Hunting, a Sport on the Decline The Wisconsin state legislature is considering a bill that would lower the legal hunting age from 12 to 8. The goal is to boost a sport declining in popularity. For some communities, hunting remains an integral part of daily life.
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Hunting, a Sport on the Decline

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Hunting, a Sport on the Decline

Hunting, a Sport on the Decline

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NEAL CONAN, host:

From NPR News in Wausau, Wisconsin, I'm Neal Conan, and this is TALK OF THE NATION.

Fewer Americans hunt these days, fewer young people, in particular. Sixteen-year-old Brendan Quinn hunts with his dad in New York's Adirondack Mountains.

Mr. BRENDAN QUINN (Sixeen-year-old Hunter, New York): My dad, he taught me how to hunt, and I just, ever since he started bringing me, I started to like being with him and all the other guys in camp, and only one of my friends really hunts, I'd say mostly because of sports, and all the other people don't do it. So he's just like following the crowd, I guess.

CONAN: Here in Wisconsin, there's a proposal to reduce the hunting age to eight. Hunting and America, plus we'll talk with the radio reporter who gets all the really dumb stories. P.S. Mueller of the Onion Radio News joins us on the TALK OF THE NATION. First the news.

(Soundbite of the news)

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. Today, we're coming to you live from the University of Wisconsin Marathon County Theater in Wausau, Wisconsin, along with 200 listeners to Wisconsin Public Radio here with us in the audience.

(Soundbite of applause)

In Wisconsin, it's said that two things are sacrosanct: the Green Bay Packers and hunting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Most of you know the Packers have suffered through a bit of a tough year and will not be playing Sunday in the Super Bowl. So hunting...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Few states are quite as passionate, quite as committed to the sport as the state of Wisconsin. If you're not convinced, you might want to visit during the nine days around Thanksgiving, otherwise known as gun hunting season for white-tailed deer. The state is aglow in blaze orange. Just like the old days, some schools still shut down, as do many local businesses.

Across the country, hunting is in decline. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, it's down seven percent over the past decade. In Iowa, for example, it's down 26 percent. Former hunters say the biggest reason is access to land. We'll find out more about that. And many hunters worry that a critical bond between fathers and sons is breaking. They say the sport is more about tradition and spending time with family than it is about killing animals. Of course, animal rights groups disagree.

The trends are not nearly as acute here in Wisconsin, but there is still concern. In December, the Wisconsin State Assembly passed a bill that would lower the legal age of hunting from 12 to eight. Other states have considered similar actions to fight the decline in participation in hunting.

Later in this program, we'll talk to P.S. Mueller, the syndicated cartoonist and the voice of the Onion Radio News, but first, hunting. As you know, there's a very real debate about whether hunting is morally wrong. We'll get to that a little later. First we'll talk about the tradition of hunting, why it's in decline, and we'll talk to hunters who want to preserve it.

If you live in a hunting state, what is your state doing to buck the trend in declining numbers? If you hunt, call and tell us why you do it. If you come from a hunting family but have decided to abstain from the sport, tell us why. Our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. And we'll also be taking questions from the audience here in Wausau.

To begin, we turn to Richard Stedman, a rural sociologist from Pennsylvania State University. He's with us here in Wausau at the UW Marathon County Theater. Thanks very much for being with us today.

Professor RICHARD STEDMAN (Rural Sociology, Pennsylvania State University): Thank you, Neal. A pleasure to be here.

CONAN: And are you a hunter?

Professor STEDMAN: I am.

CONAN: And do you think the future for hunting is dire?

Professor STEDMAN: In some places and in some demographics, it's very dire. I mean, as you point out, we've lost three-and-a-half million hunters in the U.S., which is about 20 percent since 1985. So, you know, you run those trends out another 15, 20, 30 years, and we run out pretty quick. Certainly, as you also, as you point, there are places where those trends are a lot less pronounced...

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Professor STEDMAN: ...and they tend to be in places like Wisconsin, the state I'm in now, Pennsylvania, other more rural states, Great Plains, Great Plains and such, and there's a very strong relationship between hunting and rural life.

