SEATTLE - I was struck by an epiphany last week. That epiphany is about 5-foot-4 ½, with flaming red hair, is 20-something years old, has almost no huntingexperience … and is most certainly the future of hunting and shooting in the Pacific Northwest (and, the whole country, for that matter).
Shelley knows and loves guns. As in, knows and love gun slike I know and love fish: lives, breathes, sleeps, eats and dreams pistols and rifles. She communicates her knowledge of them with a passion and style that'll likely take a lot of our good ol' boy huntin' community by surprise.
As mentioned, she's not a hard-core hunter. Not that she's disinterested in the sport – quite the contrary, she's keenly intrigued by it. She's just more intrigued by making things go "boom".
Ms. Sargent, though, is the new generation of gun geek. Her professional background is in social media, web communication and commercial gun ranges (of which she was a range manager at one of the most well-known facilities in the Seattle metro area).
She feverishly researches and dearly loves traditional guns (you couldn't tear her away from the Living History Range at the Turner's Shooting Sports Fair at Raahauge's in Southern California this summer), yet exists in the stratosphere of Tweets, Facebook posts and Wordpress.
It's a mix that's comically at odds with what most longtime hunters perceive as the "identity of our sport". Hunting is a sport of the ages, after all. It's a sport of simplicity and tradition. It's easily the oldest sport in existence, with no earthly need for Tweets and other internet silliness.
It's also fading. You cranky-ass old-schoolers - and I love every one of you - are becoming an increasingly small minority.
According to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, there were 235,000 deer hunters in California in 1996, plummeting to 131,000 by 2006. Not going to debate those numbers, they are what they are. National hunting participation is down, and on the West Coast as a whole – home of the dreaded Urban Anti-Hunter and the silliest of anti-hunting legislation – we're losing hunters (and consequently, hunting access) at an even more rapid pace.
The Shelley Sargents of the world, though, are populating the gun ranges of the country at a staggering rate. The US Practical Shooting Association boasts doube-digit percentage increases in membership in recent years. And look around you: of the 30,000-plus people who attended June's big shindig at Raahauge's in Los Angeles, a very, very small percentage were hardcore hunters.
Top Shot is sexy these days, as are American Guns and Sons of Guns.
On the eve of the 2012 late deer season, it's time to take asmall step back from your traditional deer-camp thinking, and soak this all in. And then EMBRACE it. We are, after all, a common tribe, hunters like me and shooters like Shelley. If you want to carry on your hunting tradition, it behooves you to have an epiphany, too.
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