The report begins with a review of the events that led to the initiation of the assessment, an acknowledgement of other similar efforts, details regarding the scope of the survey, and information regarding the process for conducting the survey.
In recent years, the awareness of declining trends in hunting license sales and hunting participation rates has spawned an increase in activities related the recruitment of new hunters and retention of existing ones. However, details regarding the nature or geographic extent of these activities have not been fully documented. To date, no comprehensive assessment of recruitment and retention activities has been conducted.
One of the many actions taken by the hunting community to address the national decline of hunters was to create a Hunting Heritage Steering Committee (Steering Committee). This committee provided national level oversight to a series of Governor's Symposia on Hunting Heritage (held on a two- to three-year cycle) that strove to identify a host of actions being conducted to reverse negative hunter participation trends while outlining additional actions needed. After several successful Symposia, the Steering Committee concluded that a National Hunting Heritage Strategic Plan (Strategic Plan) was needed.
In 2005, WMI obtained an Association of Fish and Wildlife Agency/US Fish and Wildlife Service Multi-State Conservation Grant to begin an effort to develop a National Hunting Heritage Strategic Plan (Strategic Plan) and conduct an assessment of recruitment and retention (R&R) programs. Funds from the grant were supplemented with contributions from the Steering Committee and other groups dedicated to support this effort. WMI retained the services of D. J. Case and Associates (DJ Case) to assist in this effort. An additional assessment of access programs is also being conducted by DJ Case for WMI.
It is important to recognize that the future development of the Strategic Plan is only one of many efforts aimed to stablize and reverse the trends in hunting participation. Recent examples of parallel efforts are the National Shooting Sports Foundation's (NSSF)Best Practices Workbook for Hunting and Shooting Recruitment and Retention, and Task Force 2020 efforts, and The Future of Hunting and Shooting Sports Report produced jointly by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and Responsive Management.
In order to obtain national-scale data on hunting R&R activities, an assessment survey was sent to all fifty state wildlife agencies, forty-two conservation organizations (NGOs) associated with hunting, and two federal agencies. All fifty state wildlife agencies, two federal agencies, and twenty NGOs completed the assessment survey from August 2008 to March 2009.
The assessment survey was developed as a work-product from a R&R workshop held in conjunction with NSSF's Shooting Sports Summit in Colorado Springs, Colorado in June 2008. In addition, a literature review of the most pertinent research pertaining to or addressing hunting R&R was also conducted and published in a separate report to WMI.
Individuals invited to participate were identified by WMI in a pre-assessment survey request for contacts. It is important to note that the assessment participants were identified by state agency directors, NGO Chief Executive Officers or senior staff as the people most knowledgeable in the agency or organization regarding R&R issues. Generally, the agency head or CEO did not complete the assessment survey.
The assessment survey consisted of several general questions on relative program importance and agency or organization involvement, as well as a series of questions regarding details on specific programs. The assessment survey was administered via an on-line survey application. Results are reported by either state agency or NGO group.
The complete assessment report includes a comprehensive analysis of the information collected for each question of the survey. To follow is a summarized review of some of the most revealing and useful survey results.
The figure above reports the states’ and NGOs’ perceptions of the perceived importance of hunter R&R to the future of the agencies' or organizations' missions. Twenty-seven states indicated that hunter R&R was very important to achieving the agencies' missions, while twenty-one states indicated that hunter R&R was very unimportant to achieving the agencies' missions. Ten NGOs indicated that hunter R&R was very important (7) or somewhat important (3), while nine NGOs indicated that hunter R&R was very unimportant. One NGO did not answer this question.
A speculative explanation for this bi-modal response is that some state wildlife agencies and NGOs may consider their missions primarily to conserve wildlife/habitat or provide member services. Though largely philosophical, this question does provide a framework for additional discussion within the hunting-conservation community on the relative importance of hunter recruitment and retention efforts.
While there is some possibility that the question was misunderstood, it is unlikely since subsequent, similarly-worded questions did not elicit bi-modal responses.
