Photo by Art Streiber
Bold predictions, tomorrow’s technology, rising stars, and falling records…we asked our experts to peer into the future of hunting, fishing, and conservation. Here’s what they see.
Hipsters Will Help Hunting
Illustration by Peter Oumanski
Hunting’s traditional demographic—rural, white males—dwindles every year. Urban hipsters, suburban locavores, homesteaders, and others who have recently come to care (as we always have) where our food comes from will be hunting’s new blood.
Hunting for food is the oldest idea of all, but it’s also a trend: A recent study shows the number of hunters who cite “filling the freezer” as the chief reason they hunt increased from 22 to 35 percent since 2006. There’s even anecdotal evidence of vegetarians allowing wild meat in their diets—and donning camo to get it. —Phil Bourjaily
Crossbows Will Transform Bow Seasons
With 24 states now allowing crossbows for all hunters during part of or the entire archery season (and more planning to), some manufacturers are seeing 50 to 100 percent sales growth per year. Meanwhile, bow-season participation in crossbow-friendly states is sharply up. Take Connecticut: In 2013, the state’s first full bow season allowing crossbows, archery license sales increased more than 10 percent and archers took more deer than gun hunters for the first time ever. Like it or not, vertical-compound-bow hunters will soon be dubbed traditionalists, and the relative calm and light competition that has defined bow season will be changed forever. The upside: Archery seasons will no longer discriminate against those who cannot physically pull the legal minimum vertical-bow draw weight. —Dave Hurteau
The D.I.Y. African Adventure Will Return
Across many of France’s former colonies in western and central Africa, there is now a system called chasse libre: A hunter buys a license, secures a hunting area, assembles trackers and skinners, and sets out on his own. The game can range from bongo in rain forests to giant eland and buffalo on the savanna, at prices far below those charged by professional hunters.
I hunted this way during 10 days in January, with the help of outfitter Cam Greig (selfguidedafrica.com). I was free of a PH hovering over me and telling me what to shoot. In short, it was African hunting as in days of yore. —Thomas McIntyre
Technology Will Make Idiots of Us All
Like it or not, here’s what will be in the tech-savvy hunter’s gear closet:
A Scouting Drone
Hog hunters already use them; Colorado has already banned them. For less than $500 you can order a shoe-box-size UAS (unmanned aerial system) with live video controls. They even come in camo. Trail cameras are so 2008. —Michael R. Shea
A Remington 700 That Almost Aims for You
Ballistic-compensating aiming systems, like Remington’s 2020 (remington.com), will take much of the skill out of accurate shooting. Unless banned, they will become cheaper, simpler, and more prevalent. —David Draper
A Smartphone That Tells You Where to Hunt
Coming programs, like HuntSoft (huntsoft.com), will pattern deer activity via wireless trail camera pics and sync it all with a custom map of your property to tell you exactly where to place your treestand. —Will Brantley
Suppressors Will be Legal to Own in 46 States
So-called silencers, which reduce noise levels below a safe 140-decibel threshold, are currently legal to own in 39 states and are legal for hunting in 30. Thanks to intense public-education campaigns, that number will increase to include all states except California, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Massachusetts by 2020.
“Suppressors are where ARs were 10 years ago,” says Knox Williams of the American Silencer Association. “In 1999, there were 83,627 suppressors in the U.S. As of April 2013, there were 494,452. Suppressors are the future.” —Jeff Johnston
Sleeper Whitetail States Will Awaken
Photo by Judd Cooney/Windigo Images
As longtime hotspots like Illinois and Iowa begin to decline, up-and-comers will take their place, including:
Already producing huge nontyps, the Hoosier State is loaded with ag and has a one-buck yearly limit.
2. Idaho and Washington
Tremendous mountain bucks see so little hunting pressure in some places that they’re dying of old age, say B&C insiders.
Brimming with potential, the Wolverine State has recently adopted antler-point restrictions, and more hunters are voluntarily passing up young bucks.
Home to easy winters, the Sooner State has huge blocks of habitat that can be managed for big deer.
