I grew up in a hunting family. My grandfather retired when I was 10 years old and consequently included me in all his hunting adventures. My father furthered the tradition for my sisters and me. The love and respect of the outdoors, the comradeship woven into the "outdoor experience" has carried over to my children and grandchildren. Everyone in my family who is old enough to hunt has a California lifetime hunting license.
Yet, times are changing in California for those of us in the hunting community. If we are to continue with our traditional hunting heritage, we must all abide by and demonstrate the highest ethical standards in the pursuit of wild game. The fish and wildlife of California are in the public trust hunting is a privilege. We better respect wildlife or we will inevitably lose the right to hunt altogether.
No longer can we afford to sit back and let the likes of California Outdoor Heritage, the NRA and Western Outdoor News represent our dwindling numbers and devalue our lifetime hunting licenses.
In 2002, the state issued 280,682 "resident California" hunting licenses. In 2010, it issued just 251,612 a drop of more than 9 percent in just eight years.
As of Aug. 30, there were only 160,146 licenses issued to Californians. The decline in junior licenses is even steeper an astonishing 18 percent.
There are probably a number of reasons we can point to, but the most obvious is that the face of California is changing.
The Golden State's population exceeds 38 million, and only six-tenths of one percent call themselves hunters by buying a license. We have fewer places to hunt, less game to hunt and fewer opportunities. There are many more diversions, family and economic obligations. Most importantly, our image as a steward of wildlife has taken a severe beating.
We dress up in camo and come out of the grocery store with a cart full of beer. We have been accused of ignoring the doctrine of fair chase. We sometimes over-shoot our limits. We endanger all wildlife by spewing deadly lead into the environment. Some of us have been caught selling venison and abalone to restaurants, or leave game to die and rot after removing the trophy parts like antlers, gallbladders and prime cuts of meat.
Others kill non-game species for fun, shoot out of season and bait the hunting fields with attractants, shoot pen-raised birds for target practice and train hounds to tree bears so we can shoot them.
True only a small number of us are guilty, but look who gets the headlines! This image of abuses is what the other 99.4 percent absorb. It's no wonder that Mommy won't let little Johnny get a license and go out with Uncle Joe to his deer stand, duck or pheasant club.
A recent survey of public opinion by the California Department of Fish and Game indicated that 72 percent of respondents believed that when game laws are broken, they are broken intentionally. Other findings said hunters drink too much and engage in unsafe activities. Not exactly the Teddy Roosevelt image, nor one that little Johnny's mother is likely to warm up to.
The 99.4 percent of the public that doesn't hunt will tolerate the hunter, providing we do it ethically. That means we consume what we shoot, we abide by "fair chase" and we demonstrate our collective aversion to poaching. We must police ourselves or be policed by others and if by others, I promise you we will not like the outcome. That will be the time to put our fancy Brownings, Remingtons, and Winchesters on eBay.
Unfortunately, organizations like NRA, COHA and WONews are not helping our cause. They are focused only on our Second Amendment rights. They claim that almost every change such as banning the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting or banning its use in condor habitat is a threat to gun ownership. They are not focused on issues of hunter ethics, rebuilding our image or wildlife conservation.
Hunters need to change that, and here is what every California citizen hunter and non-hunter alike can do: Support our game wardens by joining the California Game Wardens Foundation (www.thegwf.org), and turn in poachers and polluters by supporting the CalTIP Foundation and calling the CalTIP hotline (888-DFG-CALTIP) to report abuses.