Friday, February 18, 2005

HUNTERS RECRUIT CHILDREN

Despite what newspapers and hunters tell us, hunting is a potentially dangerous sport! Every year, about 100 people are killed by hunters in the U.S., and approximately 1,000 people are wounded. Hunters can and will shoot too close to houses, roads, hikers and campers.

According to the International Hunter Education Association, in 1995, 1130 non-fatal hunting accidents occured, and 112 people were killed. In 1996, 957 humans were wounded and 91 humans were killed by hunters.

Hunters typically hate predators - especially coyotes - but they also hate any number of animals based on arbitrary notions of what constitutes a "good" animal as opposed to a "bad" animal. This type of thinking opens up a whole can of worms. Stray cats and dogs - because they're feral - are perceived as fair game to some people. We'll never know how many domesticated animals have been shot by hunters; there is no record keeping on this matter.

The following information is derived from the booklet "Money, Motherhood, and the Nineteenth Amendment," which is published by the Fund for Animals.

According to the Fund for Animals, wildlife agencies and the hunting industry are targeting women and children. To understand the hunting industry's interest in women as mothers, you have to recognize a very peculiar charactersitic of hunting: people who do not hunt when they are children are very unlikely ever to become hunters. Nationwide, more than half of all hunters, 54 percent, began hunting before they turned thirteen, 69 percent began before they turned sixteen, and 89 percent before they turned nineteen. The reason for this - according to the hunting industry's own studies - is most people find killing animals so repugnant that if they are not desensiitized to it at an early age, by an older family member in whom they vest moral authority, they will never become reconciled to it.

It is a fact that the number of hunters has been in a steady decline for the past quarter century. This reflects the fact that children are not taking up the sport in large enough numbers to replace older hunters who die or drop out. Antipathy toward bloodsports is far more likely to be reinforced by mothers, grandmothers, and aunts, than by fathers, grandfathers, and uncles, since women are more likely to object to children taking up hunting than men, first: because they find killing animals offensive, and second because they believe hunting is dangerous. And in today's family, women's objections have to be taken seriously.

Therefore, if the hunting industry wishes to reverse the decline in the number of children who become hunters, they have no choice but to convince women that hunting is both ethically acceptable and safe. Here the goal of their campaign is less to turn women into hunters than to turn them into supporters of hunting who will encourage - or at least not discourage - their children in taking up the sport.

According to Christine L. Thomas, the creator of BOW (Becoming an Outdoors Woman) : "Why is it important for women to join the hunt? . . . The number of hunters nationwide is shrinking and is expected to shrink as society becomes more urban and more families are headed by single females. Since hunting is an activity that is closely tied to socialization within the family, it is important that women become part of the tradition, if the tradition is to survive at all."

HOW PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND GOVERNMENT AGENCIES ARE
PROMOTING SPORT HUNTING TO AMERICA'S CHILDREN

In December 1994, Sports Afield magazine published an article urging hunters to desensitize their children to the suffering and death of animals at the earliest possible age. In these words, the author, Guy Martin, describes his success with his own daughter: "Eliza was two when she watched a hunting party in Texas take the hams and backstraps from a pair of deer we had shot. . . She watched quite happily . . ." The author advises readers "that you have to start them as soon as is practicable; after they've gotten some language . . . but before any fairy tale-based fears or prejudices about the natural world have had a chance to set in."

If this were just the personal philosophy of an individual, it might not be signifucant. But Guy Martin's article in a large circulation hunting magazine coincided with a broader campaign that is continuing and gaining momentum today. Consider the following examples.

* The Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission sponsors special hunts on publlic land for children as young as EIGHT YEARS old. Fourteen states, including Arkansas, Ohio, New Mexico, and Maryland have children's hunts with no minimum age limit. All told, a survey of state wildlife agencies conducted by the Fund for Animals reveals that in 1996, 42 states sponsored children's hunts.

* A growing number of states now offer cut-rate hunting licences to children under a certain age, usually sixteen. Colorado's "Youth Combination Small Game Hunting, Furbearer, and Fishing License" costs just one dollar, as opposed to $15 for an adult license. In an attractive brochure, the Colorado Division of Wildlife announces in boldface type that for this youth license, "There is no minimum age." For example, an 8-year-old with a Hunter Safety/Education Card can buy one of these licenses. Not to be outdone, New Jersey offers residents and non-resident children ages ten through thirteen a hunting license for three dollars, as opposed to $22 for a resident adult license or $100 for non-residents.

*Apparently deciding to play it safe and get their money up front, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries offers for $250 a junior Lifetime Hunting License to children under twelve. As with Colorado, there is no minimum age; the child must simply have passed the state's hunter's education class.

But even this is only a small part of the picture. In public schools, in state and national forests, even on federal lands designated as "wildlife refuges," children all across America are being recruited into recreational hunting by a politically powerful coalition that includes the hunting industry, state wildlife agencies and agencies of the federal government. This massive effort to recruit children into recreational hunting is justified to the public with noble - sounding phrases like "responsible wildlife management," preserving American traditions, and "passing on family values."

THOUGHTS ON CHILDREN'S HUNTS

Sponsored by state wildlife agencies, children's hunts have become popular recruitment tools since Florida sponsored the first one in 1985. At the end of the first decade of children's hunts, the 1995-96 season, 31 states were conducting these events. For the 1996-97 season, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which regulates the hunting of migratory birds pursuant to the international treaties, issued regulations that allowed states to hold special children's hunts for waterfowl, called National Youth Waterfowl Hunting Day. This contributed to a further increase in states sponsoring children's hunts, from 31 to 42.

Although children's hunts are intented to attract children before they enter their teens, the word "children" is almost never used in describing them. Instead, these events are called "Junior Hunts," "Youth Hunts" or, more bureaucratically, "Special Hunting Opportunities for Young People." An official of one state wildlife agency, who completed the Fund for Animals' 1995 survey on the subject of children's hunts, scratched out the word "Children's" on the questionnaire and wrote in "Youth."