Shooting down stereotypes

The number of annual hunting licenses sold has declined from nearly 17 million in 1987 to 13 million last year. In some states, like California, the drop has been much greater.

In 1969, 750,000 were sold in the Golden State. Today the number hovers around 300,000; less than 1 percent of the California population buys a license to hunt in the state.

As the hunting community worries about retention and recruitment, I think that we need to think more broadly and openly about who actually is a hunter, as well as to recognize and accept diversity.

The average hunter today is a middle-class, white male in his mid-40s who lives in a suburban area, has some post-secondary education and makes about $50,000 a year, or more.

To a lot of people, who may or may not even know a hunter, he also is overweight and drives an old pick-up truck that has a gun rack in the back window.

Worse, when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recently conducted a survey about the image of the hunter, 62 percent said that "a lot" of hunters broke hunting laws or practiced unsafe behavior, such as drinking to excess and firing guns recklessly.

Slob hunters are a small minority, even though they often get the most press. That's part of the reason the public has a negative view of hunters.

The antis don't help, either, and what's perhaps worse is that the hunting community seldom does anything to project a positive image of hunting to the non-hunting world.

I know many hunters who do fit the profile. But as the number of hunters has declined, I think the diversity of people who hunt actually has increased. That needs to get factored into the consciousness of the hunting community.

This realization came to me after appearing at several recent sportsmen's conventions, speaking and sitting at a booth, selling books and watching the crowd pass by and talking with people.

I am not claiming this is any way to conduct a scientific survey, but based on people I met and talked with recently, I think the conventional stereotype of who is a hunter needs to be shot down because it sure does not fit.

Let's begin with political preference.

President Bush went quail hunting with his father, the former president, in early January.

Most people associate hunting with Republicans and conservatives, but the liberal Democratic presidential candidate frontrunner, Sen. John Kerry, took the press on a pheasant hunt last fall, bagging his limit in no time.

Gen. Wesley Clark says that he's a hunter on his Web site, and Sen. John Edwards is a member of the Sportsmen's Caucus.

Thanks to programs like Becoming an Outdoorswoman, there are more women hunting today than ever before.

I applaud more women coming to hunting, both as hunters and guides and outfitters. I think they help uphold the bar on the ethics of hunting in the field. I can't say that I have ever met or seen a woman hunter who is reckless, drinks too much or breaks game laws.

Incidentally, there is at least one beauty-queen hunter. She is one Olivia Angelloz, who works for Cabella's, is the president of a Safari Club International Chapter and is the reigning Mrs. Nebraska. Her slogan during the 2003 Mrs. America contest was, "Hunters are conservationists!"

It seems to me that more minorities are getting into hunting. A lot of African-American athletes hunt — Dusty Baker and Karl Malone, to name two of the more famous — have stepped up to the plate, gone public and supported hunting. They deserve credit for it.

At a recent sportsman's show, I had a great conversation with a man who had come to America from the Philippines. He had learned to shoot there with his father as a form of subsistence hunting. Here he has become a sport hunter and is deeply committed to preserving this passion.

I have met hunters of Chinese, Japanese and Middle Eastern backgrounds, as well as those who have recently immigrated from Europe and Australia.

In California we have many Hispanic hunters. The head of hunter education for the state, Joe Gonzalez, and the president of the California Fish and Game Commission, Michael Flores, are Latinos.

Popular writers Sam Keen and Robert Bly have penned bestsellers about modern men giving up their masculinity. This has stimulated the "men's movement."

Thanks to people like tracking expert Tom Brown, who openly endorses hunting, I have met a number of men who have come into hunting from the men's movement.

They typically are in their 20s and 30s, and perhaps are the first men in their families who have ever hunted.

They reached this decision because they were able to look deeply enough inside themselves and recognize that the hunting instinct was alive there and wanted to come out. They are among some of the most ethical and committed hunters that I know.

I don't know how you feel about gay marriage, but what about gay hunters? Would you accept someone in the field who has a different sexual orientation than you, but was an ethical hunter?

Living in the San Francisco area, where there is a strong and open gay community, there are a number of gay firearms owners, many of whom belong to a group called "The Pink Pistols."

A member of their group who attended a recent seminar sponsored by National Shooting Sports Foundation said, "We need to be armed more than many straight people."

Breaking down stereotypes, some members of the gay community have gone on to become hunters. They told me so when they bought my books so they could better explain to their friends what they were doing hunting.

Christianity is probably the most common religion among hunters, but I also have met hunters who are followers of Judaism, Buddhism, Muslim, shamanism and New Age religions.

As I point out in my book "The Sacred Art of Hunting," there are religious teachings for hunters in nearly all religions.

My point here is that the U.S. population is a melting pot of cultures, ethnicity and diverse views, which is getting more and more diverse rapidly. That's what democracy is all about.

If we want to keep hunting alive in such a diverse culture, think broadly and be accepting.

I have yet to see any camouflage turbans in a duck blind, but I won't faint when it happens.

James Swan — who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" — is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting." Click here to purchase a copy.

To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.