Thinking outside the hunter recruitment box
Sitting here and scrolling through social media, I came across three separate articles on the subject of millennials and the outdoors.
“They aren’t hunting and fishing at the same rates as baby boomers,” they say.
Some cite reports or surveys conducted and some provide insights from “industry experts” but the bottom line is that fewer people in their 20s are venturing forth into the outdoors and people are mystified by this fact.
As a member of Generation X, I have to first check my ego at the door and shrug off the cynicism of being a “middle child” in this conversation. All the reports tout the high-water mark of the baby boomers while trying to save the millennials. Meanwhile, us Gen X’ers are left to wander the woods on our own.
Fine with me.
But another thought that crosses my mind: If you cared about our sagging numbers 20 years ago you probably wouldn’t have to worry so much about millennials.
Growing up in the 1990s meant putting up with a burgeoning animal rights movement. It meant pressure from boomers to get to college, get a job, and get a family. I’m fortunate to have grown up in a family that hunted and fished so it was ingrained in my system.
I also got a gig in the late-90s for Outdoor News so I could write and photograph my adventures in exchange for fortune and fame. Well, maybe I just got to have the luxury of a hobby that pays – not for itself, mind you – but I’m definitely not complaining, even though fortune and fame have proven elusive.
During all those years of hunting and fishing, while spending my full-time gig teaching these millennials, I believe I can provide an opinion on the matter.
Instead of focusing on the millennials, however, I’m going to apply my advice to whatever generation my kids belong. The millennials are having babies now, and I’m pretty sure my kids will become part of whatever generation name will be given to this current crop of kids.
The good news is that this advice applies to every generation, whether it be newly retired baby boomers, graying Gen X’ers, or hard-working millennials (I realize this is not what they have a reputation for, but every millennial I know works their butt off).
Ways to get people into the outdoors
Take them out yourself. Duh. If you want somebody to enjoy fishing, take them fishing. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Don’t act like you are saving the world. Fish. Have fun. Take photos. Give the person an open invitation to return.
Invite them to go with you again. So yeah, you gave them an open invitation, but they are polite and don’t want to ask. So invite them. Actually, don’t invite, schedule it. “I’ll pick you up Saturday afternoon and we’ll do some fishing, see you at 2?” It’s hard to say no to that.
This one’s on city and county governments: Open up more opportunities for public lands among the human population. The urban jungle is full of wild turkeys, so open up wooded, public areas to turkey hunting for people who live within five miles. Cities and counties own vast tracts of land, most of which are closed to hunting or have minimal hunting opportunities. When people can see and interact with hunters, they are more apt to want to try.
Moving past the misconceptions and reactionaries will be the biggest hurdle. If we can have golf balls zinging all around the place, often on the edges of homes, then we can have the occasional arrow flung and not create a stir. Metropolitan Council, I’m pointing a finger at you on this one. Gov. Tim Walz and DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen, I’m looking at you, too. The governor appoints Met Council members and the commissioner is a fellow cabinet member. Between the governor’s bully pulpit and the commissioners’ sharp elbows, I’d hope to see some progress on this issue over four years time.
Fishing is as easy a sport to promote as any but the DNR’s Fishing in the Neighborhood program should not be the only game in town. Actually, the FiN program ought to be expanded and city governments ought to provide more opportunities across the generations – programs during the day for retired folks, in the evenings for young singles, and on the weekends for everybody. If you build it, they will come, provided you get creative.
Make it state law that golf courses, public and private, be open up to hunting in the off season. I realize this is rather heavy-handed, but golf courses occupy considerable acreage, consume vast quantities of public water resources, and emit oodles of chemicals into public waters. Either open up the course, or charge a premium for the effect on the local water supply. Hunting and angling money already supports clean water; golfers should do the same.
Simplify the regulations and create a tiered licensing system. Diehard anglers want to keep six walleyes, on multiple occasions, so let them, but charge a premium. Casual anglers just want to legally wet a line without paying too much. So let them, and make it a minimal-fish per species limit at a lower rate. I realize that “tiered-system” and “simplify” seem contradictory, but it’s basically the same as ala carte or the buffet. Once you place your order, what you get is straight-forward.
Promote hunting and angling at farmer’s markets, food events, and classy food/wine gatherings. “Field to table” and “lake to plate” ought to be all the rage. Conservation organizations might want to pick this one up. Promote your organization, fundraise by selling delicious game expertly prepared at a premium, and let people taste the bounty on our public waters and land.
More “Take a _______” fishing or hunting weekends and more special opener events like the governor’s fishing and deer hunting openers. It’s been good to see this expanding and it has room to grow. Besides the typical ones, throw in a weird one every few years. It would be great to have a “Minnesota Governor’s Sunfish Opener” event on some random weekend in July. Media outlets seem to like these and it gets people talking. I can just hear the news anchors now saying, “Who knew you can fish for bluegill year round?” You laugh, but most Minnesotans don’t know that either. If they are thinking about it and talking about it, they are more likely to do it.
Repeat No. 1. As often as needed.