Thanks to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s (IFW) new electronic game registration system, we’re now able to get results from the turkey, deer, bear and moose seasons much more quickly. That’s the good news. The not so good news is that Maine hunters killed fewer of all except moose last year. The worse news is that the principle reason for those declines is a concurrent decline in hunter numbers.

Don’t let Maine’s hunting heritage dwindle. John Patriquin/File photo

With that in mind, I’m proposing we make 2020 the Year of the Hunter. Merely saying it isn’t enough. We need to take action if we want to keep our outdoor hunting heritage strong. Therefore, I offer the following suggestions:

Help build our ranks by recruiting and mentoring a youth or new hunter. The folks at IFW make this task a lot easier by offering an apprentice hunter license for any resident or nonresident 16 years or older who has not previously held a hunting license. The apprentice must be in the presence of a properly licensed adult who is responsible for ensuring that safe hunting protocol and hunting laws are followed. IFW has also joined the national R3 Movement, an initiative to “recruit, retain and reactivate” hunters nationwide. This movement targets new or lapsed hunters through marketing strategies, outdoor activities and programs. Meanwhile, the 35,000-plus members of the Maine Deer Hunters Facebook group have also established a mentor program that pairs veteran hunters with youths and adults hoping to get involved in hunting.

Support those already among us. Social media can be both a boom and a bane. It provides a means for sharing advice, information, stories and pictures, but also allows an opportunity for bashing, ridicule and argument, just the sort of divisiveness anti-hunters want to promote. Instead, we should congratulate and celebrate the successes as every legal harvest is a trophy, regardless of the size or the tools used to obtain it. Constructive criticism is okay but if you have nothing positive to contribute, simply scroll on.

Make landowner relations a priority. Thank landowners and give back for the privilege of hunting on their private land. Maine is exceptional when it comes to access. Roughly 97 percent of the forested land in Maine is privately owned. Thanks to the generosity of private and industrial landowners, much of that land is open and available to hunters, but we can’t take that privilege for granted.

Here again, IFW has taken steps to help. The department has a long-standing and progressive landowner relations program that involves education, partnerships and support. It has prepared informational brochures and pamphlets explaining various aspects, including landowner liability. Its Outdoor Partners Program provides enhanced law enforcement, signs, equipment and promotional and educational programs, all designed to promote and maintain public access to private land. Support comes in several forms, including a designated Landowner Appreciation Day on which volunteers (some of whom are eligible for prizes) pick up more than a million pounds of trash each year.

This endeavor is going to take time, effort and money. Fortunately, you can apportion yours as you see fit. As an alternative or supplement to being a mentor, encouraging existing hunters and promoting landowner relations, you can also donate to organizations that promote hunting and wildlife conservation.

There’s no shortage of worthy groups. The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine is more than just an advocacy group. It has a Youth and Family Program designed to help both kids and parents become more educated and involved in outdoor activities like hunting, and the alliance makes its facilities available to any interested youth groups. For deer hunters, free membership in The National Deer Alliance helps promote the organization’s mission as guardians of deer conservation and hunting heritage. Since 1988, the Quality Deer Management Association has promoted “sustainable, high-quality deer populations, wildlife habitats and ethical hunting experiences through research, education, advocacy and hunter recruitment.” Other groups, like the National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited and the Ruffed Grouse Society, do likewise for their respective species groups.

By our very nature, hunters tend to be poor advocates. We simply want to be left alone to enjoy our avocation. We can no longer stand by and watch the light grow dimmer. It’s time for action if we want to ensure hunting remains strong for future generations. This effort will also ensure a stable source of funding for our fish and wildlife agency, which depends on the sale of hunting and fishing licenses for the bulk of its budget.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]


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