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We are not alone

5/31/2006

This is the time of the year when hunters flock together for various expositions, conventions and fund-raising dinners.

These events provide an economic boost to hunting organizations and the businesses that support them.

They also provide an equally important socializing force, for they enable hunters to recognize their numbers and build a sense of camaraderie.

Hunting is generally a relatively solitary sport, even in those public refuges that can sometimes be crowded.

You generally don't hunt with just anybody, but rather special friends.

And the average hunter would prefer not to see anyone else, except in their party, when they are afield.

This creates a potentially difficult situation, for while the ideal experience of hunting is isolation, the survival of hunting lies in numbers.

Hunters are a minority group, under attack from a vocal, well-financed anti-hunting movement.

The future of hunting lies with the numbers of hunters who support hunting at the ballot box and in the political process, as well as through their dollars that support conservation.

So, in the calendar year of the hunter, now is the time to build communication and cooperation systems to get things done.

American hunters do a fairly good job of linking with each other through various meetings and organizations, but how much time does the average hunter spend learning about hunting abroad?

You may study opportunities for hunting abroad, but what about the resident hunters of those countries? What do you know about them? I'd be willing to bet, the answer would be, "Not much."

Recently I got some statistics on the numbers of hunters and shooters around the world from the World Forum on the Future of Shooting Sports Activities.

According to its figures, some 70 million people around the globe participate in various forms of shooting sports, and about half of those are hunters.

These are the hunters who buy licenses; the number of people who hunt is greater when you add in those who hunt for food.

There are less than 1 million more people who depend on hunting for food — subsistence hunters, like Eskimos, Lapps, Bushmen, Amazon rainforest tribes, Ainu and Australian Aborigines.

But in Africa and parts of Asia, there are many, many people who occasionally kill animals for food. So I would guess that the number of hunters in the world is at least 50 million.

In North America, there is relatively little contact between hunters from different countries. This is too bad.

Each country has its own unique conditions, customs, history and legacy of hunting.

Pooling that knowledge strengthens hunting because it teaches us about the heritage of hunting.

Understanding that heritage and sharing it with others helps to inform non-hunters about the place of hunting in human society — a point that is not that well understood by many non-hunters.

And the fate of those resident hunters abroad may influence your abilities to go to their country and hunt some day.

So, to start some of that international bridge-building, let me share some of the statistics about numbers of hunters in other parts of the world.

Country Number of Hunters Year
France 1,479,562 1998
Belgium 28,947 1997
Germany 339,160 1998
Italy 730,000 2000
Ireland 120,000 1995
UK 644,999 2000
Denmark 175,000 2000
Greece 293,000 1995
Austria 110,000 1997
Sweden 310,000 1997
Finland 291,738 1997
Norway 180,000 1998
Hungary 48,000 1998
Czechoslovakia 233,700 1999
Russia 2,454,000 1999
South Africa 100,000 1998
Japan 191,282 1999
Australia 600,000 1998
New Zealand 113,700 1997

These statistics clearly show that while the US has only 6 percent of the world population, we have roughly a third of the world's hunters.

If we could assemble hunters from around the world, one of the things that they would talk about is whether the number of hunters is increasing or decreasing in one's country.

In the last 15 years, the number of hunters in the U.S. has dropped roughly 3 million, from 16.5 million to 13.5 million.

That is sobering, but consider what has happened abroad and you can learn some important things about the present state of hunting, as well as its future:

Numbers of Hunters
Country 1979 2000
France 2,075,369 1,457,538
Italy 1,800,000 750,000
UK 867,149 644,999

The fact that France has lost a half-million hunters and Italy has lost nearly 1 million in the last 20 years should be significant.

Understanding why these numbers are dropping is important to preventing a similar dramatic decline in the U.S.

In the United Kingdom, it surely has to do with restrictive firearms laws. This also is true for Canada and Australia, which are experiencing similar declines of hunters.

On a positive note, not all countries are experiencing a decline in hunters. Consider the following:

Numbers of Hunters
Country 1979 2000

Greece 250,000 275,000
Sweden 320,000 320,000
Austria 98,224 110,131
Finland 260,730 287,885
Denmark 168,000 175,000
Germany 257,406 347,249

Here again, it would be nice to know more about why some countries have increasing numbers of hunters.

The future of hunting lies in numbers. The more that the hunting community can work together and create ways to support recruitment of new hunters, the more likely it is that hunting has a future at all.

Two good places to learn more about hunting abroad are the Web sites of the Federation of Associations for Hunting & Conservation of the E.U. (FACE), which represents 7 million European Hunters, and the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation, which has links to 60 countries worldwide.

James Swan is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting."

To purchase a copy of the title, click here. To learn more about Swan,
visit his website.

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