In two decades as an outdoors writer, I’ve written several stories about things that have negatively affected hunting license sales in the United States and still more stories about issues that are likely to bring those numbers down in the future.
For as long as I can remember, our lagging economy has been forcing people to give up or cut back on hunting, and that has certainly reduced the number of licenses sold in many states. Anti-hunting campaigns by animal-rights groups like PETA have also been bad for the sport.
Someday soon, the large generation of folks known as the baby boomers will all be retired – and conservation officials are concerned about the effect that might have on license sales.
But in the midst of all the negativity, I’ve finally come across something that seems to be having a positive impact on the number of hunters you could be seeing soon in a forest near you.
We’ll call it the Katniss Effect.
If you’re not up on modern pop culture (and you haven’t turned on a television in a couple of years), you might be wondering, What in the world is a Katniss?
But it’s not a what; it’s a who.
Katniss Everdeen is the main character from one of this year’s blockbuster movies – a pretty decent flick known as The Hunger Games that is based on a more-than-decent book of the same title written by Suzanne Collins.
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic America that has been divided into 12 starving, struggling districts ruled by a power-hungry dictator from the area known as The Capitol.
At one point during the story, the districts grow tired of being ruled by The Capitol and they stage an uprising. But the revolution is snuffed out, and the leaders from The Capitol devise a strategy to keep it from happening again.
They begin holding an annual event known as The Hunger Games in which two children, ages 12-17, from each district are forced to fight to the death through a series of horrible, human-engineered obstacles. The winners will be set for life, but the rest of the children will be lost for good.
Katniss Everdeen volunteers for The Hunger Games when she realizes her 12-year-old sister, Prim, is about to be forced to participate.
To make a long story just a little shorter, Katniss and her friend, a boy who is ironically named Peeta, actually win the event in tandem.
But here’s the real kicker – the one element of the movie that ties this all in with a column about hunting licenses:
Katniss survives The Hunger Games, fends off the more rabid competitors and saves her little sister with nothing but a bow and some well-placed arrows.
And there it is – the reason so many little girls across this country will be bow-hunting this year for the first time.
Katniss is phenomenal with her bow, killing everything from flying game birds to the folks who are trying hard to kill her.
Little girls all over the country have been so taken with the Katniss character and her mad bow-and-arrow skills that they’ve decided to emulate her.
I’ll bet I’ve heard two dozen stories lately about young ladies who’ve taken up the bow and arrow because of Katniss. Some are simply shooting at stationary targets for the sport and fun of it, while others are preparing to enter the woods when the archery deer season begins.
The idea of a movie creating a new generation of outdoors enthusiasts is far from a new one. If you don’t believe it, just ask any fly fisherman how much more crowded the waters got after audiences saw Brad Pitt and Robert Redford in A River Runs Through It.
As good as that movie was for people who sell fly-fishing equipment, I think the Katniss Effect might eventually be even more significant.
A group of young girls in this country have chosen to emulate an independent, self-giving hero who uses a bow and arrow to improve her life and the lives of the people most important to her.
While pretending to be Katniss, they’ll learn the importance of eye-hand coordination, accuracy, practice, hard work and how to take pride in something besides their ability to text using only two fingers.
Considering some of the pathetic movies that find their way into theaters these days, I think their choices could have been a lot worse.