to invite me over for a barbecue?!” It just doesn’t happen. There’s a rarity in the protein procured when you bring in venison, or wild duck, or fresh fish to a group of folks that don’t often get it. It’s a delicacy obtained by less than 4% of Americans who participate in hunting activities. The demand for venison, duck, trout, and other critters in my circle of friends far outstrips the supply I alone am able to get in a year of spending my free time struggling, researching, hiking, hunting, and fishing.
Perhaps it’s time to take your friends out. Depending on where you are in your outdoor career, you might have a garage full of hunting and fishing gear or you might just have grandpa’s old hand-me-down gun and some Wally World camo. Either is fine. If you have a gear surplus like I do, maybe it’s time to take someone new with you into the woods and loan them some gear for the day. The biggest step towards taking a friend out armed has always been licensing and hunter’s safety but that’s far less of a concern now with the advent of the Internet. There are streamlined online hunting safety tests that are completely online depending on the state, but most states honor out-of-state hunter’s safety cards when applying for a license. Check out https://www.hunter-ed.com/ for more information. If you can complete your major educational requirement sitting on your couch — and can get your friends over that hurdle the next step is to get them their license and take them out for some high action hunting like a small game hunt. Some adult onset hunters prefer the maximum payoff of large game hunting but if they’re lacking in the skills built by many years outdoors it may be daunting sighting in on an animal like an elk, skinning, gutting, quartering, and hauling. You can learn all of the same skills on smaller critters in a few hours afield.
Fishing is a little more accessible, and folks tend to have more than one fishing rod, or it’s a minimum investment to get a really cheap one to see if it’s a hobby worth pursuing. Picking a weekend with nice weather and heading to a favorite stream or reservoir is usually an easy sell for friends who already enjoy the outdoors. For a new angler without experience it may be best to treat them the same way you would a child teaching them to fish. Have patience, explain things simply but thoroughly without taking a patronizing tone, and above all else try to find somewhere with a little bit more action than normal. Bluegill in June, trout in the spring or fall are both excellent options. Ice fishing is fun, but may be a horrible introduction to fishing for someone who’s never been, though it is a quintessential winter activity where ice is safe.
I’m preaching to the choir here though. You know how to evangelize the sport, you’ve been doing it for many years through perhaps exagerated stories of your adventures at deer camp. Maybe now is the time to recruit the next generation — or maybe get some of your other buddies who talk a big game but never have gone themselves to join. Admittedly it’s a very intimate thing to bring someone along with you on a hunt that has a deadly weapon in their posession. You have to trust those people with your life, and there are some people you’re better feeding jerky to than having in the deer blind or out shooting over your dogs with you. There’s always the option of bringing a friend unarmed, it’s nice to have another walker with you in the pheasant field even if you only have one gun, or another set of eyes in the squirrel woods. This skirts the licensing issue for the time being (just be cognizant of local regulations and how they apply to unlicensed hunters and how they can assist) and gives someone the taste of what it is to hunt, and a chance for you to impart knowledge on them.
What I’m saying is less of a complete full stoppage to the gravy train of sharing the harvest but more of beginning to sell the lifestyle to others. I’ve been pretty successful over the years in talking to my friends about hunting and fishing stories and getting them involved in trips, while I love striking out on my own I’m still a social hunter. Hell, pheasant hunting even with my dogs often proves fairly difficult to run through a field without posting a bunch of people. It’s not the only way to do it, but there sure is a lot more bird action when you can bring a gaggle of folks with you. Maybe treat the desire for wild fish and game a little more like drugs. The first hit is always free, but after that you have to work for it.