I’ve never been a math whiz. When it comes to algebra, once there are more letters than numbers in an equation, I’m usually at a loss. In fact, the only D I received in college was a D+ in Calculus for Business Majors. I missed two days of class in the middle of the semester due to illness (real illness, not brown bottle flu) and never caught up with the “dumbed down” version of the course for those of us who wouldn’t be pursuing a degree in rocket science. I think my final score for the semester was a 47 percent, which on a wicked curve fell just a few points below the cutoff for a C.
However, one math course I really enjoyed and managed to grasp – which was chock full of letter-based equations of its own – was Statistics. This may have been due to the professor’s way of explaining things and providing a wide variety of quick mnemonics that to this day still help me with means, standard deviations and the like. It was also due in part that predictive ability of the practice applied to so many things I enjoy, particularly the outdoors. For whatever reason, it stuck, and now it serves as part of a goal setting process and gives me a better understanding of the world around me.
From roadside pheasant brood counts to survival of walleye fry to the odds of drawing a buck tag, to plotting the predicted improvement of a trap shooting squad, statistics quantify what’s going on in the natural world and provide a framework of control for those things that aren’t always within ours. When CRP acres drop or rise, wildlife populations typically correlate with the changes. When a late-season blizzard hits, migratory bird return dates can be affected. When high spring waters take hold, the subsequent year class of pike is usually pretty good. Based on previous occurrences of these events or conditions, we’re able to extrapolate what might happen in the future and react or prepare accordingly, thanks to statistics.
However, there’s one statistic occurring nationwide that has not been experienced by our modern outdoor population, and as a result, there is more uncertainty in what the coming seasons hold. That number of concern is the decrease in individuals who hunt and the number of hours spent outdoors engaged in various hunting pastimes, from upland to waterfowl to deer hunting.
Since 1982, the number of hunters nationwide has plummeted from nearly 17 million in 1983 to just 11.5 million in 2016, according to regular five-year surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Add in an aging Baby Boomer population which comprises about half of all hunters which will be exiting the field in the next 20 years or so, and those numbers are expected to continue their downward trend. With that kind of continued decrease comes a loss of advocates for hunting and conservation.
Much like the uncontrollable elements of nature, there’s one other thing that the discipline of statistics can’t always predict, and that is the will of people bent on accomplishing incredible things. In order to preserve the ranks of hunters, and by doing so, maintain the voice of conservation for wild places, better habitat, cleaner water, air and soil, it will require the collective push of sportsmen and women who patrol the fields today. While numbers lost in the millions might seem daunting, if just one hunter hooked another non-hunter on life in the blind, on stand or behind a good bird dog, we’d double our ranks in a year.
What the numbers don’t tell us is that it is just that easy, and a turn-around can happen just that fast, but it comes with hunters executing against that shift in the population, reaching out to new potential sportsmen in places they haven’t been found before, and doing so right now. By volunteering for a women’s wingshooting program, mentoring at a hunt for new, inexperienced or older-than-average hunters, helping coach a youth trap or archery team, or working with a conservation group to carry out wildlife or pollinator plantings that connect with elementary schools, 4H programs or other non-hunting-based outdoors groups, today’s current hunters can access previously untapped demographics which will be needed to sustain hunting populations and create the future voice of conservation which will support wild places and wild things. This year, a full six months in front of most hunting seasons, work with friends, clubs and resources available to set up such an event and coordinate a happening that will bring new hunters into the fold from these untouched populations, introducing them to a whole new world where they are more than welcome to pick up arms, not only in the field but also in the battle for better habitat and hunting.
While statistics are hard and fast, the interpretation of them, and what they mean is always open. They can serve as a reward all their own as averages improve, or insights for a better hunting season next fall, but they can also serve as a warning or a moment to pause, figure out what needs to be changed, and then execute against it to turn the tide, and make things better, in life, in business and of course…in our outdoors.