Dartmouth's community of hunters sees '04 growth

by Gus Lûbin | 11/15/04 6:00am

Despite a nationwide decline in hunting numbers, the first day of deer rifle-hunting season on Wednesday still proved a holiday for many New Hampshire residents -- Dartmouth students included.

Dartmouth's hunting community was never large, but, in recent years, it has been slowly growing. The Bait and Bullet organization, a loosely grouped offshoot of the Dartmouth Outing Club, is the center of Dartmouth's hunting community.

Founded in 1921, Bait and Bullet's membership dwindled before the club went inactive for eight years during the 1990s. Three years ago, however, Ryan Gorsche '04 and Harry Camp '04 rallied up enough Dartmouth hunters to get the club going again. Today the club has about 120 people on its BlitzMail list and pulls in 25 to 30 people to meetings, according to club vice-president Chris Polashenski '07.

"Bait and Bullet has hot spells and cold spells," said Polashenski. "I'm not sure what is happening in other places, but at Dartmouth we're having a hot spell."

A number of small hunters exist at Dartmouth outside of Bait and Bullet. Nathaniel Paull '05, a former member of The Dartmouth staff, is one of these unaffiliated hunters who recently garnered criticism when he helped hang the carcass of a moose that he shot with a longbow outside Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. Paull acquired a permit to hunt moose this year on the Second College Grant.

Although many students on campus complained about their involuntary exposure to the carcass, Paull insisted that hunting is not as uncivilized a practice as the public thinks.

'To call hunting barbaric because it causes pain to animals would be like saying karate is barbaric because it causes pain to people," he said.

A similar hunting hot spell has swept through Grafton County. Dan Lapan, the rifle director at the Grafton County Fish and Game Association, disputed the claims of a recent Associated Press release that suggested declining numbers of deer hunters in New Hampshire.

"I don't really think that there is a steady decline," said Lapan. "We are steadily gaining members as far as shooters go, and our attendance and members are up."

According to New Hampshire Fish and Game Department spokeswoman Liza Pointier, the number of hunters in New Hampshire overall has been declining gradually over the last several years but the number of deer hunters have gone up.

Hunters made up 5 percent of the state population and 6 percent of the national population in 2001.

But Lapan acknowledged a growing change in the local and especially national attitude toward hunters.

"Guns and hunting are not as accepted as they once were, and many people are no longer taking the time to teach their kids to use guns," Lapan continued.

Bob Bruce '05, who hails from Maine, is one of Dartmouth's most outspoken hunters. The Alpha Chi Alpha member grew up in the far-northern town of Caratunk, Maine, a place where Bruce said everyone hunts.

"Being a student at Dartmouth takes a lot of time from hunting, but I still get out to the woods whenever I can, and I have a lot of buddies who are the same way," said Bruce.

Bruce said he thinks statistics about hunting sometimes confuse the issue. For instance, in some places, a deer permit also allows hunters to kill small game and makes them less likely to apply for two separate permits.

"This means that total permit numbers could go down, but you still have as many people in the woods," Bruce said.