Steve Johnston Jr. doesn't even notice the freezing rain heaving across Little Lick Creek as he scans the brushy bank from his camouflaged boat.
After an hour of spotting only a perturbed heron with his binoculars, he suddenly blurts out "duck!" Three ringnecks dart by. Mr. Johnston doesn't shoot them. Today is just a scouting mission to prepare for his favorite activity: taking his teenage sons, Tripp and Robert, hunting.
Johnston is hoping to imbue his sons with a love of hunting, a pastime slowly on the wane in many parts of America. As fewer fathers take youngsters out into the woods and more suburbanites balk at a sport they see as both dangerous and cruel, some observers predict the number of hunters in the United States could fall by as much as 50 percent in the next 20 years.
For a number of states, that's becoming a concern. Hunters keep deer populations in check and revenue from hunting licenses are key to conservation revenues. Others lament the loss of a father-son ritual that they consider as much a part of American life as the family farm.
As a result, several states - to the great dismay of animal-rights groups - are taking steps to encourage more people to sit in duck blinds and on deer stands:
• North Carolina is launching its first-ever "let's go hunting" campaign, in part as a game-management tool.
• Maine has introduced Young Hunter Days to encourage adolescents to try the sport with the help of volunteer mentors who guide them on their first outing.
• Alabama gives new hunters first access to forests at the start of deer season, so rookies can try their hand when the animals are not as wary - an attempt to lure more to the sport.
• In Illinois, game managers are holding learn-to-hunt classes for single mothers.