Hunting license sales down, SCDNR focuses on recruitment

Luc Newell hunting (Madeline Montgomery/WPDE)

Places you love to hike, bird watch and take pictures could be at risk because of declining sales of hunting licenses in South Carolina.

"It's more just sitting and waiting and having some peace and quiet. You know, in a real busy world you can just sit and think about things," said Luc Newell, who's been hunting for 13 years.

Hunting has been a part of Newell's family for generations. Family is what got him in the deer stand.

"Probably my granddaddy. I mean, he runs the quail hunting business so," said Newell.

He'll hunt for just about any animal in South Carolina

"I hunt deer, ducks, quail, turkey, dove, pretty much anything under the sun," said Newell.

But, there aren't as many people out hunting in South Carolina, according to the Department of Natural Resources. About 20 years ago, DNR would sell around 300,000 hunting licenses a year. This year, that number had dropped to 200,000. We wanted to know why fewer people are hunting.

"As the hunting population gets older, we have not been doing as well recruiting younger hunters to the outdoors," said Captain Billy Downer, a game warden with SCDNR.

"It does surprise me because I feel like where I am now, everybody around me is hunting, but over the past years, yeah, it's probably gone down because of the convenience of having food readily available," said Newell.

It's not just about food.

"The population is changing. More folks are indoors more than outdoors. We're trying to encourage folks to go outside and enjoy the great outdoors," said Downer.

With fewer people outdoors hunting and shooting, there are fewer dollars for SCDNR.

"The dollars from the sale of firearms and ammunition go to protect wildlife management areas, to buy public land for people to hunt on, it goes to fund our department, it goes to fund our biologists, and our technicians who plan our WMAs, plant public dove fields and other wonderful areas people can come and enjoy," said Downer.

No wildlife management areas have had to close, but the department has had some layoffs, especially during the recession.

How is DNR making up for those lost dollars? Their answer is recruitment.

"We do a lot of youth programs involving archery in our shotgun program and our scholastic program, clay target sports," said Downer.

Fifty-thousand kids throughout the state are involved in these programs, and now, DNR's targeting another group.

"Look at college students who are interested in hunting, particularly those who-- folks who want to eat natural foods. A lot of interest in that now because young folks who want to go to local markets and eat farm fresh foods. At the same time, hunting provides for them as well because they know what they're eating. They know they're eating a deer that came from South Carolina that came from the woods," said Downer.

So younger hunters can learn to love the sitting and waiting.

"I've enjoyed thousands of mornings with my kids in the stands, in the duck blind, out in the field, enjoying watching the sunrise and the animals moving about us. You get to see an owl fly in places you didn't see it, a macaw or even a coyote slipping through the edge of the woods, a bobcat. It's not always about seeing a big buck or seeing that mallard drake coming in, even though it's a lot of fun to listen to the wings whistle above you, it's about the outdoors and the creation we see," said Downer.

If you're interested in participating in a SCDNR hunting or shooting event, you can look at their online calendar for dates.

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