Last week, an 11-year-old boy from Alabama killed a hog reported to weigh 1,051 pounds. The boy, Jamison Stone, is finishing the sixth grade this year.
He shot the pig eight times with a .50 caliber revolver, according to the boy’s account. Accompanied by his father and two hunting guides, he shot and wounded the animal and then pursued the creature for three hours before the eighth shot by the tot took the last bit of life out of the animal.
The result was a startling image. Transmitted around the world was a photo of the little boy posing behind the hulking and almost prehistoric-looking and very dead hog with mouth agape.
In the wake of the slaying, there was parental pride. The boy’s father had first taken Jamison hunting when he was 5, and at that time, he killed his first deer.
The boy, too, seemed pleased with his latest conquest.
"It feels really good," Jamison said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "It’s a good accomplishment. I probably won’t ever kill anything else that big."
Fred, who looked like this feral pig, was shot at a canned hunt.
But then the story began to unravel. The monster pig was actually a pet. His previous owners named him Fred. He apparently had not been hunted in a tense drama that played out in the lowlands of an Alabama forest. A guy who runs the Lost Creek Plantation actually purchased Fred, just so he could sell someone the opportunity to shoot the poor creature at his fenced-in hunting ranch. That’s what we call a canned hunt. And it also turns out that the Alabama legislature placed limits on canned hunts two years ago, and the so-called hunt was of dubious legality.
It’s hard to put much blame on young Jamison. It’s his father who is primarily responsible for this fiasco. The kid was conscripted into hunting wildlife at the ripe old age of 5-years-old—when kids are playing with Lego® toys and transfixed by cartoons.
Many of sport hunting’s most devout adherents seem obsessed with passing on their pastime to their kids, and some parents start the indoctrination at the earliest stages of childhood. It seems a point of pride for them that their kids would hunt, too.
There’s also a business of recruiting new hunters, especially in light of demographic trends that show hunting has been in a slow but steady decline over the last 30 years. Hunting groups and state and federal wildlife agencies are working to lower minimum hunting age requirements and they are spending tens of millions every year trying to recruit the next generation of American sportsmen. Families Afield is just one of their programs.
© USDA/Ron Nichols
Every five years since 1955, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publishes a National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, and preliminary findings for the 2006 survey have just been released.
The reports reveal that hunting has been in slow decline since the mid-1970s. And sure as shooting, the numbers are down again—this time, 4 percent, from 13.1 million hunters to 12.5 million in just five years. When you look over the past decade, from the 1996 survey, hunting numbers are down about 10 percent—from 14 million.
And let’s remember, the decline in absolute numbers is occurring as the U.S. population is on the rise—now exceeding 300 million.
To combat the trend, state fish and wildlife agencies have sponsored all manner of hunts to recruit kids—youth pheasant hunts, youth dove hunts, even youth deer hunts.
Over the past five years, the number of big game hunters declined by 2 percent, while the number of small game hunters declined by 13 percent, and the number of migratory bird hunters declined by 29 percent.
And while the number of hunters is in decline—because fewer young people are taking up the hobby—there has been consistent growth in wildlife watching and other so-called "non-consumptive" wildlife activities. Now 71 million Americans follow these pursuits. The increase in wildlife watchers was 8 percent—double the decrease in hunters.
The world is changing, and the numbers reflect the change. As these social changes begin to manifest themselves in daily experiences, we are bound to see fewer stories about gargantuan hogs killed on canned hunting ranches and more stories about interactions between children and wild animals that recount friendship or rescue or rehabilitation. One day, I hope my blog is full of those stories and those images.