CONAN: Yet, in place like Iowa, seemingly not terribly different from some of those other places, down 26 percent.

Professor STEDMAN: Yeah, Iowa was, it was a bit of a shocker when the last trend data came out, because it is declining far more rapidly there than in other states that share similar demographics.

CONAN: Mm hmm. By and large, we're at a point in our society where hunting is no longer a necessity. Of course, we're not talking about people in Alaska and various other places. But in the continental U.S., why do over 13 million people still describe themselves as hunters?

Professor STEDMAN: Well, I guess that depends on how you describe necessity, or how you define necessity. You know, I'd argue that, and my research shows as well, I mean, the link between hunting and rural life, while it may not be a necessity from the standpoint of pure sustenance, you could certainly argue that many small, rural communities in Wisconsin and other places as well, it becomes something fairly close to a cultural necessity, where an awful lot of the traditions, the rhythms of the community, revolve around it.

CONAN: Tell us a little bit more about that.

Professor STEDMAN: Well, um, and it's interesting because I actually grew up outside of that culture and I study it now, but it can be quite amazing in some of these small, rural communities, as you point out. Schools close. Businesses close. People plan on, essentially, having their workers absence from work if they don't close.

CONAN: Hmm.

Professor STEDMAN: But just from a sense of rural community identity, rural community economic development, in lots of places where, rural places that are more on the margin. There's a couple of different kinds of rural places. There are the rural places that are sort of the hot rural places, where people are wanting to move to, and those, typically, have lakes or mountains or coastlines or views of the Rocky Mountains in the background. And then there are places that are not quite like that, where there are actual out-migration of young, declining populations. Often hunting season can become something that really defines the year for these communities.

CONAN: Yeah, I've read, in preparation for this program, I read a fair amount, but there was one comment from a guy who met a girl, married her, and said, by the way, you will never see me at Thanksgiving for the rest of your life.

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

Professor STEDMAN: Did she marry him anyway?

CONAN: Yeah.

Professor STEDMAN: OK.

CONAN: Yeah. Now she was from Wisconsin.

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

Christine Thomas joins us now. She's an avid hunter. She's also dean of the College of Natural Resources at the University of Wisconsin in Stevens Point, not far from here, as well as the founder of Becoming an Outdoors Woman, a program that offers women workshops on outdoor sports, including hunting and fishing. Ms. Thomas joins us now here at the UW Marathon County Theater in Wausau. Thanks very much for being with us today.

(Soundbite of applause)

Dean CHRISTINE THOMAS (College of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point): Good afternoon.

CONAN: We're told about hunting as sort of this male bonding. When did you start to hunt?

Dean THOMAS: Well, actually, I didn't start to hunt until I was about 21 years old, when I got married, and that would be one of the two traditional times that women entered hunting.

CONAN: Aha.

Dean THOMAS: The other would have been in childhood if they happened to be the oldest child in a family where there were no boys.

CONAN: Hmm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dean THOMAS: Making them then the only son their father ever had.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You need somebody to carry all that stuff out into the woods.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Anyway, why do you do it?

Dean THOMAS: Well, I would say this is a complicated question, but for lots of reasons: for the social interaction with your neighbors, with your coworkers, with the people that you hunt with, the cultural community aspect, for the food. I'm a great cook, and I like to cook the meat that I have harvested and tell the mostly true stories about the harvesting of the meat when my guests eat. I think for the interesting wildlife encounters that you have when you're out in the woods in the hunting mode, which are probably different wildlife encounters than you would have if you were canoeing or hiking, for the adventure of it. I do some Western big game hunting, and there it's the Western experience with the wall tents and the horses.

CONAN: Hmm.

Dean THOMAS: I do bird hunting, and there it's the dog. The dog is the whole thing. So, for lots of reasons.

CONAN: Wildlife encounters. Some people would hear that and say how can you say that and then be so cruel as to go out and kill animals?

Dean THOMAS: Well, what I actually had meant there was the encounters aren't always with the wildlife you're pursing. Sometimes there are other wildlife encounters. I called in two bobcats one evening while I was waiting for deer to come in.

