MI: Are state’s youth hunts slowing hunter losses?

Lansing – Anecdotal evidence suggests state programs designed to
recruit and retain Michigan hunters may be helping slow a continued
decline among youth participation in hunting.

Popular youth deer and waterfowl seasons, well-attended hunting
clinics, and relatively steady youth deer license sales are all
signs that recruitment efforts are having an impact, but DNR
officials acknowledge that more could be done to track the
progress.

“Undoubtedly, it’s resulted in more young hunters in the field, but
will that translate into more hunters when they’re 25 to 29 years
of age? We don’t know,” said Brian Frawley, a DNR biologist who
coordinates hunter surveys. “With deer participation at the
youngest age classes, we’ve held fairly steady.

“The true test is, do they continue hunting when they’re older? And
we won’t know that for many years.”

Some believe the popularity of many youth hunting programs is
evidence that the message is taking root.

A recent waterfowl hunting instruction day in Muskegon drew more
than 100 youth. In Flat Rock, the local chapter of the National
Wild Turkey Federation paired about 120 kids with mentors who
guided them through hunter safety, shooting practice, and a
Saturday turkey hunt, said Russ Mason, DNR wildlife chief.

“All of these events are heavily subscribed,” Mason said. “A lot of
people show up … but it’s hard to quantify what’s working and
what’s not working” to create new hunters.

Measuring the effectiveness of new programs has been the DNR’s
“historical weakness,” he said.

“It gets very difficult to try to track the impact of hunting
programs for youth,” Frawley said. “We generally have not done
thorough evaluations” of hunter recruitment programs.

Such an effort would require DNR officials to track kids who
participated in specific programs throughout their adult hunting
career, as well as a control group that didn’t participate, to
determine effectiveness. Other factors further complicate the
process.

The youth waterfowl hunting season, for example, doesn’t require a
license, making it difficult to determine those who
participate.

“You have to remember we are changing the rules, too,” Frawley
said.

The DNR launched an apprentice hunting license in 2006 and a youth
mentoring program this year, repeatedly lowering the minimum
hunting age.

Amy Trotter, resource policy manager for Michigan United
Conservation Clubs, said the state sharpened its focus on
attracting hunters in 2006, and she suspects the hunter apprentice
license established the same year has helped to “stem the decline”
in participation, but it’s just a hunch.

Youth deer and waterfowl seasons also have been successful, she
said, but what that means remains unclear.

“Does a youth hunt make or break a future hunter, or is it just
another opportunity? We don’t know because we’ve never evaluated
it,” she said.

“What I think we need to do is look at who has gone through our
hunter safety program. We have contact information and we can glean
some data … to see if they are still hunting or the barriers they
have to hunting,” Trotter said. “Do we know if a kid who hunts
during the youth hunt for deer and is successful … 30 years down
the road will he be the guy taking his kids out?”

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