by Dr. John E.
Bonfadini, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus, George Mason University
The American traditions of baseball,
apple pie and Chevrolet have been replaced by football, pizza, and Toyota. The
traditional outdoor activities of hunting and fishing are now facing a
Fewer and fewer young adults are
choosing to engage in these outdoor activities. Most of the quality time my
father spent with me was during hunting and fishing season in the woods and
on the streams of Pennsylvania.
I still have some of his fishing poles and guns that I look at every now and
then to remember the good times we had together.
I was a mischievous student (that’s
being kind) in school. On one occasion a teacher removed me from his
classroom — desk and all. As the desk was being moved to the furnace room
by two friends, the principal asked them where they were taking it. They
responded that Mr. Jansantee had “kicked Bonfadini out of class, desk and
The principal found me talking with the
janitor and asked if I would join him in his office. He read me the riot act
and then said I would be suspended for three days for this action and other
offenses. I responded by asking if he would mind delaying the suspension
until the following week. “I’m going to take three days off to go deer
hunting and that way we can both accommodate each other’s needs.” He
chased me out of the office.
In those days, many schools were closed
the first day of hunting season. I even carried my guns to school so I could
get in a few hours of hunting before going home. Times have surely changed.
Taking a firearm near a school today will get you much more than a three-day
There are some simple reasons why
fishing and hunting today are less popular in the general population.
Competition from other activities is one. Kids just
have far more things to do. Kids still use guns, but most are controlled by
joysticks attached to some video game. You can kill people, aliens, animals
or anything else the programmers deem appropriate without any actual harm.
(I won’t discuss the possible intellectual harm of such activity in this
article.) There are also plenty of video fishing games. In addition to the
computer, kids just have so many more organized activities such as football,
baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, dance, martial arts, beauty pageants,
and gymnastics, just to name a few.
A representative of the National
Wildlife Federation said, “We’re losing our rural culture ... There are
so many distractions and we are not recruiting enough people into hunting
and fishing.” The statement, in my view, illustrates part of the problem.
Hunting and fishing must be viewed as a part of the American culture, which
at times takes place in rural areas. If these activities are to grow, they
must include more urban and suburban youth.
My children don’t hunt. I gave it up
about 30 years ago. When I first moved to the Manassas area, I could take my
gun and dogs and walk out the door to hunt quail. Today I would have to
schedule a whole day, then hope I can get though traffic and find some kind
farmer who would let me hunt. Farmers are reluctant to open their lands to
large numbers of citizens. I don’t blame them. Just look at all the trash
in the fishing streams.
There is a strong correlation between
more people plus fewer places to hunt and the decline in hunting. Without
more available places to hunt, nearer to home, this decline will continue.
Many farmers are deciding to make hunting a business endeavor by leasing
their lands to hunt clubs. The more landowners who choose this option, the
more difficult it will be for the general population to participate in
I have a more optimistic view for
fishing — I believe it has growth potential in urban and suburban areas.
You can use a fishing pole in a park. Firearms require space and can be
dangerous to more than just the target. What would happen if I took a shot
at the pesky groundhog that runs through my yard? I think “Jail” might
be the word.
When I gave up hunting, I put all my
efforts into fishing. My computer is full of great photos of the family
catching fish. I have over 100 fishing poles. In fact, when I’m finished
with this article, my friend Dave Sweda and I are heading to New York to
fly-fish for salmon on the Salmon River. Dave is an expert fly-fisherman who
taught me how to tie flies and fish them like an expert. I met Dave on
Hawksbill Creek in the town of Luray. We have enjoyed fishing together ever
since. Many lasting friendships have developed because of fishing. My heart
to race just thinking of the great times my sons and I have had on the
beaches of North Carolina fishing for blues and drum.
To really enjoy hunting and fishing, you
must have game and fish. As areas become less conducive to natural
reproduction, man has stepped in with fish-stocking programs. But these
programs won’t work if streams are polluted and if there is no land. Also,
there must be sufficient funds to produce the fish and game to stock or
feed. As less people engage in these activities, funds from license fees
decrease. Fewer funds ultimately mean less fish and game. Fishing is fun,
but catching is even more fun. NO catching usually leads to less fishing,
especially for kids. In Virginia, the state has tried to expand the stocking
program to include more urban centers. A good idea if you have the fish ...
my personal observation is we don’t.
Hunters and fisherman have a major
responsibility to lead the charge in conserving these natural resources.
I’ve become more cognizant of the importance of releasing fish. I can
remember the days when fishermen at Hatteras stacked bluefish on the bank
like firewood. Today I see a greater willingness to release the fish
unharmed. One of the problems with hunting is it’s difficult to release a
deer that came in contact with a bullet. But fishing offers the opportunity
to use hooks and equipment that allow for safe release of your catch so some
other person can enjoy the sport.
There are numerous articles on the
Internet that show statistics supporting my personal observations on this
subject. The Internet has a large number of fishing sites where you can find
new fishing partners and information. My favorite is Tidalfish.com. I met
many of my Chesapeake Bay fishing friends on this site. Schedule the time to
take your children fishing or hunting. My experience is these are far better
activities for producing quality time with your children than many organized
sports. They are traditions I hope will continue for my grandchildren to
Finally, my high school principal, Fred
Christina, took the time to explain my suspension to my dad. His response
was, “Fred, when he’s home he follows my rules. When he’s in your
house I expect him to follow your rules. Do whatever you need to do to make
him understand that.”
I did get to go hunting but received
sufficient punishment ... my homeroom became the principal’s office. I
think the word today is in-school suspension. To me it was “Jail.”