CONAN: That must have been a shock.

Dean THOMAS: That was very exciting. I'd never seen a bobcat in the woods before. I was trying to call in a deer, and two different bobcats came in. That was pretty exciting. But even the encounters with the animals that you are looking for, you know, and sometimes you decide, no, I'm not going to shoot this animal as a result of the encounter. So I would say that lots of wildlife encounters.

CONAN: Hmm.

Dean THOMAS: That's fun.

CONAN: We want to get a lot of listeners...

CONAN: We want to get a lot of listeners in and a lot of audience members here in Wausau involved in the conversation. If you'd like to be with us: 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is: talk@npr.org, and let's go to the phones first, and this is Craig and Craig's calling us from Oakland, California.

CRAIG (Caller): Yeah, one of the things is that I grew up hunting in Idaho and Utah. And of the things is the cost of hunting. Like skiing and everything else, the professionals have taken it over, and you just can't go and do it on just the cheap as we used to, my uncles and nephews. Another thing, I think, is everyone has other interests and other things to do. In spite of that, we're a real complicated society now. People have got other things to do and I think, certainly, you know, I know if someone invited me out hunting now at this stage, with the movie Brokeback Mountain out, I'd never go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I'm not sure, well, we're going to leave that alone, there, Craig. We're just going to leave that alone. Enjoy the Oscars, Craig. Thanks for the call. But I did, Richard Stedman, want to address Craig's first point, and that is about expense and, indeed, you look at some of the least prices that private landowners are charging for rights during hunting season. That's a lot of money.

Professor STEDMAN: Yeah, one of the really interesting findings that we see is, even though there are many fewer hunters, the amount of expenditures spent on hunting have remained relatively stable. So that means each hunter who is participating is actually spending more money than he or she used to, and loss of land is, and loss of free access to land, has been a big issue in that.

I know in the state where I am now, Pennsylvania, places that are up, for example, in the Northeast part of the county, Pike County, which is within commuting distance to suburban New York City and parts of New Jersey, the land posting rates where it's posted against trespass are up around 90, 95 percent of all private land is posted. So, hunters are increasingly having a more difficult time finding a place to hunt and, of course, we tend to turn to the free market for solutions like that.

And if there's a market for it, then landowners are finding a way to capitalize on what's really, I think, more of a lack of social connection issue. If you're well connected in rural areas, chances are you know someone where you can get on to hunt for free, if we're talking primarily about cost of access. But in some places, that relationship seems to be broken.

CONAN: Christine Thomas, also, perversely the number of hunters is declining because of that more private land being unavailable or unless you've got a lease on it. You're having the public hunting land becoming more and more crowded.

Dean THOMAS: Well, that's absolutely right. And I think what you're seeing in places where there isn't a lot of public land, in Iowa may be one of those places, actually, as opposed to Wisconsin where we've got more than a million acres of federal forests, we've got state forest, we've got county forest. There's a lot of public land here, but it is very crowded.

If you go to the Chequamegon National Forest, the most remote place that we have in Wisconsin, the least eroded place that we have in Wisconsin, any time during the fall, and I'm there a lot during the fall, any place you can pull a pickup truck off the side of the road, there's one sitting there. They're bird hunting. They're bear hunting. They're bow hunting.

CONAN: We're going to take a short break. We're talking about hunting today. And when we come back, we'll also take more of your calls: 800-989-8225, more of your e-mails: talk@npr.org. We'll also get some questions from people here in the audience in Wausau.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

NEAL CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, coming to you today from Wausau, Wisconsin at the University of Wisconsin Marathon County Theater. We're talking today about hunting. Our guests are Richard Stedman, a professor of rural sociology at Pennsylvania State University, and Christine Thomas, Dean of the College of Natural Resources at the University of Wisconsin. Stevens Point and founder of Becoming an Outdoors Woman. Why don't we go to the audience here in Wausau and get a question?

Mr. TODD PAUNKE(ph): Good afternoon. My name is Todd Paunke from Wausau. My question is, why won't more urban areas open up to bow hunters to help curb out of control deer populations, especially when we have tax dollars? We use tax dollars to pay for the sharp shooters.

