Hunter Retention

Kids Outdoor Outpost - November 2018

Joe Schuster | November 7, 2018

How do we encourage more people to try hunting and remain hunters? That’s a million dollar question these days that needs some serious answers quickly.

During a recent hunter safety class, I was pleased to see so many youngsters stepping up to learn about the great outdoors and being safe in the field. Each year, it’s estimated that hunter participation declines about 2 to 4 percent. Do we have an equal number of folks trying hunting each year to help balance this out?

I checked in with Lynn Lewis, a certified wildlife biologist and program manager with the U.S. Forest Service, who knows a few things about the subject. I’ve known Lynn for several years now, and I caught up with her to get a picture of these alarming statistics.

Joe: With hunter participation declining each year, let’s lead off with a couple of questions. How old is the average deer hunter in Georgia, and do you see that age increasing?

Lynn: Well, I can’t give you an exact age, but the age of the average hunter is only getting older. Most alarming is that we are not being replaced at the same rate by new hunters of any age. That’s the biggest reason so many pro-hunting groups from local to state to national levels are focusing on recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3) and changing how we’ve been addressing this issue, which has been ongoing for some time.

Joe: What factors affect this decline?

Lynn: There are many reasons. More of the population is in urban areas with no exposure to the outdoors or hunting, other priorities/activities, parents or family members taking care of children, aging parents, other hobbies, school, work, lack of experience, etc. There are even many who are interested, but the process is very confusing and intimidating, and they give up.

Joe: What strategies are being offered to try and stop the trend?

Lynn: One strategy that we took in Georgia that has now been replicated many times over around the country was to create what is called the “Georgia R3 Initiative.” Georgia Department of Natural Resources, National Wildlife Turkey Federation, Quality Deer Management Association and others all put in money to hire a state coordinator who’s sole focus was to assess where we all are with R3 efforts. Using information from all the hunting stakeholder groups in the state, we came up with strategies and actions to address these hunter declines.

One of the big things we are now focusing on is more non-traditional programming. The Field to Fork program that QDMA has adopted and run with is a great example. We’ve got vegetarians from the Athens farmers market now avid hunters, which is incredible! Those types of non-traditional groups we absolutely must reach, not just to create a hunter, which may or may not happen, but also to increase societal support for hunting. In other words, they may not continue to hunt, but they understand it and support it or at least don’t vote/rally against it.

Joe: Well, I would certainly not have thought that vegetarians could become hunters.

Part 2 of Hunter Retention next month.


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