“My First Hunt” is the South Dakota Game, Fish, & Parks Department’s latest way of getting more kids to drop their video games and go hunting.

“We invite you to share a photo of your first hunt,” says the SD GF&P website.  “Your picture can be of you with your game, or with your family and friends…”

Fishing.jpgSouth Dakota is not alone in being concerned about how to get more kids interested in hunting.  Declining numbers in recent years have concerned hunting organizations and state game departments funded by license fees.

So-called youth mentor programs have been one way the hunting community has responded to the dip in interest in hunting.   But that dip may be reversing itself due to a factor that did not exist recently–10 percent official unemployment, and probably 15 percent unofficially.

The once-in-a-decade chance to take an Elk sent 50 hunters into Arizona’s high country in questionable weather and ended up getting them all stranded when they were trapped by an early blizzard.

There is probably nothing that says local food more than hunting, and people across the country without enough cash for beef, pork and poultry at the grocery store are definitely being counted among those hunting this season.

While sport and hunter organizations usually come out with somewhat higher numbers, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service figures in the ten years ending in 2006, the number of hunters in the U.S. declined to 12.5 million, down from 14 million.

The same data shows the number of people who fish fell to 30 million in 2006, down from 35.5 million a decade earlier.

Numbers like that have state game departments doing everything they can to recruit and retain hunters.   No other group pays as much to support wildlife than those who hunt and fish.

Big hunts continue to draw interest.  Montana’s “fair chase” wolf hunt in November ended with 72 wolves being shot.   A quota of 75 had been set, but Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks ended the season before going over the limit.

The Idaho wolf hunt, which continues in some of the state’s 12 zones, continues until March 2010 has taken down about 120 wolves with another 100 to go.

Less exotic hunting, like for pheasants in South Dakota, is also occurring at a brisk pace this year.   The late corn harvest in the upper Midwest means hunters have continued to get their birds in December.

Hunting and fishing–like golf and skiing–are feeling the impacts of demographics, namely the aging of the baby boom generation.   State game agencies are counting on their youth mentor and other similar programs to offset those numbers.

Some hunters are almost spiritual about the need.

“Who will there be in 40 years to understand what it really means to be wild,” asks Mike Bleech of www.nwpaoutdoors.com.  “Without occasionally stepping into a wild role, understanding is impossible.  Certainly mountain biking, ATV riding, trekking with two trekking poles or hiking—all excellent activities–will not instill an understanding of what it means to be wild, Until you have at lest sought to kill your food, you cannot understand.”