CONAN: Mm Hmmm. Richard Stedman, I'm going to throw that to you. Any idea?

STEDMAN: Well, I guess a couple of different things are at work. I mean, one, clearly, there is, if not absolute safety issue, there's the perceived safety issue. There's the concern that people are still sort of run amuck in neighborhoods with bows, no matter how committed we know those hunters to be. I guess, though, my other response to that is that I think part of what you're suggesting may be part of the cure for what's going on.

I mean there are a number of people who are arguing, really, if you want to save hunting, hunters need to re-articulate their role as wildlife managers and really the only predators that are capable of controlling deer populations or other populations of animals that suffer from over abundance at times. So, I mean, I think you're on the right track, from the sense of at least asking those kinds of questions and trying to figure out how it is that hunters can think of themselves and talk to society about their role as resource managers. As far as why there isn't more of that actually going on, you know my guess is, it probably comes down to one word, which is liability. Maybe the bottom line and concern about liability.

CONAN: Lawsuits, yeah. Let's get another listener on the line. And this Bob. Bob's calling from, is it Empire, Michigan?

BOB (Caller): It's Empire, Michigan, Neal.

CONAN: Go ahead.

BOB: How are you?

CONAN: Good.

BOB: I've raised two sons and both of them I've taken out hunting. One's 16, the other's 20. Ever since they've been able to walk, I've taken them out in the woods, and from these experiences they've learned everything from environmentalism to conservation, to overwhelming sense of spirituality. And the whole process of hunting and the appreciation and the respect of the animal and the reality of what killing something really is, is something that nobody can apprehend other than a person who actually does it, and you'll never get that from a video game.

You'll never get that from a TV show. It just gives you an overwhelming sense of your-the symbiotic relationship that you have with the earth, itself. And that's what we have to pass on to all the hunters and all the non-hunters that don't understand what hunting is all about.

CONAN: And do your sons continue to hunt, Bob?

BOB: One is 16 and has hunted ever since he shot his first squirrel and grinned from ear to ear. My other one is 20, who after he shot his first squirrel, actually broke down and sobbed, didn't hunt for eight years. Never forced him to, and now he is training to become a law enforcement officer and this is his first year that he's decided to go back into hunting whitetail deer. I primarily hunt with the bow, as my sons do. One, the older one, hunts with a rifle, but at this point, yes they do.

CONAN: Mm hmmm. Bob, thanks very much for the call.

BOB: You bet.

CONAN: Appreciate it. That's a good an introduction as any to our next guest, who's George Meyer, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, former secretary of Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources. He's also with us here at the UW Marathon County Theater.

Mr. GEORGE MEYER (Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and former Secretary of Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources relies heavily on hunters to control the deer herd, and for money, as well. What's going to happen to wildlife management if the number of hunters decline?

Mr. MEYER: Well, it's a very real concern. Our deer population in this state is somewhere around 1.5 to 1.7 million deer. We have about 650,000 deer hunters in the state. If that would decline, say in the next 30 years, to half, the deer population in the sate would be out of control. It's a rapidly expanding population and, in fact, as was mentioned previously, hunters are the major wildlife management tool for deer management in the state of Wisconsin.

CONAN: Mm hmmm. Talk to us a little bit about the politics of hunting. Obviously, in Wisconsin, I don't think it's a party issue, but broadly speaking, do hunters fall squarely into the Republican camp or the Democratic camp?

Mr. MEYER: Well, you know, I look at the demographics of our membership. I mean, clearly, there's hunters across the political spectrum. I think it's a rural, urban issue. I think there's higher populations of deer hunters per capita in rural areas, which tend to be more Republican or Independent, but it is not, in terms of why people go into hunting, it is not a political issue.

CONAN: Well, you'd think hunters get support from Republicans on gun issues?

MEYER: Really, it's, the parties, there are wedge issues being used by political parties in various issues. And you see the gun issue being used as a wedge issue, habitat protection may be going the other way.

CONAN: Yeah, that might be more a Democratic issue.

