NBS Outdoor Fall Issue 2020

ones. The latter are more likely to argue and advocate for big game than small, in the process determining that resources will shift away from small game programs. Neither believes the often repeated lament that there’s no small game to hunt holds true. It’s true that, in parts of the country, wild pheasants and bobwhite quail have disappeared, and ruffed grouse are struggling. But squirrel populations are robust everywhere, and rabbits and doves remain almost superabundant. That’s where opportunity lies, O’Dell said. Arizona, for example, has more hunters applying for deer licenses each year than it has licenses to award. So not everyone who wants to hunt deer each year gets to. “But we could triple our population of dove hunters and our harvest with no negative impacts,” O’Dell said. “We have to sell what we have available to sell.” The Fish and Wildlife Association tasked with looking into the small game issue will examine all of those possibilities and more, like how the loss of small game hunters might impact sportsmen’s organizations that in turn support habitat restoration. The overarching question to be determined, though, is whether small game hunting’s survival matters. Everyone is concerned with perpetuating hunting in general, Taylor said. There’s at least a little less consensus on what role small game hunting should or needs to play in that. “Are we going to worry about declines in any particular category of hunters, or are we just going to try to maintain hunter numbers by hook or by crook, whatever they want to hunt or can hunt or that we can provide?” Taylor said. “That’s sort of the central question.”

O’Dell for one believes it’s essential that small game hunting survives. In years gone by, most hunters pursued a little bit of every kind of game. They were what he calls “all-purpose” hunters. They’re disappearing, however, to the detriment of small game hunting. “I think that’s where some of the disconnect is happening. People are specializing. And not in a good way,” O’Dell said. He was trending that way himself before rediscovering small game. He’s now a diehard advocate — some call him the “small game evangelist” — who a few years ago became the first person to complete the American squirrel slam. That involves harvesting all eight species of tree squirrels in the United States. The reason for his change is simple, he said — small game hunting is fun! There are typically long seasons, large bag limits, and, accordingly, lots of action. State wildlife agencies scrambling to replace the baby boomers who will age out of hunting altogether in the next decade need to get that message out, he believes. “It’s an ‘I bethcya’ thing,” O’Dell said. “As in there’s a bag limit and I betchya’ I can hit it. Usually you don’t. But it’s fun trying.” Dunfee, too, believes it’s forms of small game hunting are on track to blink out even sooner than in 20 years.. ” “ If existing trends continue, some

important small game hunting survives. It’s how most hunters alive today got into the sport, he noted. And, he believes, circling back around to it might just be the best way to recruit a new generation of sportsmen and -women. “If we allow hunting to be relegated to cultural or political silos, hunting will lose,” Dunfee said. “So small game is a part of the bigger picture. And it just might be the most effective tool in our toolbox. Who knew we’d have to go back to where we came from to move forward? Maybe our dads and granddads knew what they were doing.” He’s optimistic, more so than at any time in the last few years, that sportsmen and wildlife agencies are starting to get that. Time is running short, though, Taylor said. If existing trends continue, some forms of small game hunting are on track to blink out even sooner than in 20 years. Rabbit hunting’s fans may all be gone within 10 years, he said. Pheasant and grouse hunters could be gone in 11. If wildlife managers and sportsmen are to save small game hunting, they’ve got to act fast. “We obviously hope there is some sort of floor out there, where these trends will level out at some point. But I don’t think that’s necessarily guaranteed. And the floor might be pretty close to zero, or close enough to zero boutique types of hunting rather than mainstream types of hunting,” Taylor said. “So if we’re going to do something about this, if we think there is something we can do about this, we probably shouldn’t wait too much longer. Because we don’t have a lot of time.” that these hunting types are largely irrelevant or sort of

26 • NBS OUTDOOR • Fall 2020

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