NASCAR, lacrosse and hockey are considered to be among the fastest growing sports in the U.S. I'm not sure what the fastest shrinking sport is, but hunting has to be in the running.
I worry about how many people have given up their hunting heritage. I worry even more how few people pass it along to the next generation.
In 1975, a record 44 million Americans bought hunting and fishing licenses, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That figure is considered a "conservative estimate."
IN 2001, there were 37.8 million hunters and anglers in the U.S., according to that same federal agency. That number quickly fell to 33.9 million in 2006.
We could blame hectic lifestyles, video games or cell phones -- but there's no excuse for not periodically taking a time out to enjoy the outdoors.
I've quit jobs, turned down promotions and skipped out on plenty of parties -- all to stay on the hunt. I know where my priorities are.
There's one place stuck back in the hills that's passing the hunting tradition along. We're called the Live Oak Hunting Club, and I'm proud to be a member.
Our group has done well through the years, hunting black-tail deer and pigs, and the veterans of the group have done their part passing the tradition along.
They've bestowed the passion for hunting to me as well as my friends Gerald Dooley, 16, Andrew Dooley, 15, and Tim Dooley, 13.
If the torch wasn't passed before, it was this season.
MY BUDDY Gerald and I have teamed up on a lot of hunts. We work well together and we're competitive.
I didn't realize how competitive we were until the final tally this season -- three bucks and three pigs between the two of us.
And that's all our group harvested.
It could have been more, but we ran out of freezer space.
I opened the season up by shooting a big hog, then Gerald followed up with nice pig of his own. I followed that up with another pig, then a buck. Gerald countered with a buck up in the Sierra Nevada, then I did likewise.
He thinks his buck is bigger than mine.
Despite our boastful quibbling, I didn't think much of our success until I overheard my dad talking to his friend during our annual hunting trip to the mountains.
"The young 'uns are taking over," he said softly.
I suppose it's a little like the passing of the torch, but I don't think they mind at all.
They taught us to how to hunt, where to hunt and all the various methods my friends and I put to use in the field every season.
When we bag an animal, it might as well be theirs.
I know the old-timers can still hunt better than the young folks. I just think they'd rather watch us enjoy what they've enjoyed for decades.
I don't know what the future of hunting is. I don't know if it will ever pick up again.
But I do know that when August rolls around and deer hunting season starts up for my club again, there's nowhere else in the world I'd rather be -- and I think I can say the same for the other young hunters of the Live Oak Hunting Club.
Only one thing bothers me when hunting season starts back up -- thinking about how many people haven't experienced the outdoors the ways I have.