MEYER: More regulation, that type of thing, so it has been interjected the last ten years, but I think that most hunters, they don't view this as a partisan issue; this is a cultural issue.

CONAN: Let's get another question from the audience here in Wausau.

Mr. JEFF LAMONT (American Academy of Pediatrics, Wisconsin): I'm Jeff Lamont and I represent the Wisconsin chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. We are opposed to Assembly Bill 586, which would lower the legal hunting age in Wisconsin from 12 to eight years. This isn't an anti-hunting stance. It is a stance based on public safety. There are certain developmental milestones, certain developmental stages through which children go which cannot be accelerated simply by changing a legal age.

The National Farm Medicine Center has done a great deal of research into what sorts of jobs children can safely be given to do on farms. And out of that research comes a great deal of evidence that children who are eight and nine years-old lack physical strength, lack coordination, lack the ability to perceive their environment in a way that would make them safe hunters, regardless of their supervision. Moreover, training courses have not been shown to be consistently effective.

Very intense behavior modification courses with a great deal of feedback may be successful, but education materials courses, such as the Eddie Eagle course that the NRA promulgates has not been shown to be effective. And the final thing is, that the, if you did have an effective course, the legislation does not mandate that anyone participate in it. The eight to 11 year-olds don't have to participate, nor do their mentors. And that is setting up a scenario for tragedy.

CONAN: George Meyer at the Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, do you have a position on this?

MEYER: Yes, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation does support the bill you're talking about. Let me tell you why, because I can tell you from my background and I'm responsible for hunter education program in this state for years, the last thing we would want is an unsafe hunt. Let me tell you why we believe there will be. In this state, there is an age of 12 years old for hunting. That went into place in 1973. That's an unusual situation. That's a minority of the states.

There are 30 states in this country that have no minimum age, not even the eight year-old that's proposed in the Assembly Bill. The safety record from those states is the same as the safety record in the state of Wisconsin. Most of the youth eight years-old or nine years-old, probably are not going to be deer hunting or big game hunting. They're going to be doing the squirrel hunting, the rabbit hunting. Now .another fact that really doesn't come into play, most hunters in the state of Wisconsin got into hunting before the 12 year-old limit came in place.

I started hunting when I was eight and nine, and I would venture to say the majority of hunters over the age of 32 in this state, hunted before they were 12 years-old and, in fact, it is one of the safest sports there are. It was mentioned, in the old, there's one out of seven citizens in this state goes deer hunting. The opening day of deer hunting season in this state, there's 650,000 to 700,000 people out with rifles and shotguns hunting in this state.

That's as many people as in the active army. And in this state there's, what, ten to 15 accidents, firearm accidents a year, probably over a million days of deer hunting in a deer hunting season. It's extremely safe. If you look at all the safety, more than just the gun related accidents, but people breaking legs or whatever, it's a safer sport than aerobics. It's the 29th safest, in the list of sports, cheerleading and aerobics are more safety conscious. The bill has several protections.

You either, if you're under 32, you, as a mentor, you have to have hunter education or otherwise you're probably a more experienced hunter anyway. And you have to teach hunting safety principles to the youth. You literally have to be in the grasp, the youth has to be being touched by the adult, and in fact there can only be one firearm. So it's a true learning experience. I'm very convinced it's going to be a safe experience. It surely has been in the other states that have, in fact, don't have a minimum hunting age.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the question. Let's get back to our callers and this is going to be Tim. Tim's calling us from Charlottesville, in Virginia.

TIM (Caller): Yeah, hi Neal. I'm just calling because I wanted there to be one voice at least as an advocate for the wildlife. You know, I grew up in a hunting family, and was taken out hunting when I was a kid. But I, it never felt right to me, and I've heard one of your callers equate it with a spiritual experience with their children, and then one of your guests called it harvesting animals, but, you know, basically it's nothing more than taking a high powered gun, a weapon, and killing birds, deer, rabbits, whatever, who have no, you now, have no defense.

It's, they're, it's hard to call it a sport when it's, you know, I just see it as a very brutal thing. I'm doing everything I can to protect the environment and animals that live in that environment, and I just thought it would be good to call and, you know, speak up for them.

