A new survey from North Carolina State University suggests that the future of hunting in the United States may shift towards sustainability and ethical meat consumption.
In The Journal of Wildlife Management, the research team reported their nationwide survey of college students’ interest and participation in hunting. According to their findings, current hunters were predominantly white, male, and from rural areas. The vast majority also had family members who hunted. However, the team also found a group of potential hunters who had never hunted before but expressed interest in it and were incredibly diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, and cultural background. And the biggest motivation for this potential hunter group revolved around access to ethically sourced meat and conservation.
Background: Hunting for Hunters
The study surveyed over 17,000 undergraduate students at universities in 22 states between 2018 and 2020 to get a solid understanding of what college students think about hunting.
A key motivator here is that many state wildlife agencies financially rely on hunters to buy hunting licenses. Moreover, many state agencies place a tax on gun and ammunition sales. As those sales dwindle and fewer hunters are heading off into the forest, wildlife agencies are noticing a dip in their budgets.
“For nearly 100 years, hunting and angling have combined to provide a majority of wildlife conservation funding in the United States,” study co-author Lincoln Larson, associate professor of parks, recreation, and tourism management at North Carolina State University, stated in a press release. “Without people participating in these activities, our current conservation model won’t work. By helping college students connect with public lands and wildlife, we can create a more sustainable source of funding into the future.”
These agencies are now attempting to recruit new hunters, and going to populations that traditionally don’t hunt could be their saving grace.
Analysis: Ethical Meat May Push New Hunters into the Sport
The survey found that 29% of students had hunted before, and about 11% had accompanied a hunter during a trip. The biggest motivator in this group was that someone in their family was a hunter.
The researchers broke the students into groups of “active,” “potential,” “lapsed,” and “non-hunters.”
26% of students were active hunters, with 84% of them being white, 74% being male, and many being from rural areas. The vast majority of the active hunters also had family who hunted, with only 7% saying they were the only hunter in their family.
The smallest group were the lapsed hunters at only 3% of those surveyed, while the largest group were the non-hunters at 50%. However, the interesting finding was that the potential hunter group took up 20% of the surveyed population.
Compared to active hunters, the potential hunter group was significantly more diverse. 47% of those surveyed were female, and 38% identified as either Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, Asian, Indigenous, or other. Moreover, of this same group, 43% came from urban areas, and 74% did not have family members who hunted.
“We found many potential hunters who don’t share the same attributes as active hunters,” Larson stated. “What’s motivating them, what’s limiting their participation, and how do we build a bridge to help connect them to hunting and wildlife conservation?”
The entire set of data pointed to one unifying factor that motivated potential hunters to possibly take up the sport; access to ethical food sources. It seems that the number one reason young people would take up hunting would be the ability to access wild game that is free from the hormones and antibiotics often found in farm animals. The second highest reason fell upon wildlife conservation and hunting to maintain ecological balance.
“One of our biggest takeaways is that many students, regardless of their background, support ecological conservation motivations for hunting. They care about controlling over-populated species and about improving personal and environmental health by eating local game meat,” the study’s lead author Victoria Vayer, a former graduate student in parks, recreation, and tourism management at NC State, explained.
Outlook: The Desire for Ethical Meat
As technology seems to push us deeper into digital landscapes, and as hunting itself appears to be dwindling in popularity, good food may be something that keeps us connected to the sport.
As populations expand and food demands change, the inherent problem is that ranchers and farmers always need to grow as much as possible. Whether it is wheat or cows, food is modified, so it grows faster and bigger. Our growing awareness and possible concern about this technological shift in our food seem to push young people to want something more natural and authentic.
While one can have ethical debates over the morality of hunting animals, it is clear that a large population of college-age students may decide to take up hunting not to socialize or to score large trophies, but to simply access food free from technology.