New study to show if recruiting is working

Harrisburg – A recruitment push that would make the military
proud in its dedication and urgency has been ramping up across
America over the last few years.

But is it working?

That’s the question a national survey firm will attempt to
answer over the next two years.

Responsive Management, a Virginia-based company that deals with
natural resource issues, in partnership with the National Wild
Turkey Federation, will try to determine if programs aimed at
bringing children, women and others into the hunting ranks are
succeeding.

That’s considered critical to know because of the challenge
facing hunting. Namely, hunters are becoming increasingly rare.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there were 18
million hunters ages 16 and older in America in the early 1980s.
There are about 12.5 million now. That’s the fewest since 1970.

That’s important for bigger reasons than just making sure
everyone who wants a hunting buddy has one, too. The so-called
“North American Model” of wildlife conservation says that wildlife
belongs to the public. But it also relies on a small minority of
that public – namely, sportsmen – to fund its care.

Here in Pennsylvania, for example, the Game Commission gets
almost all of its revenue by selling hunting and fishing licenses.
It gets no tax money from the state’s general fund. The situation
is virtually the same in every state.

But what happens if there aren’t enough hunters left in, say 20
or 30 years, to foot that bill?

Some have said the answer is just to create new hunters. And
wildlife agencies and sportsmen’s groups have been trying.

The Game Commission and wildlife agencies across the country
have created special youth-only seasons and developed mentoring
programs. Sportsmen’s organizations like the turkey federation have
run classes aimed at introducing children and women to the
outdoors.

But to succeed, recruitment programs have to overcome some
societal-scale problems. A study of hunter recruitment and
retention done for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by economist
Jerry Leonard found that urbanization – which keeps people from
connecting to nature – lack of access to huntable land, and lack of
time are others.

Economics are an issue, too. Retention rates among hunters
earning more than $40,000 stayed stable between 1990 and 2005, but
dropped by 7 percent among those earning $24,999 or less and by 4
percent among those earning $39,999 or less.

Responsive Management’s survey is intended to see if recruitment
programs are up to that challenge, at least on a scale large enough
to balance out hunting’s losses. Right now, Mark Damian Duda,
president of the company, has some doubts.

“The problem with these programs now, and there are a lot of
good ones, is that percentage-wise, it’s a tiny amount of people
they’re reaching. They’re probably a drop in the bucket compared to
what needs to be done,” he said.

It’s hard to imagine that any recruitment programs can account
for the mass of hunters set to leave the ranks in the next two
decades, said Dan Nelson, editor of a magazine for Delta Waterfowl,
an international group of duck and goose hunters. Forty-four
percent of all hunters are baby boomers, ages 44 to 62. Research
has shown that hunters begin to leave the hunting ranks at age 45;
that accelerates when hunters reach 65.

Modern medicine might keep the boomers around longer, but
eventually they’re going to leave, and the hunting ranks figure to
be much thinner – perhaps forever – as a result, Nelson said.

That’s where the “superhunter” comes in.

Delta Waterfowl believes the hunters of tomorrow will have to
pay more for licenses and simultaneously become more active
advocates for their sport.

“We’re going to have to do more with less,” Nelson said. “We’re
going to have to get more out of them than we’ve gotten from the
hunters of the past. That’s what we’re calling the
superhunter.”

That would definitely be something new. Currently, many
sportsmen more typically turn to agencies such as the Game
Commission to solve problems, said Jody Enck, who studies hunters
as a research associate in the human dimensions unit of Cornell
University’s Department of Natural Resources. But that’s not
realistic, he said.

Hunters need to get involved in things like protecting open
space on a local level to guarantee access to huntable land, for
example, he said. More importantly, they need to make a real effort
to reach out to the non-hunters who have always made up the
majority of the population.

Those who try to keep such people at bay for fear that their
money will give them influence over wildlife decisions are being
short-sighted, he said.

“I think the North American model is going to have to evolve.
But the way they want to do it makes it doomed. That will change it
completely, and it won’t be to their liking,” Enck said.

“The people who are hunters now need to be able to talk to those
who aren’t in a way that speaks to their interest and their
imagination beyond hunting being something where you just carry a
gun and kill something.”

Hunters have to get involved in their sport “up to their ears,”
Nelson agreed.

“When you lose participants, you lose your voice,” he said. “It
becomes a snowball rolling down hill. It gets worse and worse.

“The deck is stacked against us. There are a lot of things out
there that should raise everyone’s concern. Hunters have to speak
up.”

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