CONAN: Christine Thomas, I wondered if you had a response to that.

Dean THOMAS: Well, first of all I think it's not for everybody, and I think that one of your callers actually showed that. I think you're caller has a political viewpoint and a personal philosophy that works for him, and I just don't happen to share it.

CONAN: Is there an element of cruelty? Do you, what do you think about the animals that you kill? Do you have an emotional relationship with them?

Dean THOMAS: Oh, I, I would say that yes, I do have an emotional relationship with them, and I don't think it would be unusual at all for a hunter to have the reaction that the caller, one caller's son had, as an example. And I think it would be very sad if you didn't have some feeling, because in fact you are coming face to face with your role in the ecosystem, in the way that you never come face to face with your role in the ecosystem if you don't participate.

CONAN: As a predator.

THOMAS: Yes.

CONAN: Let's bring another guest into the conversation now. This is Christian Diehm, who's professor of environmental philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. Thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. CHRISTIAN DIEHM (professor of environmental philosophy at University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point): Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CONAN: And I want to follow up on this subject that we were talking about. Obviously some people think, it seems to me that that there's a line that almost anybody has. You could, I bet I could get into an argument right here about the virtues of baiting for deer. I bet I could get into an argument about canned hunts, where exotic animals are tied up, oh that's cruel, that's horrible, we shouldn't do that. Everybody seems to have a step beyond which they will not go.

Professor DIEHM: That's right. When you look at this issue I think it's like any other heated moral issue, where you have a broad spectrum. And oftentimes you have people who agree at the ends of the spectrum but disagree in the middle. I think there's broad, moral consensus that subsistence hunting, for example, is justifiable. There's also a broad moral consensus when you look at statistics and surveys that trophy hunting, canned hunting, those sorts of things are not justifiable. It's when you get into the middle ground that it becomes blurred and difficult and hard to deal with.

One of the things that I think about this issue that's interesting is that you really don't have two groups of people--one of whom claims not to respect nature or animals and another that does. You have a controversy between two groups of people, both of whom claim a certain kind of respect for animals. And we've heard that today, we heard it in one of the callers and the panelists today. And, I think what you run into is you have two very different models for what it means to respect an animal.

The anti-hunting model typically is a model of respect that is similar to that that we use when we talk about respect for human beings. We respect them as individuals with a certain kind of autonomy. We respect the fact that they are maybe mentally complex, socially complex, and when you extend that kind of respect, things like interfering in the life of an animal, killing an animal, seem intuitively wrong.

I think the kind of respect that hunters claim to have is a different kind of respect. Often I think it's a respect that looks at an animal not so individualistically, but more in its ecological context. And when you start to think of a deer not just as maybe psychologically or socially complex, but as prey, which is part of the way that a deer is defined in its ecological role. Then it starts to make more sense to say that you can respect an animal, you can treat it in accordance with its ecological role. So hunting starts to make more sense.

The real issue, I think, is that in recent years, maybe more than previously, and probably not in an area like Wausau where hunting still has a lot of hold, but the burden has really fallen on hunters to explain what they mean by respect. Because it's not what most people mean by that term, although I think hunters feel it very deeply.

CONAN: Do you hunt?

Professor DIEHM: No, I don't.

CONAN: Why not?

Professor DIEHM: Why not? Geez, I didn't anticipate that at all. Well, I didn't grow up with it, first of all, and so I think that while I could maybe try to give a philosophically nuance answer to that, very statistically, a lot of this has to do with where you grew up, what age you were when you were educated in...

CONAN: And Richard Stedman, did your father take you out hunting?

Mr. STEDMAN: No.

CONAN: No, I mean, that's the other category of other people who tend to be hunters. Defining hunters tend to be white, male, and their fathers took them out hunting.

Professor DIEHM: And growing up in rural areas.

CONAN: And growing up in rural areas. Where'd you grow up Chris?

Professor DIEHM: I was born around Baltimore, but I did grow up essentially in a rural area, and most of my friends hunted. Maybe just a personal intuition on these issues, I don't know. That's all I can really offer, I think.

