Hunters sporting orange vests. Pickup truck beds displaying the latest kill. Check-in stations buzzing about wildlife activity. In the midst of the current deer season that ends Jan. 5, these are common scenes across Greene County.
Yet if state records are any indication, the popularity of hunting is diminishing. And as outdoor enthusiasts have made clear for years, the decline could have lasting consequences.
It may seem ironic: as fewer people hunt, conservation efforts suffer.
It’s also true.
“For every 10 sportsmen today, only 7 are growing up to take their place,” Michael Butler, CEO of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, said recently. “Why is that a problem for wildlife? Sportsmen – through license purchases and special taxes on equipment sales – are the single largest source for wildlife management funding in Tennessee. As the number of sportsmen continues to decline, so does the primary source of funding for wildlife conservation.”
In Tennessee, as well as many other states, hunting pumps money into government conservation and wildlife management efforts. The operating budget of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, for example, is almost completely comprised of hunting and fishing license sales, as well as the federal excise tax – about a 10% levy on ammunition, firearms and a range of archery equipment.
According to state records, there are about 679,000 licensed hunters in Tennessee in 2019. That’s a dip of about 3% from 2018, when there were just over 700,000 Tennesseans with hunting licenses.
It’s the third straight year that fewer people have applied for a license. This century, the state’s record high of licensed hunters in a single year is just over 780,000, a marker set in 2008.
In this trend, the Volunteer State is hardly alone. Many other areas, including popular deer-hunting locations such as Wisconsin, have seen dips in license sales.
For years, the public has debated why the decline is happening.
“A lot of this can be attributed to populations shifting from rural to urban areas. More families are moving to urban environments, and when they do, they forfeit accessibility to the rural lands,” Butler said. “Most of the time, new hunters get started in the field with older relatives or friends, but that’s just not happening as much anymore.”
Echoing a common assessment of the latest generation, Butler noted that hunting and fishing now competes “with all the other noise and technology fighting for their attention.”
Access to land could also help explain the wane. There are about two million acres of public hunting land in Tennessee, state records show. But that’s only about 10 percent of the state. “That may sound like a lot, but it’s not,” Butler said. “Not to mention, access to private lands has also greatly declined. So, the difficulty for hunters to gain access in the first place can deter a lot of them from participating in the season.”
In an effort to blunt losses, state and local groups have increased efforts to recruit hunters, fishers and gun owners.
The Tennessee Wildlife Federation and the TWRA operate many youth-oriented programs. There’s the Tennessee Scholastic Clay Target Program, as well as the Hunting and Fishing Academy, something that “provides engaging, hands-on instruction in the art of being an outdoorsman,” the federation’s website reads.
Over the last 30 years, hundreds of local families have attended the annual Ogle Neas Kids’ Fishing Day, held at Dillard Place just off of Upper Paint Creek Road.
“Fishing is one activity that the kids can do throughout their lives,” Bob Ross, a member of the Cherokee Chapter of Trout Unlimited, told the newspaper earlier this year. “They might play baseball or whatever through high school and then they’re done with that. But fishing is something they can do forever.”
The Greene County Range and Firearms Sports Complex, located on Hal Henard Road, is another location open to the public. Many area leaders, including the late former county mayor Alan Broyles, envisioned more than a decade ago expanding the site into a public range and shooting sports facility.
“With a new facility available, Tennessee SCTP (Scholastic Clay Target Program) is looking for interested coaches and athletes to establish a new SCTP team in Greene County,” Butler said.
Planning and fundraising is underway for another monument recognizing local service members at Veterans Memorial Park.
Veterans Memorial Park Committee officials plan to fill another stone with 225 local veterans’ names, which they hope to place and unveil for Memorial Day in May 2020.
The park is at 805 Forest Street near downtown Greeneville.
The latest monument, Stone “D,” was unveiled ahead of the community’s Veterans Day service in November. It was the fourth placed around the park’s flagpole, alongside stones A, B and C, each of which also recognize 225 local veterans by name.
In the five years since the park’s transformation began, goals of placing new monuments in time to coincide with the community’s Memorial Day and Veterans Day services each year have been met.
