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Taxidermy museum wants kids to hunt, embrace nature

John Carlisle, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Outdoors

"It's just like I tell people all the time -- right there you got a kid with a club, one kid with a BB gun, and a frog sitting on there," Voss said, pointing to a display case with an antique copy of American Boy magazine, published in Detroit from 1899 to 1941, whose cover painting showed two armed boys standing happily and ominously over a frog on a log. "That's 1913. Now you'd have two kids sitting on the couch playing video games with each other. They don't get outside. They don't see all that stuff anymore."

Maybe it's because a lot of kids grow up without dads in their lives and have nobody to pass down the hunting tradition to them.

"Nowadays you have half the kids in divorced families, so the mom takes them one way and the dad goes and does his thing by himself," Patricia said.

Maybe it's because there's been a shift in society, and more people view hunting as cruel or distasteful.

"Like most blood sports, hunting is dying out quickly as a new generation recognizes that animals are part of our environment and not just there to kill for fun," said Moira Colley, a spokesperson for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "They're sensitive beings and they feel pain just like we do, and it's becoming more obvious that people aren't OK with just killing animals for fun."

Regardless of the cause, the drop in hunting numbers is real. Though there have been occasional spikes in the overall downward trend over the years, the total number of all hunting licenses issued each year in Michigan has fallen by almost 25 percent since the late 1950s, from just over 956,000 in 1959 to 719,850 in 2017, even as the state's population has increased 21 percent.

The decline in youth hunting participation is even more pronounced lately, with total hunting license sales in Michigan going from 83,042 in 2012 to 65,688 in 2016 among the ages 10-16 group, a 20 percent drop, and from 80,165 in 2012 to 70,459 in 2016 among ages 17-24, a 12 percent drop.

The DNR sponsors several initiatives to encourage interest in hunting and fishing among kids in Michigan, said Hannah Schauer, communications coordinator for the DNR's Wildlife Division. "We believe it's really important to get kids outside to, first of all, just kind of build that appreciation for Michigan's natural resources and outdoors, and for us to be able to pass down those hunting traditions."

Like a lot of families, the Guntzvillers have their own ways of keeping hunting traditions alive.

On opening day every year, they'll be up and out before the first light of dawn and head to their deer blinds a few miles north of the museum, on a plot of land in the northern woods that Voss bought years ago.

They'll usually bring along the young boys of the family, as Voss did this year when his 9-year-old grandson, Wyatt, who shot his first-ever deer, an 8-point buck, as Voss sat with him in their blind. "It was more exciting for me to let him shoot that deer than it would've been for me to shoot it," Voss said.

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They'll usually wind up with a freezer full of meat for the winter, which Patricia will use to make venison stew, venison meatloaf or venison chili -- once-common winter dinners in Michigan among hunting families. "I've had women tell me, 'I don't want to eat anything like that,'" said Patricia. "And I said, 'What's the difference if you buy it on a piece of Styrofoam wrapped in cellophane?' I said, 'You're just not doing the work.'"

And they'll usually bring home another animal for the museum, to stand alongside the others and perhaps inspire children to go outside and see such wildlife for themselves. And maybe, Voss hopes, even to hunt it themselves.

"It seems that people, they're concerned about the environment, but a lot of them don't understand that wildlife conservation goes along with it," he said. "It's just like they want to protect all the deer and not harm any animals or do anything like that. The thing is, you'd have thousands of deer-car accidents a year in Michigan if you didn't have hunting. It'd be out of control. They get disease and get sick and everything else."

He stood next to a display full of forest animals like fawns and squirrels and foxes, forever holding perfectly still in a heavenly likeness of nature, granted in death a form of eternal life.

"It's good that they're concerned about the environment, especially our water quality and stuff like that," Voss said. "But they also need to understand that there is a place for hunting, fishing and trapping."

IF YOU GO ...

Guntzviller's Taxidermy and Spirit of the Woods Museum is located at 11060 South US 31, Williamsburg, Mich. Admission is free. For more information, call 231-264-5597 or go to northernmichigantaxidermy.com

(c)2018 Detroit Free Press

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