CONAN: We're going to have to take another short break now. And again, if you'd like to join the conversation give us a phone call at 800-989-8255, or send us an email, talk@npr.org. We'll be back at the University of Wisconsin Marathon County Theater after this short break.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, I'm Neal Conan. Today we're broadcasting live from the University of Wisconsin's Marathon County Theater in Wausau, Wisconsin. And we're talking today about hunting, tomorrow, of course, it'll be TALK OF THE NATION SCIENCE FRIDAY, and Ira Flatow will be here.

Let me re-introduce our guests, Richard Stedman, a professor of rural sociology at Pennsylvania State University, Christine Thomas, Dean of the College of Natural Resources at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, and founder of Becoming an Outdoors Woman, George Meyer, Executive Director of Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, and Chris Diehm, professor of environmental philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point.

And of course if you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255; our email address is talk@npr.org. Let's get another member of the audience here up to the microphone.

JIM (Audience member): Hi Neal, I'm a student at the UW Stevens Point, just south of Wausau, and my question is that I think all of us would agree that killing an animal such as a deer or any mammal is a rather weighty moral question. And it would be hard enough, I think, for an adult to decide whether or not they want to kill an animal, but when we ask an 8-year-old whose intellectual facilities and their emotional faculties aren't fully developed yet, it seems like it would be rather hard for that 8-year-old to make that moral decision.

My question for Chris Diehm would be, are 8-year-olds really capable of being moral agents or not? And beyond that, there's the moral question about the deer dying from 8-year-old hunters. As a trap shooter shooting clay targets, I don't hunt but I shoot trap with a 12-gauge shotgun, you often hear hunters telling stories, and sometimes the hunt goes poorly, and a deer is crippled and it runs off crippled and they don't find the deer. And you hear these stories relatively often, and I think as an 8-year-old being a small person, guns being heavy, their skills not fully developed, it seems like it would hard for an 8-year-old to harvest a deer with a rifle or a 12-gauge shotgun. Well, even small game with a 20-guage shotgun, it's a heavy weapon. I would be afraid that the animals would be wounded and crippled and that seems like a moral problem.

CONAN: Well, I guess some people might pose the countervailing moral problem of animals starving to death because of overpopulation. But anyway, over to Chris Diehm on your other point.

Professor DIEHM: I have to mention this to the people here, Jim is one of my former students. And so...

CONAN: How'd he do?

Professor DIEHM: Very well. He talked a lot in class.

CONAN: I can't imagine that.

Professor DIEHM: Yeah, Jim, you're right. You raise two questions, one is about what's happening to animals; the second is about whether or not children have moral faculties. In some sense that's a psychological question, but, if you were to treat them separately, I think it is often the case that parents raise their children according to a standard of morality that children themselves don't understand. So on that issue, I don't know that it's any different than any other complex moral issue that parents are trying to educate children about before they really fully understand the severity of it or the importance of it.

It gets more complicated, right, because in this particular case, the way that you're framing it is that it's not just about parents teaching children something but that there's a third party, which is the animal, that may or may not suffer as a result of the child's skills. And so, that complicates it I think, and makes it different than other sorts of parental, parent-child moral issues.

CONAN: Let's get George Meyer weigh in on this.

MEYER: Yes, and, I think there's a perception that most 8-year-olds are going to be out deer hunting. What this really is, is parents will be making choices, and, looking at their child, if the child is interested in going, and taking them hunting. I would predict that, of the people that hunt-youth hunt at eight, most of them will not be big game hunting, deer hunting or bear hunting, because of the things you talked about, size and weapons or whatever. Most youths start, historically started small game hunting with small caliber weapons; you know, rabbits, or squirrels, or some other birds. I think you'll find some turkey hunting.

I think you'll find, actually, a very small percentage of children that are 12 will be hunting at, that would have hunted at 12 would be hunting at eight.

CONAN: Thanks very much, appreciate it. And good luck, apparently you impress your professors.

JIM: Thanks guys.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Grace. Grace, calling us from Santa Cruz, in California.

GRACE (Caller): Yes, hi.