The Magnolia State now leads the nation in percentage of mature bucks in the harvest. —Scott Bestul
We Will Hunt Passenger Pigeons
Illustration by Peter Oumanski
These long-gone gamebirds will again darken the skies. As huge flocks take hold in mature eastern forests, hunting seasons will open sometime in the late 22nd century.
Ever since Dolly the sheep was successfully cloned in 1996, researchers have turned their attention to reviving extinct species. Currently, the genetics research firm Revive and Restore is sequencing passenger pigeon DNA from museum specimens. The next step will be adding passenger pigeon genes to those of a closely related bird, probably the bandtail pigeon. —P.B.
Bonus Prediction: Texas will be the first state to allow dinosaur hunting. —D.D.
Women Will Rise
Photo by Art Streiber
F&S sits down with the cohost of Jim Shockey’s Hunting Adventures, women’s advocate and rising star Eva Shockey, to discuss hunting’s future. Interview by Michael R. Shea.
F&S: So, Eva, what’s next?
E.S.: I’d say women are. Compared to just last year, the number of women I meet—young girls, teenagers, moms with babies, older women—who tell me they hunt or are taking up hunting is incredible. Bass Pro Shops owner Johnny Morris recently told me that the sale of women’s products was just 3 percent of his business 10 years ago, and now it’s 30 percent. Women are coming on full force.*
F&S: Why do you think that is?
E.S.: We have so many more platforms now. Outdoor Channel. A&E. Shows that depict hunting have become mainstream, so people are more accepting of it. When those shows feature women in the outdoors, other women feel more welcome and accepted.
F&S: Do you see yourself as a role model to these new hunters?
E.S.: I think of myself more as just being relatable. I’m the same as a lot of these girls I talk to. My dad was smart enough to pick up a camera and take it hunting 15 years ago, so, yes, we now have a camera in front of us all the time, but otherwise we’re just like any family that hunts together.
F&S: Obviously the camera loves you. How do you handle all the attention from men?
E.S.: It’s an honor. I’m not doing anything scandalous—I keep all my clothes on—and I try to make decisions that, if I had a daughter, I’d want her to make. If people think that’s attractive, especially in full camo, I think that’s great. I take it as a compliment.
F&S: Will more women hunters get their own TV shows, rather than being some dude’s sidekick?
E.S.: Definitely. That’s happening now and it’s only going to get bigger. Remember, a lot of those “sidekicks” are very capable in their own right and could have very successful shows of their own.
Increase in hunting participation from 2008 to 2012, according to the NSSF: male, 1.9 percent; female, 10 percent (from 3.04 million to 3.35 million)_
Technology Will Make You Toasty—And Less Strapped
You’ll be wearing and shooting:
Forget electronics. The real innovation in extreme cold-weather protection is Aerogel, the planet’s best known thermal insulator, which has been converted into an ultrathin clothing liner via nanotechnology and is available in camo hunting garments through Shiver Shield (shivershield.com). —D.D.
In the race to find a cost-effective, high-performance substitute for lead, Advanced Ballistic Concepts believes it has already crossed the tape for target loads with its Zuerillium Alloy bullets (a.k.a. Green Lead; mibullet.com). The company is currently working on hunting-load applications. And it is hardly alone. —D.H.
Modern Sporting Rifles Will Take Over
They will surpass bolt-action models as the preferred sporting rifle. In 2013, 20 percent of all firearms sold were MSRs, compared with just 14 percent traditional sporting rifles, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which further predicts that MSR-owning target shooters will increasingly expand into hunting. Meanwhile, the number of hunting calibers available in MSRs seems to double yearly. The lever action and pump will ultimately vanish. —David E. Petzal
CWD Will Get Worse and Worse
While epizootic hemorrhagic disease grabs the headlines, chronic wasting disease is old news that makes folks fall gently to sleep. But whereas EHD is annual and localized, CWD is persistent and spreading. While we’ve been snoozing, it’s gotten far worse. In Wisconsin’s CWD core area, the percentage of 21⁄2-year-old or older bucks with the disease has jumped from 7 or 8 percent in 2002 to over 20 percent today, according to the QDMA. In some western states, more than 30 percent of the population is infected. There’s still no cure or vaccine. —D.H.
