POCONO SUMMIT, Pa. — If Warren Gamaliel Harding Brown could see the hunting camp his grandson has crafted in the Poconos, he’d admire the large, stone fireplace, the taxidermied deer head, and the turkey feathers on display beside some spent shotgun shells.
The flatscreen television mounted on the wall might have surprised the late patriarch, but the spirit of the place would have pleased the man who taught older family members to hunt and inspired the younger ones, decades ago, in rural Virginia.
That’s why Jonathan Wright named the the place “Pocono Browns.”
“He’s the one who started it all, this deep connection to the woods,” Wright, dressed in camouflage and safety orange, said in the camp on a recent weekday.
Wright, 34, doesn’t promote Pocono Browns, which he bought in April, as a Black-owned hunting camp, but it’s fair to say there aren’t many in the Northeast. Most hunters who rent his place are white, he said, but Black hunters, particularly newer ones, have sought him out.
“I had a guy drive here all the way from Columbus, Ohio to hunt here because he was a Black hunter who was new to hunting and he wanted that level of comfort,” Wright said. “One of my passions is to get more Blacks into hunting.”
Hunting groups nationwide have lamented the slow, steady decline of registered hunters over the last decade, so getting any new hunters into the fold is critical. Portions of hunting license fees contribute to conservation efforts nationwide and also help fund the state agencies that regulate hunting.
Pennsylvania has seen fluctuations in hunting numbers dating back to 2009, when 941,970 adults and children purchased licenses. By 2019, the total had slid to 860,743. The numbers of licenses sold did rise slightly in 2020, likely due to a coronavirus pandemic bump that sent the nation clamoring for outdoor activities.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission doesn’t track hunting license sales by race, but the agency has found some success promoting the sport in parts of the state where hunting isn’t as ingrained, like Philadelphia. Mentored hunts at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum have taught many young hunters in the city and surrounding areas how to take a whitetail deer with a crossbow, said Lamar Gore, the refuge manager.
“We had community meetings about it and, initially, people were resistant,” Gore said. “We had to change what they thought of as hunting.”