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Hunting appears on decline in N.C., nationally

Article published Oct 9, 2005
The Associated Press

Just a few years ago, Donna Batten couldn't have imagined herself shooting a deer. Now she looks forward to fall afternoons when she can sit in a deer stand with her 10-year-old son and hunt deer.

Batten hasn't had a complete change of heart - her son Michael Robert Jr. is always the one with the shotgun - but she decided to take her son hunting near their Selma home when he talked of hunting by himself in the future.

"I'm doing this for him," Batten said. "Two years ago, I can say, I was against anyone killing a deer. But the deer around here have gotten dangerously abundant. ... I've almost had wrecks."

Many advocates for the sport believe hunting is a troubled tradition and hope for more attitudes like Batten's. Spreading urban areas have transformed many hunting grounds into neighborhoods and shopping malls, forcing teenagers to rely on adults to drive them miles from their homes in the hunt of wild turkeys, foxes, bears and deer.

The number of licenses for hunting big game and other wildlife is on the decline nationally, dropping to 14.7 million in 2003 from 16.4 million in 1983, according to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. North Carolina's numbers are also down, with the state issuing 304,833 hunting licenses last year compared to 380,851 in 1994.

The state has 2 million acres of public and private land managed by the state Wildlife Resources Commission for public hunting, trapping and fishing.

"We're competing for our young people with so many other activities," said Chuck Bennett, a wildlife commission member. "There's sort of a small window in there, by about age 13, that if we don't get our young people interested in hunting and fishing, we lose them."

This week, the National Shooting Foundation and Wildlife Resources Commission will hold a seminar in New Bern to discuss ways to recruit more women, minorities and families to the sport. And advocates hope those kinds of efforts will bring more children to the sport.

"When you talk about recruiting the youth, you have to recruit the parents," said John Pechmann, chairman of the state's wildlife commission.

Bobby Purcell, executive director of the Wolfpack Club and a member of the state wildlife commission, is one who uses hunting as a way to connect with his teenage son, John. He's on the road a lot for his job as North Carolina State University's chief athletics booster, but said he reserves a handful of weekends each year for hunting.

"One of the things I really enjoy about taking my son out is he gets to appreciate what God gave us and how beautiful our nature is, and learn more about protection and conservation," Purcell said. "It's not all about just hunting. It's more about nature and respecting nature and conserving nature."

That's a common refrain from hunters, who downplay the bloodiness of the sport and talk instead of helping manage wildlife populations.

Chris Moorman, an assistant forestry professor at NCSU and an extension wildlife specialist, said hunting helps society stay in touch with its surroundings.

"If hunting were to die out," he said, "kids would lose their tie, their connection, to the land that they historically have had in North Carolina."

Information from: The News & Observer

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