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Hunting license sales continue to decline in Pa.

September 08, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - From the hunting and fishing equipment in his chambers, it would appear Franklin County Judge John Walker buys most of his decor at Gander Mountain.

An outdoorsman since his early teens, Walker has a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson on one piece of artwork:

"Adopt the pace of nature: Her secret is patience."

Impatience, or the need for instant gratification, is one possible reason Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser cited for the decline in hunting license sales in the state, which peaked at 1.3 million in 1981-82 and last year were below 1 million for the second year in a row.

"It's important to understand our culture and society has changed, demographically as well as in its expectations," Feaser said last week. In a world where faster is considered better, "hunting is not something that fits in with that expectation," he said.

Anyone who has sat for hours in a tree stand or blind waiting for game knows that patience is a key ingredient of hunting. Feaser said there are other factors in the decline, including an aging state population, changing families and greater competition for time.

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"When I was a kid, you belonged to the Boy Scouts and you went hunting and fishing. You might play a sport in high school," Walker said. "The competition for a kid's time now is so much greater than it was before."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently reported that the number of hunters 16 and older declined 10 percent between 1996 and 2006, from 14 million to about 12.5 million. The drop was biggest in the West and New England, according to the report.

The loss of hunting land is another reason for the decline, Feaser said. He cited an article that stated Pennsylvania's "urbanized footprint" grew 47 percent between 1982 and 1997, while its population increased just 2.5 percent.

Walker said he used to hunt rabbits where a large housing development now stands. Suburban development means hunters have to go farther away from home.

"You are seeing land lost that was formerly open to hunting ... Once that land is lost, they don't make any more," Feaser said. Pennsylvania is losing about 300 to 350 acres a day to development, he said.

Another factor is the changing family.

"The demographic pyramid has been turned on its head," Feaser said. The state is aging and its population growth is low, with succeeding generations having fewer children, he said.

Walker agreed, adding that more divorces mean that "Dad often doesn't take Junior hunting." Walker was an infant when his father was killed in World War II, and he went hunting with a friend and his father.

"It's a time when you build relationships," Walker said of the hours spent in the woods. "It gave a parent and child something the kid doesn't get sitting in front of a computer."

One other factor that might be driving down the number of licenses being sold is the deployments of active duty, guard and reserve military personnel during the war on terror, many of whom would be in the hunting demographic, Feaser said.

There might be less hunting in Franklin County during the upcoming deer season, but that might have more to do with herd management than a decline in interest in the sport. A few years ago, the state was broken up into a series of Wildlife Management Units (WMU), with each one allotted so many antlerless deer licenses.

Anyone can get a buck license, but the number of antlerless deer licenses, once known as "doe tags," is down this year, Franklin County Treasurer Dave Secor said. The number of licenses allotted to the county's portion of three WMUs is 12,400, down from 14,720 in 2006.

Since the licenses went on sale Aug. 6, demand has been brisk, Secor said. The licenses for wildlife management units 4A and 4B have sold out, leaving about 3,200 left for all of 5A, an area that includes parts of Franklin, Adams, Cumberland and York counties.

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