CONAN: Hi. You're on the air, go ahead please.

GRACE: Well, I just wanted to say I wanted to thank Christine. I started about five years ago, hunting, because of the Becoming an Outdoor Woman program in California, Northern California. I am neither white, nor male, nor did mother or my father take me out hunting. I'm an African-American woman from Philadelphia. But I found that the program was very supportive and the people, the guys who were affiliated with the program who actually took us out and taught us how to shoot and also how to be in the woods were very supportive of the program as well.

And so, I have found a group of people who I really enjoy, who I probably wouldn't have never met any other way except for in this setting.

CONAN: And what do you like about it most, Grace.

GRACE: I'd have to say the camaraderie. I mean I, you know, I have to say that I really enjoy the getting up in the morning. I enjoyed the being with people who I may not necessarily have anything politically to say to, but have very, you know, emotional ties to. And there's also, I don't know whether I'd call it a reverence or not, but there is something and I never actually thought about the meat that I eat until I started hunting and realizing that whether I'm, you know, buying it in the store is very sterile way of doing what I do when I go hunting.

It, there is something to be, that really hits you in the face when you have, when you've shot a bird and you have to clean it and cook it. I mean, I, you know, I think there's something very different than going off to your local grocery store and picking out something that doesn't look at all like an animal.

CONAN: Grace, thanks very much for the call, we appreciate it.

GRACE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye bye. Let's turn now to Mark. Mark's here in the audience, studio audience.

MARK (Audience member): Let's sort of return to that question, but, on the morals of hunting, but, do you think buying a chicken at Walmart morally superior to shooting a flying bird?

And what about those of us who, myself for instance, see that eating deer venison, grouse, pheasants, woodcock, ducks, whatever it might be, as a way of independence in the same way that maybe cutting firewood or picking berries, or growing a garden. And I don't know who wants to field that one?

CONAN: Well let me throw it to Richard Stedman, because again, few of us pick our own berries these days, we tend to go down to the Giant or the A&P.

Mr. STEDMAN: Yeah, I think there's definitely something to be said for that connection; connection to our food, connection to the land, and I think more generally, I guess I'd argue that a lot of hunters have a special connection to place too. They come to know a landscape and a particular setting very, very well, and I guess, certainly I'm not a philosopher. I'll defer to my colleague at the end of the table. But when it comes to issues of morals, I think there's certainly an intellectual honesty that's to be gained by being an active participant in these multiple aspects of your life--whether it's how you heat your house, whether it's how you get your food, and these, and a number of other things. So, I tend to agree.

CONAN: And let me turn finally to Christine Thomas and ask you, we had the call earlier from Grace. If hunting is going to continue to thrive as it does here in Wisconsin, if it's going to recover in places like Iowa where it's on the decline, clearly people like you and Grace have to be brought into this sport. It has to stop being such a male preserve.

Dean THOMAS: Well I, obviously I agree with that. We didn't start the Becoming an Outdoors Woman Program to solve the recruitment to hunting issue, and as we got going with Becoming an Outdoors Woman, we discovered that it was even more than teaching women outdoor skills, it was about self esteem and rising self confidence and becoming part of a community. And I think Grace communicated those things to us.

However, women are 52 percent of the population, and historically state resource management agencies have ignored them as a public. And from a standpoint of the agencies who need--wildlife management is financed by hunters. Wildlife managers are paid by hunting dollars, and so, if we're going to continue that model of financing wildlife management, its necessary to bring more people into the sport and women are, I think have demonstrated that they're interested.

In California, they have a lottery to see who can attend Becoming an Outdoors Woman. That's how popular it is.

CONAN: Thanks to you all. Christine Thomas, Dean of the College of Natural Resources at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, and Founder of Becoming an Outdoors Woman; Richard Stedman, Professor of Rural Sociology at Pennsylvania State University; George Meyer, Executive Director of Wisconsin Wildlife Federation; and Chris Diehm, Professor of Environmental Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point; all here with us here at the University of Wisconsin, in Wausau. Appreciate it.

(Soundbite of applause)

When we come back, fake radio news.

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