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Hunting For Hipsters: Preserving Conservation In Kentucky

Henry Zimmerman

Hunting funds conservation in Kentucky and many other states around the country, but younger generations have been slow to adopt the pastime and the future of the sport is staring down a generational cliff.

The Kentucky founder of the outdoors app Go Wild has a few ideas about how to reverse the trend by creating a new space for hunters, new and old.

Perched inside a hunting blind on a farm in Waddy, Kentucky, Brad Luttrell kept his shotgun at the ready, waiting for an unsuspecting turkey to seduce the decoy hen in the field ahead.

To pass the time, he shared his thoughts on the state of hunting today: Vegans and hunters have a lot more in common than it may at first seem, he said. People want to know where their food comes from. Hunting is really a form of meditation. With smartphones, people have lost the ability to accept boredom.

But Luttrell also believes smartphones are the future of hunting.

“I’m competing against Fortnite. I’m competing against Netflix,” he said. “We have to get kids away from the devices to enjoy nature. So if I have to use a device to convince them it’s cool, I’m going to do that.”

Funding Conservation In Kentucky

Slightly more than half of Kentucky’s Fish and Wildlife budget comes from hunting and fishing licenses, about $28.5 million in 2017. That money goes toward managing game species like white-tailed deer, but it also helps pay for game wardens, wildlife biologists and conservation efforts of rare and endangered species.

So far, the number of people hunting in Kentucky has remained fairly steady over the last few years, said Brian Clark, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife chief of staff. But he expects that to change over the next decade as baby boomers begin aging out. The decline in revenue could hurt conservation efforts in the commonwealth.

Clark said several factors have led to a drop in participation among younger generations.

For one, fewer people are living in rural areas, so people that want to experience nature have to go farther to seek it out. Then there are the barriers to entry. Hunting takes equipment, skill and experience and is often learned from a mentor.

And then there’s the competition for attention.

“The combination of the burgeoning different forms of technology and ready access to information and entertainment at home or in the palm of your hand is certainly a competing factor,” Clark said.

Enhancing The Outdoors Experience

Back in Waddy, Luttrell explained how activity tracking works on the app. It tracks distance, heart rate and can catalog stats like the height and weight of the day’s catch.

“When you start to look at what a hunter cares about, I mean the weather and mapping, these are actually really sophisticated platforms that are required to do these things. You really need to have a lot of data to do this well,” he said.

On the social side of things, users can share stories or connect on Reddit-like forums for discussions, tips and questions.

While waiting for a turkey to show up, Luttrell passed the phone to show the 30-plus responses he received to a question about turkey calls he asked the night before.

For him, the social side of the app has two major benefits. First, it helps connect older hunters who have the wisdom and experience, and younger hunters who are eager to learn and tend to be more tech-savvy.

But the app also acts as a safe space for hunters to talk about their sport without receiving the criticism they find on other social media platforms.

“The political climate had really polarized social media to the point that you can’t talk about hunting without getting bullied and this is something that’s near and dear to my heart. This is something that feeds my family,” he said.

Luttrell launched the Go Wild App out of his basement in 2017 with three other people. Today, he said they have tens of thousands of users.

The Next Wave Of Hunters

While the tech may help ease new hunters into the sport, Luttrell believes much of the momentum for younger generations comes from yearning for a deeper connection with their food.

Luttrell sees hunting as a natural choice for a generation that has eschewed chain restaurants and processed foods. Hunting, he said, is a way to take responsibility for the food you eat.

“They might be first-time adult onset hunters, but what they have is an appreciation for the food and a respect for the animal that I don’t want to say we are lacking right now, but it’s definitely a cultural shift,” Luttrell said.

Sitting inside a hunting blind on the edge of a field waiting for turkeys to show up offers a fair amount of time for reflection. There’s the sounds of the crows and the woodpeckers, a squirrel foraging among the dried leaves and the whir of wind blowing over the grass.

And for Luttrell, that’s another side of hunting he wants to share with people: The quiet moments, the time spent sitting in, and enjoying nature, often with the company of a friend.

“Typically you would think that most hunters wouldn’t think of themselves as meditating, but that’s why they like it,” he said. “They’ll tell you, 'I like getting away from the distractions of the real world.'”

Even walking away empty-handed, the journey feels like time well spent, he said.

And whether or not hunters bring home a turkey dinner, the money they put towards the sport helps ensure the next generation also gets to enjoy nature’s bounty.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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