After an outpouring of support when committee members expressed concern about meeting the Veterans Day 2019 goal, organizers got a running start on plans for the stone they hope to unveil at the Memorial Day service, but more names and additional financial support is needed.
“We are still taking names for the next stone. It’s an ongoing process, and we hope to get another up by Memorial Day in May,” Veterans Memorial Park Committee Chairman Grady Barefield said last month.
A veteran and active member of American Legion Post No. 64, including a six-year stint as its commander, Barefield is especially touched by what he called an “overwhelming” response from the community when his concerns that a new monument by Veterans Day might not be possible were made known in the fall.
“I just really want to thank the community for their support. It’s been overwhelming, that they’ve got behind this project and supported it the way they have. I’m beyond thankful for that,” Barefield said. “I just truly, truly appreciate it. It’s a wonderful project to honor all those veterans in Greene County that we have.”
The committee’s unofficial counts indicate more than 5,000 veterans call Greeneville and Greene County home, and ongoing efforts at the park aim to honor them all — whether they are natives of the community or have adopted it as their home.
The committee is urging the public to complete applications for monument inscriptions, available at The Greeneville Sun’s offices, 121 W. Summer St., Greeneville’s local U.S. Postal Service branch, and various banks and businesses, and provide proof of service.
There is a $50 inscription fee per name, but the fee does not fully cover the cost of the stone, engraving and placement.
“It’s not even a fraction of it,” Barefield said when plans for the third phase were finalized. The committee opted to continue fundraising efforts to defray the cost of construction. “They wanted to keep it at a cost people in Greene County can afford, but the fees will not even cover all of the stones.”
Criteria for inclusion on Veterans Memorial Park monuments are:
Additional contributions for the site’s development are being sought.
Tax-deductible donations to assist in continued development at the park can be sent to Greene County Veterans Association, earmarked for Veterans Memorial Park, at P.O. Box 804, Greeneville, TN 37744.
For more information about fundraising efforts or including a veteran’s name on planned future monuments, call 639-3775 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Veterans Memorial Park Committee seeks other support for the park — monetary and otherwise.
The Greene County Veterans Association, which is open to all veterans and meets on the second Monday monthly, 6 p.m., at the American Legion post, 101 Longview Drive, is welcoming new members and is active in support and upkeep of the park.
The Veterans Memorial Park Committee, which is open to all volunteers, veteran or civilian, meets the second Thursday monthly, 6 p.m. at the American Legion post. It, too, is welcoming new members who want to support development and upkeep of the park.
Committee members often visit the park to monitor its monuments, help rake after mowing, pick up litter and more. They have also coordinated work and clean-up days ahead of public services at the site.
Greeneville Parks and Recreation Department has mowed the site, and volunteers — including committee members, church groups, civic clubs and others — have pitched in to keep the park in showcase condition.
Meanwhile, a variety of businesses, clubs and individuals throughout the community have conducted fundraisers or donated to the park’s development.
All those forms of support are appreciated and continue to be needed, Barefield said.
Plans for the now-underway third phase of development have been in the works since the beginning stages of the park’s conversion. It was formally dedicated as Veterans Memorial Park on May 31, 2014 — Memorial Day.
The conversion has revived the Forest Street site, a once-popular community park that saw declining use when its pool closed with the opening of the larger Hardin Park pool.
At the 2015 Veterans Day service, the site’s centerpiece, the “Memorial Stone,” was unveiled. It bears engravings of a full-color American flag, the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action flag, emblems of all branches of the U.S. armed forces and a brass eagle over its inscription.
A symbolic seat at the center of the round platform is dedicated to POW and MIA soldiers, intended to remain forever vacant and awaiting their return.
In 2016, the Memorial Day service featured the revealing of “War Stones” around the circular monument’s edge. Those memorialize local soldiers killed in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Stones A, B C and D are situated around the flagpole between the monument dedicated to servicemen killed, missing in action and prisoners of war and the lower picnic pavilion, where a patriotic mural has been added. Additional stones bearing service members’ names are planned for that area.
Contemplative benches honoring Gold Star Mothers and individual service members have been placed nearby as the result of donations. A replica of the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, depicting a World War II flag raising at Mount Suribachi’s Iwo Jima, has also been added to the site.