Pennsylvania Game Commission uses R3 Model to boost hunter ranks: Recruit, Retain, Re-activate
“Pennsylvania is a hunting powerhouse.”
Those were the words of Game Commission Hunter Outreach Coordinator, Derek Stoner, while recently describing hunting in the Keystone State to members of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association during the organization’s annual conference in West Chester.
He had the stats to back it up, too: highest overall turkey harvest; highest number of turkey hunters; highest number of bear hunters; highest number of bowhunters; top five for total antlered buck harvest; number two for antlerless harvest; second highest total number of hunters overall; and the list goes on.
Despite the commission graduating 40,000-plus hunter education students per year, hunter ranks continue to dwindle to a shadow of what they once were, not only here, but nationwide. So the Game Commission is getting creative with how it plans to engage lapsed hunters, as well as bring new hunters to the fold.
The agency adopted the national R3 model of recruitment, retention, and reactivation and is trying some new approaches to garner the attention of former and potential hunters in an effort to boost license sales.
It recently hired well-known TV personality, turkey-calling champion, and Pennsylvania native Matt Morrett as marketing director, and is launching a video campaign to highlight the work of the agency both to hunters and non-hunters alike.
“We’re really putting an intentional focus on mentoring new, first-generation adult hunters,” Stoner said. “The millennial generation (22 to 37 years-old) comprises more than 95 million individuals, making it the largest generation in U.S. history. Great interest in the “Locavore Movement” means that wild game meat is highly desired by a large audience of potential new hunters, and we want to tap into that interest pool.”
He mentioned that while the Commission puts a lot of effort into recruiting youth hunters, especially through its popular mentor program, less than 15% of youth hunter education class graduates are still purchasing a license five years later.
“Kids have a lot of obstacles to get into hunting, especially if they don’t have a hunting parent. Sports and other extra-curriculars, time, money and transportation all can hold them back from getting afield,” Stoner said.
“But those obstacles aren’t as restrictive to 22 year-old college grads with newly discovered time and money on their hands. They can drive, they are interested, and they might want to give hunting a try. We’re keying in on this population.”
He also explained that 12% of Pennsylvania hunters are women, and this number continues to grow.
“There are a lot of different ways to bring new hunters into the fold rather than the traditional family approach. There are instances where female hunters are mentoring other female friends. One of our turkey photo contest participants from last year made mention that she recruited her husband as a new hunter, so it’s not always a father or grandfather teaching their children or grandchildren how to hunt,” Stoner explained.
In partnership with Quality Deer Management Association, the commission plans to offer a new Mentor Training Program modeled after the national QDMA Field to Fork program, in which existing hunters can be trained and certified to bring other hunters to the field.
It also is exploring a digital mentoring program with the Powderhook app, where hunters can sign up to be mentored or become a mentor, offering suggestions, answering questions and serving as an online sounding board for those just breaking into the sport.
“It’s really a matter of engagement,” Stoner said. “Hunters really are blessed here in the state of Pennsylvania with some really exceptional opportunities, and we just need more people to continue to take advantage of those offerings by joining or returning to our hunting ranks.”