Urban sprawl killing kids' hunting

One of the complex factors deterring the recruitment of youth hunters is urban sprawl. Gregg Patterson

My youngest son, George, spotted them first.

"Deer!" he yelled. "Over there in the field."

We were driving to his school. A quick look left revealed five deer, white tails aloft, loping through what had been a soybean field last summer. The billboard-sized sign we were passing indicated it would be a subdivision by next summer.

I jumped a nice 6-point this fall on the old railroad right-of-way behind my apartment complex while walking my Irish setter. Upon returning home and announcing the find, my oldest, Bennett, wanted to grab his bow and hunt it.

"You can't," I said. "We're in the Memphis city limits now, and I'm sure the people in those $250,000 houses out back don't want a buck with an arrow sticking in it dying on their front lawn."

Less than a half-mile down the street, tens of thousands of automobiles clog the six lanes that are Germantown Road, the world's longest strip mall.

Blocked to the west by the Mississippi River, the city of Memphis, Tennessee has concentrated its growth to the east, annexing anything it can to increase its tax base. Its population isn't growing, but the city limits are spreading like my middle-aged paunch.

My kids want to go out the back door and hunt but can't. And places where you could hunt 20 years ago, you can't now.

It's happening in Little Rock, Ark., too. The foothills of the Ouachita Mountains just west of town where I hunted turkeys in the mid-1980s are off-limits now. New golf courses and million-dollar houses have carved up the woods. Developers are pushing the expansion westward along the Highway 10 corridor.

This time, the city is resisting, trying to protect its pristine watershed that surrounds the city's water supply, Lake Maumelle.

The 1.8-million-acre Ouachita National Forest that President Theodore Roosevelt established in 1907 was once 30 miles west of town. It's about half that distance away now.

A recent study by the natural resources and outdoor recreation research survey firm, Responsive Management, says urban sprawl is one of the main factors hindering the recruitment of new hunters from our youth.

A rabbit or squirrel hunt along the old railroad right-of-way is no longer an option. And those Canada geese that flew overhead in range while I was walking the dog this morning are safe, too. No opportunity and no experience mean no new hunters.

It's a problem we're going to have to solve.