A Financial break for Hunter Recruitment?

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Mar 3, 2021
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It is no secret; the number of hunters is declining. According to the National Survey of Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, we have lost 2.2 million hunters between 2011 to 2016. Baby Boomers make up roughly 1/3 of all hunters and we know they are aging. What does that matter? Well according to the Wildlife Management Institute’s director Matt Dunfree, “If you watch the demographic shift of license purchases by age, what you find is that when people hit their late 60s and early 70s, regardless of how much you incentivize them, they stop hunting and fishing.” Which means in 15 years we could see the numbers of hunters decline another 30 percent.

We have all heard about R3; recruitment, retainment, and reactivation. These programs have not done a good job tracking their results so making a conclusion of the efficacy is difficult. However, as the number of hunting license sales decline if can be hypothesized we are only reaching those kids who come from a background/family of hunters. One R3 event is not enough to pull a child from a non-hunting family into the lifestyle. Parents don’t have disposable income, ample time, and may have their own competing interests. However, 18-25-year-olds have time, income, and the interest that may develop them into lifelong outdoor men and women.

I know we all compete for access and spots, but without lowering the barriers of entry we will soon find there are not enough of us to have a loud enough voice to protect what we love. I will quote Randy Newberg here and say, “the answer to public pressure is not less hunters, it is more access.”

Here is my proposal: For applicants (18 to 25 years old) for big game animals in the west, non-resident applicants pay resident charges. Applicants would still need to follow all of the laws and would be restricted to the same non-resident license numbers. Their cost of entering the game would just be less. This would allow someone with the time and not the money to expose themselves to the experience. He or she has that first bull elk scream in their face and they are now hooked for life. They buy hunting licenses for their lifetime, supporting conservation and they are another voice for the lifestyle. As they get older and have more disposable income, they will be able to pay the non-resident fees and continue supporting the land and wildlife.

Curious to hear peoples thoughts on this idea. I know that it would likely worsen draw odds with more applicants applying, but would improve hunting numbers in the long run and help support keeping wild places wild.

Source for my numbers and interesting article: https://www.outdoorlife.com/why-we-are-losing-hunters-and-how-to-fix-it/
 
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nontyp

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Kansas
I think R3 efforts need to be focused more at a local level, and focused near urban areas. The amount of NRs Western hunting is actually rapidly increasing. The decline in hunters is primarily in the Eastern US. I do think you’re on the right track for removing barriers to entry. I just think that for a new hunter, hunting anything is exciting and interesting. It doesn’t have to be big game. Also, a new hunter isn’t going to just wander out west and hunt elk. That is a difficult task for even very experienced hunters. I do appreciate your well thought out post, not trying to be a debbie downer. I just disagree with some of the proposed concepts.
 

ElkFever2

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I think it’s an awful idea. Applications for western big game hunting are skyrocketing. The last thing we need right now are more participants. We’ve promoted the absolute shit out of this type of hunting and people are moving to Rocky Mountain states in droves, and many more people are applying as NR’s too. The cost of applications and tags is rising fast and is accelerating to meet that demand.

R3 is undergoing a bit of a reevaluation at present. There is a case to be made that it was worked too well to boost hunter #s, but hasn’t worked very well at all in creating a new generation of conservation advocates. An overhaul of the movement is due - retain what has worked to achieve its objectives, abandon what has been ineffective, and shoot off in new directions such as producing hunter advocates, target under-utilized resources such as small game and Midwestern and eastern states, and increasing access for places to hunt in high demand areas.

When I was 28 I was focused on eliminating student loan debt. I did hunt out of state, but on an extremely tight budget. Now I’m 37 and have 3 young kids and a mortgage. In order to hunt western big game I have to be very disciplined with my finances and make it a priority. I apply in 1 state as a NR and mostly doe/cow tags because they’re more economical.

