A recent blog by George Smith expresses concern about the decline of hunting in Maine and urges legislators to take action. It sounds a bit like the complaint made by many citizens in the early 20th century about the scarcity of the horse and buggy and the alarming increase of those darned noisy automobiles. No matter what steps were taken, what incentives were in place, the proliferation of internal combustion vehicles soon overwhelmed the number of horse-drawn conveyances. It was the tide of history, a force not to be turned aside or defeated.
The same applies to hunting. There will always be hunting just as there will always be horses, but, despite the out-of-state political clout and deep pockets of pro-hunting organizations like the NRA, Safari Club International, the U.S. Sportsman’s Alliance, and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, their support of nationwide legislation (including here in Maine) to increase the ranks of hunters is not able to turn back the clock to the time when most Americans lived in rural areas and hunting put food on the table.
In economic terms, rather than focus on a relatively small potential market and one that is unlikely to grow, George and his cohorts -if, they can overcome their pro-hunting bias – should target the much larger and viable market of eco-tourism. Yes, I know for some, the word itself raises a red flag, but that too should be overcome because the figures don’t lie.
A few years back, a study in Demand Media indicated that Maine had 22 million tourists who spend as much as $6 billion a year. It didn’t mention how many of these folks actually hunted or fished, but the number must have been small as it is nationwide and indeed for Maine residents, where only approximately 11% can be found armed in the woods, stalking game.
So what do all these visitors from away do when they vacation in Maine? A better question might be – what could they be doing? These affluent younger folks with families could be enjoying the great outdoors without killing something and be willing to pay handsomely for the privilege.
For instance, at a typical bed-and-breakfast, say in the Millinocket area, guests could climb Mt. Katahdin, raft, canoe, kayak or visit the Baxter State Park and still enjoy comfortable accommodations. Other opportunities, many of which would utilize guide services, might include whitewater canoe trips, wildlife watching, and wilderness hiking.
When the article cited here was written, George, in his capacity as Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, was quoted as claiming that his group stands behind ecotourism. Unless that was just a political statement made for general consumption, one wonders why George’s concern is not focused on how to attract the much larger market of non-hunters who enjoy the outdoors and the wide range of activities that could be available to them on public land and the many conserved properties that include rail trails, wildlife refuges, islands, forests and farms, and miles of shore front.
Any successful business has to change with the times to survive, and make no mistake – hunting is an important business in Maine. The options are simple and stark: either adapt to new conditions or perish. A successful business also has to know the demographics of their potential customers, and has to focus on the largest possible market. Like it or not, in Maine and throughout much of the nation, it’s the millions of people who don’t hunt but still want an outdoor experience.
To ignore this unmistakable trend is to get stuck in the past. It is wishing for the horse and buggy amidst the ever increasing tide of modern vehicles.