- The day before gun deer season sends dozens of people into Mel's Trading Post in Rhinelander.
Over the past several decades, store owner Mitch Mode has seen one particular group of customers drop off: kids.
"When I grew up, hunting was the only game in town," Mode said. "Now you've got a lot of youth sport activities, you've got a lot of things going on in a young person's life."
Mentored gun deer license sales have dropped from nearly 15,000 last year to under 13,000 this year with the bulk of license sales over.
That means fewer kids under 11 are going out with their parents.
"It's not only the state of Wisconsin or Northern Wisconsin, but it's a nationwide kind of phenomenon," Oneida County conservation warden Jim Jung said.
This year's trends will determine how Mode runs his business in the months to come. Mode needs to place the bulk of next year's hunting order in December. That includes everything from blaze orange vests to hand warmers to even socks.
That decision is getting more and more complicated thanks to hunting's changing demographics.
"We sell smaller rifles and we sell small blaze orange, but we maybe don't sell as much as we did 20 years ago," Mode said.
There were some customers in Mel's who proved there is still a market for the smaller deer hunting gear.
"It's a really fun experience to have and I think that all young adults my age need to have that experience," 14-year-old deer hunter Rylee Lewis said.
Young says there are certain things hunters can do to make those young adults enjoy that experience a little more.
"The kids that have an interest, if they go out and are attentive and hunting actively for three or four hours and are getting bored, leave them to use their phone or leave them to come in and warm up," Jung said.
The gun deer season runs from Friday, Nov. 17 through Sunday, Nov. 25.
Full hunter data from this year will not be in until January.
|Story By: Andrew Goldstein