According to a 2016 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, only about 5% of Americans hunt. If that number seems small, that’s because it is. In fact, hunting participation has decreased to half of what it used to be fifty years ago. There’s no sign of the decline stopping anytime soon.
Those falling numbers are a huge concern for conservation agencies. Most of the money for wildlife conservation efforts comes from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, tags and stamps, as well as excise taxes from sporting goods like firearms, ammo, and fishing equipment. Those sources comprise about 60% of total funds that state wildlife agencies receive. Without that money, agencies have been forced to make cuts to their staff, land management, and even invasive species programs.
There are multiple reasons why hunting rates have declined. With more people living in cities and urban areas, there is less access to public lands for outdoor pursuits. Another factor is the myriad of hobbies and activities that compete for teens’ and adults’ limited leisure time – from video games and Netflix to youth sports and extracurricular activities. In addition, older hunters are aging out of the sport and young people aren’t becoming hunters to replenish the group’s numbers.
Despite all this, there is some good news. Though hunting rates are decreasing, participation in other outdoor activities like bird-watching, kayaking, hiking are steady. And fishing rates are increasing, too. From 2011 to 2016, the number of anglers grew 8% - increasing from 33.1 million to 35.8 million. That growth may be a sign of the of success of angler retention and recruitment programs.
The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) is a national non-profit organization that works with the industry and government to increase participation in recreational boating and fishing. Through their “Take Me Fishing” and “Vamos A Pescar” initiatives, they have run several campaigns to target key demographics, like women and Hispanic populations, and get them involved in fishing.
There’s still a problem though, and it’s all about age. When it comes to hunting and fishing, participants overwhelmingly skew older. In an age of instant-everything, where the digital world rules, it’s hard to get teens and young adults involved in the outdoors. Sitting in a stand at the crack of dawn and waiting for deer to wander by isn’t stimulating enough for this generation. That’s where bowfishing comes into play.
Bowfishing combines the excitement of hunting with the accessibility of fishing. Participants must be constantly engaged to be successful. From spotting the fish and calculating arrow trajectories, to anticipating where to move next. Plus, bowfishing is faster-paced than simply waiting for a bite. It’s a mental and physical challenge.
There’s another reason bowfishing is more appealing for younger participants. It’s a group sport. Today’s teens and young adults seek out activities that help them connect and socialize with others. Sitting alone in a blind or stand is too isolating for many. But if they can bowfish with friends or a family member, it’s more likely that they’ll participate more often.
Unlike hunting, where a large investment in gear and time is required, bowfishing is relatively easy to take up. It’s even affordable when compared to traditional fishing. The largest investment needed for someone new to bowfishing is the cost of the bow, and even those can be purchased second-hand for the budget-conscious bowfisherman.
Finally, there’s one other factor that makes bowfishing so appealing for younger generations, and it has to do with conservation. Many people support causes that protect the environment. Bowfishing can also be a conservation activity. Yes, shooting (certain) fish helps the environment. Invasive species like the Asian carp are a popular target for bowfishermen, and their efforts help manage their numbers. By promoting this message, the industry may be able to attract more young people to the sport.
With these factors in mind, you can see why bowfishing could become the new modern outdoor tradition for a younger generation. It’s up to us as participants in the sport, and the bowfishing industry as a whole, to make sure we educate those who will be future sportsmen and stewards of our environment.