Recent news depicted that the number of hunters age 16 and older increased by 9 percent—and anglers by 11 percent—between 2006 and 2011, was roundly heralded by sportsmen’s groups and those involved in the business of the outdoors.
Data contained in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey
of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation () indicates that after decades of decline, 1.8 million 6- to 15-year-olds hunted in 2011, and big game hunting attracted 11.6 million hunters, an 8 percent increase from 2006.
In fact, only one portion of hunting showed a decrease during the past 5 years, just as it has for nearly 40 years—the hunting of small game such as squirrels, rabbits, quail and pheasants. What was once an activity that introduced most young Americans to hunting saw a 6 percent decrease in participation in the past 5 years—on top of a whopping 31-percent drop from 1991 to 2006!
While it’s sad to see the tradition of small game hunting apparently fading from the American outdoors scene, there’s another consequence to the decrease in the number of squirrel hunters that is beginning to impact—surprisingly—one portion of the fishing tackle industry.
For a half-century, thousands of avid American gray, fox and black squirrel hunters have known about a company in Wisconsin that pays cash for the rear accouterment of their bushy-tailed quarry. And around this time every year, as squirrel seasons begin in many parts of the heartland, the company that manufactures Mepps
fishing lures sends out its annual announcement soliciting squirrel tails.
The message last week from Mepps public relations chief Jim Martinsen had an ominous tone of urgency to it.
“It’s that time of year again when we like to remind small game hunters that Mepps is still buying squirrel tails,” Martinsen wrote. “It’s no secret squirrel hunting is way down nationwide, so we’re scrambling. The tails are a great natural resource and we really hate to see them go to waste, especially when we need them so badly. Please let your readers—or fellow bloggers—know we will buy their tails. Or, better yet, they can double their value and trade them for Mepps lures. This can bring the value of just two tails up over a dollar.”
OK, we’ll admit no one ever became rich by supplying squirrel tails to Sheldon’s Inc. in Antigo, Wisconsin. With 20- to 25-cents paid for each “premium’ tail, that would take a lot of stewed squirrels.
Which brings up another important part of Mepps’ longstanding policy on purchasing squirrel tails: The company only wants tails from squirrels that have been harvested for the table, which is an honorable requirement, where we come from.
Says Mepps’ Martinsen: “Every year we hear from someone who implies they would send us their tails if we paid more. However, this is a real catch-22. The last thing we want is someone stomping through the woods shooting squirrels just to retrieve their tails. It’s just dead-wrong. We want to hear from legitimate squirrel hunters who enjoy their stew. We know these are the guys who also use Mepps and we’ve enjoyed doing business with them for the past three generations.”