A return to the land: Lowcountry, nation turn to hunting and fishing in tight economy
Erik Skiendziel ran a custom furniture shop in Florida until the market tanked three years ago.
State law regulates the harvest of most fish or game. Licenses usually are required; the rules are varied and sometimes complex. For more information, contact the S.C. Department of Natural Resources at www.dnr.sc.gov or 803-734-3833.
For information about gear, handling fish or game, check with a local hunting or tackle shop.
Last week, the stay-at-home dad was out at Edgewater Park casting for redfish.
Hunting and fishing interest
From 2006 to 2011
Increase in hunting and fishing participants
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Census
It’s a break for him, a bit of fun with the kids in day care. But if he hooks one, he’ll take it home. His two children love fried redfish.
Everything costs more, but we’re not making more money. The middle class is said to be suffering its worst decade in modern history. For the next month, the presidential candidates will contend that they hold the middle class’ best interests at heart. The Post and Courier is detailing the struggles many of us face, and offering you solutions for finding a job, getting out of debt, paying the bills, clothing the family and putting food on the dinner table. Go to postandcourier.com/stuck to read more stories in the series.
“Absolutely, if it’s legal size,” he said.
In fact, Skiendziel bought a deer license a few years back. He can’t wait for the public hunting season to open. Venison in the freezer helps balance the budget.
Skiendziel, 34, of James Island is part of a striking trend in the Lowcountry and nationwide: The number of hunters and anglers rose dramatically from 2006 to 2011, reversing a decades-long decline that has worried wildlife and outdoors interests.
There are a few reasons for it, but one stands out: the economy.
“We in the South have always had a strong sense of the land and wanting to provide for ourselves. With a tight economy, you see more people ‘going to the field,’” said Alvin Taylor, S.C. Department of Natural Resources director, a longtime Lowcountry resident who grew up farming and hunting in Mullins. “You see more people out catching shrimp or harvesting oysters, planting gardens.”
For a lot of people in the Lowcountry, venison is no longer a freezer stock of meat for the country winter; nowadays, pursuits like hunting or fishing are sport.
Modern hunting or fishing can be expensive, food is readily available in the supermarket and there are other entertainment options.
But lately, the price of meat and other market foods keeps rising. So does the cost of entertainment.
Meanwhile, household incomes are stagnant or dropping.
If the gun is already in the rack, or the boat on the trailer out back, hunting and fishing are relatively low-cost ways to have fun, with the bonus of putting food on the table a little more cheaply.
A recently released U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey of wildlife recreation trends suggests more people nationwide picked up a gun or a rod from 2006 to 2011.
While the preliminary survey did not break down specifics, South Carolina apparently was a leading state for the trend.
That’s no real surprise in a region with a long farm-country tradition of harvesting wild game.
But the increase is an astounding 40 percent, dwarfing the national rise of 9 percent and 11 percent for hunters and anglers, respectively.
The final, vetted numbers won’t be that dramatic, but they will show a bigger jump than the national average, said Rob Southwick of Southwick Associates, an economics and statistics analysis firm that specialized in hunting and fishing.
“A spike was expected, but not as big as we saw,” he said.
“When the economy started sinking, people wanted to go back to the basic opportunities tied to the things you used to do when you were younger and didn’t have much money.”
Other factors play into the increase in interest.
Firearm and weapon sales also are up; it doesn’t take long for novice range shooters to want to get a scope on game.
And, “as everything has gotten more expensive, fishing has remained stable,” said Taylor, of DNR.
The state DNR and other wildlife organizations have pushed youth hunting and fishing programs for several years, to combat the declining interest. Schools in the state now feature more outdoors pursuits like fishing clubs and archery teams.
But increasingly, wildlife officers hear stories like the one Lt. Billy Downer, who runs the hunting mentor Take One Make One program, likes to tell: A 14-year-old from a Midlands family of six children, who had no background in hunting, shot his first deer and told the mentor, “Now I can help feed my family.”
Forage and fun
A.J. Forlano is a trained chef who works as a butcher. On two mornings off last week, the Summerville resident did something he didn’t used to do.
He woke well before dawn, put on the camouflage and slipped out to the woods, looking to bring back his first deer.
Forlano, 42, of Summerville took up the pursuit in the past few years after becoming friends with outdoors people in the Lowcountry. He had hunted doves and quail as a youth in southern California. He loves the adrenaline rush and getting outdoors, he said.
But food, too, figures into it. Forlano has a family of four, for whom he cooks gourmet game meals.
“I don’t necessarily need to hunt to eat,” he said. “But I eat everything I kill. It definitely doesn’t hurt when you have a couple pounds of venison in the freezer. It can cut down the grocery bill, for sure.”
The Skiendziel family moved to the Lowcountry when Patricia Skiendziel was transferred. Since then, she has been the breadwinner for her husband and children.
With the kids now in daycare, Erik Skiendziel is looking for work in furniture or merchandising sales.
Meanwhile, he mixes forage and fun. Just the day before, he caught three big redfish. The best of the three came home and went on the grill.
Editor’s note: Sixth in a series about helping the middle class deal with the struggles of today’s economy.
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.