There is this belief floating out there that if someone can’t hunt a antler/horn tag in a western state as a NR, somehow they’re less likely to become a conservation advocate, or that this is a barrier to hunter recruitment. Malarkey. I’m an advocate and I’ve been coming out west to sight-see, fish, backpack, etc. my entire life. It’s only in the last few years that my income is finally high enough that I can throw in for a bull elk tag.
 

kenton

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I applaud that you came up with an idea. Much better than just complaining with no solution. However, I think you have made a few assumptions that are untrue. The non-resident prices are not a barrier of entry. Very few first time hunters are going out of their home state. Also, I think the notion that hunter numbers are still decreasing is inaccurate. Its true that difficulty lies in trying to quantify the effectiveness of r3 but I firmly believe it is working.
 

JT13

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PA
I agree with everyone above.

While a noble idea, new hunters should be focused on hunting in their backyards rather than western trips. Western hunter/application numbers are skyrocketing and tag numbers are declining. You'll get little support by suggesting we add more rocket fuel. Western license prices aren't inhibiting new hunter recruitment.
 

D4570

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"Western hunting recruitment is a nonissue judging by the huge increase in applicants for western big game tags. The focus needs to turn solely to the rest of the country and what can be done there. As @thusby mentioned, increasing access is really important to facilitate this."

Right on huntin24/7.
 

elkantlers

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UT
I propose that applicants 47 years and older pay resident prices when applying out of state. Not because I'm 47, I just think that is the demographic we should be targeting. :)
My children are raised, My wife want's me gone as much as possible, I have the money and vacation time.
 

JonD

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Apr 18, 2021
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Some opposing opinions here, but important to think about.

A few of my ideas. The divisions could offer their leftover tags at a reduced price. They would need to design a system that allows people to plan ahead and still sell a lot of tags at full price in order to meet their income requirements. I'm aware of 1 state that does for doe deer tags.

The divisions of wildlife need to advertise/market/promote doe/fawn and cow/calf hunts to out of state hunters. They need to hire a "Randy Newberg type of guy" to make videos promoting and popularizing hunting does and cows on public land at an affordable price.

But, to grow the sport, hunters need to invite non-hunting friends (who show interest) along and introduce them to the sport.
 

Hunting Wife

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I don’t think R3 efforts need to be nor should be focused on Western big game. Particularly elk...if the argument is that early success is required to get new people recruited, elk would be the last thing I would put someone on. I think a lot of people have pointed out that species that used to be entry points for new hunters (small game in particular) have virtually disappeared from public consciousness. Those are cheap, require little special equipment, and can be done locally just about anywhere. If we want to continue with recruitment, that’s an under exploited resource that is very accessible.

But unless or until we do something to address the issues of urban sprawl, increasing human encroachment, lack and loss of land access, and declining habitat quality I don’t think R3 should be focused on western big game. The west cannot sustain the hunting demands of the entire country. We need to start considering how to improve things in other parts of the country, not how we can exploit more of Western hunting until it’s reduced to what exists in the east.
 

Straight Arrow

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As a teenager growing up in Great Falls, MT, appreciation of wildlife and hunting was the evolvement of learning through the Junior Conservation Club, plinking on the weekend with Dad's rifle and pistol, learning to shoot a longbow from a friend of parents, listening to Dad and uncles tell tales of hunts, and enjoying the venison swiss steak so superbly cooked by Mom. By the time the NRA Hunter Safety Card was earned and I became eligible for Dad to take me hunting with my own rifle, there were many lessons, experiences, and a progression of evolvement which sparked my hunting interest. It wasn't just one particular focus.

I'm not certain how to replicate and spread that to nurture new hunters and wildlife advocates ... but if we could "bottle" it, I'd buy it and give it away!
 

RobertD

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There are more good public land hunts in the southeast than people realize. I know of at least three states, one of which I live in, where anybody can buy a license and hunt deer and bear OTC. I think we need to explore promoting those opportunities along with small game everywhere as @Hunting Wife mentioned.

The problem of crowding western resources... I'm not even sure how much of it is R3 based. I think it's more from eastern/southern/Midwestern whitetail guys either losing access or more likely feeling the Instagram urge to chase bucks and bulls out west. Don't know what you do with that though.
 

BlakeA

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Your student loans should be paid off before you start throwing money at western big game tags. The majority of us that hunt multiple states each and every year have made sacrifices and are very disciplined financially. You come off as whiny and entitled. Adjust your lifestyle, make sacrifices, get out of debt, and an out of state tag along with many other things in life for you and your family will become affordable.
 
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