Members of the House Water and Environment Committee last month with Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism officials to discuss Millennials’ apparent lack of enthusiasm for hunting, fishing and camping.
“How do we compete with a society that has instant access to a wide variety of entertainment options?” Steve Adams, of the KDWPT, asked in a Topeka Capital-Journal article. “When it takes an hour or two hours to get to a boating site, when it takes an hour, two hours to get to a fishing site, and you’re competing against a game on a cellphone that someone can access instantly — how do you compete in that realm? Those are some of the things we are struggling with continuing to try to find answers for.”
For one thing, image is everything. These sports need to be promoted in an apolitical, exciting way that tells people of all walks of life that it’s cool and fun to do these activities. Media is one area where that is important, whether it’s social media or traditional media. According to a survey from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a larger percentage of female Millennials (20 percent) hunt compared to their male counterparts than in previous generations (10 percent). Part of that comes from the popularity of media containing strong females — Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games,” Ellie from “The Last of Us,” as examples — who hunt and shoot archery. Similarly, consider the increase in crossbow sales — which jumped 80 percent from 2006 to 2012, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturer’s Association — after Daryl Dixon from AMC’s “The Walking Dead” became a household name. It’s obvious the media has a big part to play in the popularity of certain hobbies, and the hunting and fishing industries would do well to buddy up with the video game and movie industries to continue to make the sports mainstream across a younger audience.
I’m sure some of you will stop dead in your tracks at this point, because there’s no way that an outdoors writer just advocated for video games, but the truth is the industry is already becoming much more ambulatory than it once was. Gamers are no longer sitting in dark, dank basements playing Super Mario Bros. on the NES. They are in parks and at lakes, enjoying their favorite games on handheld or mobile devices in a social setting and enjoying the outdoors at the same time. Even the newest Nintendo console, the Nintendo Switch — which is set to release March 3 — is designed solely around the ability to pick your game system up and take it with you to play wherever you go. The gaming industry is becoming a much more willing partner in the movement to get children up off their collective derrières and out into the world.
If your kids want to play a game while waiting for a fish to bite or for a turkey to show up, then by all means let them. They’re still getting outside, and pretty soon the natural beauty of the world around them will capture their attention away from their game and they’ll learn to appreciate what it is that people love about these pursuits. It’s time hunters and anglers stopped seeing games as the problem and started looking at it as a potential solution, instead. Millennials and younger generations alike will appreciate the sentiment.
Another facet of this issue to consider is the difference in diversity between the different generations. While the predominant demographic for hunters is fairly similar between the Millennial generation and other generations (96 percent white to 98 percent white, respectively), there are about twice as many people of other races in the Millennial generation as in the Baby Boomers’, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. What this means is that the hunting and fishing industries must do more to attract non-whites to the sports if they hope to keep similar numbers.
The financial commitment required for these pastimes also is worth consideration. Millennials hit adulthood in the midst of the Great Recession, and with billions of dollars in college loan debt, stagnant wages and little room for advancement, people in this age group by-and-large don’t have the discretionary spending power that their parents’ generation did. Hunting, fishing and camping can all very quickly become costly endeavors, and if the choice is between going hunting or paying rent, people will naturally choose rent. According to a September 2016 survey by Career Builder, about one-third of Millennials in the workforce also work multiple jobs, which further cuts into their free time and prevents them from enjoying the outdoors as much as other generations before them.
I don’t believe, as some suggest, that Millennials are naturally opposed to going outside and enjoying nature. Quite the opposite, in fact. The proposed Kansas Outdoor Center in Douglas County is one example of business or government actually targeting Millennials’ love for being active and enjoying nature. Kayaking, a fast-growing sport in particular among the age group, can easily translate into an increased interest in fishing or camping. Offering the sports or activities that young adults already love to do outdoors can help other, more traditional activities gain in popularity, as well.
But in the end, perhaps the most important factor in why people pick up hunting or fishing is because they are introduced to the sports at an early age by their parents, grandparents or other relatives. That’s why it’s vital to the future of those sports to take children out to the woods and streams and get them engaged early on.
It’s also important that adults remember that the day is about the children and to make sure, first and foremost, that the child is involved and having fun.
Taking a kid out in a boat to sit and watch while you reel in crappie after crappie isn’t an effective way to get them hooked on the sport. Make sure they’re having success, even if it means you don’t drop a pole in the water. Same with hunting: Focus on getting them a turkey or deer rather than worrying about getting one for yourself. It’s a simple, yet important rule to remember when drawing children in to the sports — they have to experience the fun for themselves.
After all, if you’re not having fun, what’s the point?