The Next World-Record Largemouth Will Come From Lake Biwa
Google the current co-world-record bass (and other giants) caught from Japan’s Lake Biwa and see how “overstuffed” it looks. That outrageous girth comes from an unusual abundance of large, fatty forage like trout, bluegills, eels, ayu, and several varieties of carp. And there’s more to it than food. Biwa also has a strong mix of water clarity, temperatures, depths, and vegetation and other cover that supports fast, excessive bass growth. So while certain lakes in California or Texas could theoretically produce a record-size fish, the odds are far better at Biwa, where all of the critical factors are aligned perfectly right now to produce an abundance of mega bass weighing more than 20 pounds. One of them could well break through. —Dave Wolak
The Japanese Way Will Become the American Way
Illustration by Peter Oumanski
Yup, Japan again. Because most bass lakes there are crazy overpressured, Japanese anglers are masters of finesse fishing, and Japanese lures are ultrarealistic—they need to be. Here in the U.S., many destination lakes that coughed up big numbers of hog bass 10 years ago are no longer so obliging. The likely cause isn’t a growing number of anglers but that the Internet makes it way easier to track good bites, leading to an influx of fishermen at the hottest spots. Going forward, instead of throwing the same crankbaits that hooked slobs in years past, anglers will have to embrace subtler techniques aimed at fooling wary bass that—like those in Japan—have seen it all. —Joe Cermele
There Will be a Water Crisis
Photo by Yay Media As/Alamy
Faced with a choice of providing water for fish and wildlife or for homes, schools, and factories, what will America do?
For years, ecologists have warned we’d eventually have to answer this question because uncontrolled development has been draining aquifers across the nation. But now the worst drought in 500 years is gripping California, and in much of the West that decision has moved from the future to the present.
With water levels predicted to continue to drop in many parts of the country due to climate change, sportsmen’s groups will face their biggest political battle ever. Fish and wildlife can live on fewer acres. They can’t live without water. —Bob Marshall
Snakeheads Will be the New Carp
Photo by David Coleman/Alamy
Anglers looking for bigger thrills will embrace the toothy Asian imports, long reviled as voracious predators bent on wiping out American gamefish (as well as any miniature poodles that get too close to the waterline).
Already, guides like Virginia’s Steve Chaconas, who books 150 trips a year on the Potomac, see clients who target snakeheads exclusively. “They’re usually bass fishermen who want a bigger jolt,” Chaconas says. With biologists concluding that snakeheads can coexist with bass, and with chefs putting them on menus, the invasive species will join carp in going from hated to hot. —Steven Hill
Summer Bass Weigh-ins Will End
Photo by Rick Adair
The long boat rides and warm live-well water associated with traditional tournament weigh-ins can kill fish, especially in summer. That’s why many local bass clubs and college fishing teams have voluntarily switched to paper weigh-ins, where competitors measure each caught fish, use a standard conversion formula to record its weight on a printed form, then immediately release their catch. With reports and complaints on the rise about fish floating belly-up following traditional onshore weigh-ins, going to paper is the next logical step. —Don Wirth
Flyfishermen Will Go Jungle
No place on Earth has as much raw fishing potential as the interior of South America, where the jungle-fishing scene is set to explode as indigenous tribes open vast expanses of untamed waters. For adventurous anglers seeking arapaima, pacu, yatorana, arowana, and payara, the waters of Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Guyana will be the world’s next hotspots. —Kirk Deeter
The Pebble Mine Proposal Will Die
The EPA has now invoked the Clean Water Act against the proposed and potentially catastrophic Pebble Mine in the headwaters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, the most prolific wild salmon and trout fishery in the world. The vast majority of native people there oppose the project, and a key company involved has pulled out. Soon, the U.S. government will stand up and preserve this resource for the benefit of sportsmen, and the protection of Bristol Bay will go down as one of the seminal conservation events in American history. —K.D.
From the May 2014 issue of Field & Stream.