I am not a hunter.
The only firearm in our house is a wall hanging. It's a small rifle that belonged to my grandfather. I'm told it was his first gun as he was growing up in rural Georgia at the turn of the 20th century.
Granddaddy's gun looks like a toy, but it shoots .22 shorts. Granddaddy had a double-barreled shotgun by the time I was a kid, watching his every move. He and Bess, his bird dog of questionable heritage, loved to scour "the place" for quail. Grandmother always said he and Uncle John went in the woods "to walk their guns." So precious were the quail that made it to her holiday table that she quizzed you to make sure you would eat it before she entrusted one to your plate of grits and gravy.
But even though I am not a hunter, I appreciate those walks in the woods that generation after generation have enjoyed in the Lowcountry.
Last weekend, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources sponsored a free youth deer-hunting day to attract more people to the sport. Kids, it seems, would rather hunt with a video game than walk in the woods with actual gobblers, 'coons and deer.
State officials say the number of hunters is declining. Urbanization and urban lifestyles are part of what has long been a national trend.
It's a shame to lose traditional ways of life. But it's a shame to lose hunters for a different, almost paradoxical, reason. Hunters are our greatest conservationists. President Theodore Roosevelt would be the poster child. He's credited with protecting 230 million acres of American lands and waters.
Harry R.E. Hampton, a hunter born the same year as Granddaddy, is considered the father of South Carolina's conservation movement. As a columnist at The State newspaper in Columbia, he influenced public policy on game and fish laws, and preservation of the Congaree River bottom, now a National Natural Monument.
"The preservation of our wildlife is of importance to every man, woman and child in this state," Hampton wrote, "and this movement deserves the wholehearted support of every right-thinking individual within our borders, whether hunter, fisherman or not."
That's where those of us whose only guns are considered artwork come into play. I can buy a state hunting and fishing license (www.dnr.sc.gov) and fund the state Department of Natural Resources' numerous conservation projects. And my money can be tripled with matching federal dollars, which come from taxes on firearms and ammunition that have raised more than $4 billion since 1937 to purchase 4 million acres of wildlife habitat.
This year, I might pull the trigger. I might buy a hunting license.