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The Lost Generation

Exploring why younger Americans aren’t taking up hunting, and how to bring them on board

I think of myself as something of a history buff. I remember only enjoying a few classes in my time at Ritchie County High School, but all of my history classes top the list – especially Rick Haught and Bryan Daugherty’s U.S. History and Civics classes, respectively. 

In those history classes – and my subsequent history courses at West Virginia University – we’d discuss the problems every generation faced. Wars, pandemics, famines, and economic collapses are just a few of the major struggles many generations of Americans faced over the last 245 years. But, of all the generations, one always stood out to me: the Lost Generation. 

If you’re unfamiliar, this designation comes from those who came of age during World War 1. This group saw the atrocities of then-modern warfare and thus faced the social and internal consequences that followed. Britannica describes this group of Americans as such: 

“The generation was ‘lost’ in the sense that its inherited values were no longer relevant in the postwar world and because of its spiritual alienation from a United States that, basking under Pres. Warren G. Harding’s ‘back to normalcy’ policy, seemed to its members to be hopelessly provincial, materialistic, and emotionally barren.”

And despite the intricacies of veterans trying to return to a normal world and expatriated Americans leaving en masse for France, I’d like to highlight another generation on the verge of being lost.

See, my generation, Millennials, as well as a large portion of Gen-Z, are losing their touch with the world of the outdoors. It’s not just hunting and fishing, either; it’s a problem across the board.

We don’t have the skills our parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents had, and, sadly, in our current comfortable world, we don’t need them. We have everything we need at our disposal, mostly at the click of a button. We don’t need to grow, kill and preserve our food because there’s a McDonalds around the corner or a grocery store in town with plenty of canned food, fresh meat, and more. We don’t have to necessarily know how to fix our vehicle because we have 10 mechanics within an hour of us that we can pay to do it. I digress, but the list goes on. 

As far as losing touch with the outdoors, I believe this began in my generation with those parents who didn’t need to hunt to sustain the family’s bottom line. Certainly, my family didn’t need to, and my little exposure to squirrel hunting in Doddridge County would be my only time afield as a kid or teen. Growing up, I enjoyed fishing and shooting at the range much more. But, after my exposure to deer hunting in college and, thus, my need for extra meat on the side after graduating from WVU, hunting took on a whole new meaning to me. 

There may also be another reason why Gen-Xers didn’t carry on the tradition of hunting. It’s entirely possible that because for that generation hunting was utilitarian, they wanted to do everything to keep their children from experiencing it. I have many older friends who recollect the chore it was to go out and kill an animal just to sustain the family because of outside factors – drought, bad winters, animal die-offs, etc. – and how much they loathed it.

Truly, I can understand both points. I don’t blame my parents or their generation for not carrying the torch. However, now I see my generation as having to make up lost ground from a fumbled baton pass. And that’s OK. To me at least.

My dad taught me the basics and how to hunt squirrel; my brother taught me how to hunt deer; my girlfriend’s dad introduced me to waterfowl hunting; I explored upland hunting alone, but had a great friend from college invited me out west to hunt over his Old Hemlock setter in December. 

Yet, the path forward is not an easy one to forge. Success will, however, be found in the fact that my generation and the two below me – and the ones after them – have so much at our disposal. Between YouTube, social media, and online media sites, there’s no excuse to not get outdoors. Are there barriers? Of course. There will always be barriers like money, lack of time, and more, but there are fixes. Are there steps to take before you pick up a shotgun or rifle and try to go hunting? Absolutely. But, just like we use the internet for literally anything we want to know how to do, if you truly have an interest in connecting with the ancestral side of your humanity, you have a world of information at your fingertips. 

Don’t want to go at it alone? Use Facebook to find a guide or friend to take you out. Don’t know what shotgun to buy for waterfowl hunting or rifle for deer hunting? Read a story in Outdoor Life or Project Upland. There’s no excuse anymore for not pursuing something you want to try. 

On the other side of that coin, for us who are experienced hunters, there’s no excuse for not recruiting new folks into the community. We can complain endlessly about how things are the same as they were in the 80s or 90s, or we can step up and find innovative ways to bring new people in. We can complain about how new hunters are doing “everything wrong” or we can offer our help to make them more effective and better hunters. We can bully people on Facebook who genuinely are just trying to get into hunting, or we can show some patience and generosity to help them like we were. 

We can offer that new hunter a free ticket in – except the cost of a license and hunter education course –  by letting them use our extra equipment. We can take them out onto our private property and let them connect to the earth like we do so many times a year while guiding them step by step. Before they ever pick up a weapon, we can bring them into our homes and feed them wild game meals to show them how great it tastes, and tell them the story of that specific animal.

There’s a lot of negativity coming out of the hunting world on social media, and a lot of it turns away new hunters. A lot of this is from people in places of power within wildlife agencies or other places of leadership and power. This needs to stop. It’s our turn to pick up where some of the generations above us did not. 

For the sake of another lost generation, we need to work together to make a better future. 

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