The figure above reports the states’ and NGOs’ opinions on the perceived integration of R&R efforts into the agencies’ missions. Ten states reported that the R&R efforts were very well integrated and an additional thirty-one states reported that the R&R efforts were somewhat integrated. Eight states reported that their R&R efforts were not integrated much, and one state answered "No opinion." Eight NGOs reported that the R&R efforts were very well integrated and an additional eight NGOs reported that the R&R efforts were somewhat integrated into the NGO's mission. Two NGOs reported that their R&R efforts were either not integrated much (1) or not at all integrated (1), and one NGO did not answer this question.
The figure above reports the states’ and NGOs’ opinions on the perceived effectiveness of R&R efforts in achieving the agencies' missions. Two states reported that the R&R efforts were very effective and an additional thirty-three states reported that the R&R efforts were somewhat effective. Nine states reported that R&R efforts were somewhat ineffective, and one state reported that their R&R efforts were very ineffective. Two NGOs reported that the R&R efforts were very effective and an additional eight NGOs reported that the R&R efforts were somewhat effective in achieving their missions. Five NGOs reported that their R&R efforts were somewhat ineffective and four NGOs reported "No opinion" for this question. One NGO did not answer this question.
The figure above reports the states’ and NGOs’ opinions on the perceived integration of hunter R&R efforts with angler R&R efforts. One state reported that the R&R efforts were very well integrated, and nineteen states reported that the R&R efforts were somewhat integrated with their angler R&R efforts. Nineteen states reported that their hunter R&R efforts were not integrated much and seven states reported that their hunter R&R efforts were not at all integrated. Considering that all of the NGOs surveyed were largely hunting-focused organizations, it is not surprising that none of the NGOs reported that their R&R programs were very well integrated or somewhat integrated with angler R&R efforts. Eight NGOs reported that their hunter R&R efforts were not integrated much with their angler R&R efforts and eight NGOs reported that their hunter R&R efforts were not at all integrated. Three NGOs reported "No opinion" on this question and one NGO did not answer this question.
Sixteen states indicated that they had an oversight group to guide their efforts and thirteen state agencies indicated that they had a separate R&R line-item in their budget. Seven of the sixteen states with oversight groups also had separate line-items in their budget. Six states with separate R&R budgets did not have oversight groups, and nine states with R&R oversight groups did not have separate R&R line-items in their budgets.
Four NGOs reported that they had both an R&R oversight group and separate R&R line-items in their budget. Four NGOs with R&R oversight groups did not have separate R&R line-items in their budgets.
Staffing levels for R&R efforts varied by state and U.S. region. States in the Southeast reported a total of more than ten full-time (FT) and more than four part-time (PT) staff specifically dedicated to hunter R&R efforts; states in the Midwest reported nine full-time and more than five part-time staff specifically dedicated to hunter R&R efforts; states in the West reported having six full-time and four part-time staff specifically dedicated to hunter R&R efforts; and states in the Northeast reported having two full-time R&R staff.
Four NGOs reported employing a total of five full-time and more than four part-time staff who are specifically dedicated to hunter recruitment and retention.
The top four R&R administrative efforts undertaken by state agencies include (data forthcoming combining state and NGO tables): establish youth-only seasons (48); establish on-line license/permit sales (44); modify season structures to encourage youth or family hunting (42); and establish youth licenses (39). The top R&R efforts reported by NGOs include: created hunting awareness programs (8); developed specific information resources for recruitment of hunters (6); created outdoor TV/radio programs for recruitment or retention of hunters (5); established employee training/orientation programs (such as BOW, Step-Outside, etc.) (5); and marketed specific hunting opportunities (5).
State agencies are focusing their communications efforts on existing hunters and new hunters, as indicated in the table below. In addition, 40% of the states are targeting lapsed hunters in their communications efforts and non-traditional participants are being targeted by 28%. Only 10% of the states are specifically targeting transient hunters (hunters that have moved into their state from another state).
The development of specific programs to enhance the social support network for hunting was reported by 20% of states. Of these, mentoring programs and family or adult/child programs appear to be the dominant program-types.
Sponsorship of youth hunting and shooting clubs in their respective state was indicated by 44% of states.
Access programs were sponsored by twenty-six states. Of these, twenty-one indicated that they were private lands access programs and five indicated that they sponsored corporate lands access programs. Access programs will be further addressed in a separate Access Assessment being developed in parallel to this report.
Programmatic details can be found in the tables on the following pages.
In addition to asking general questions regarding relative program importance, detailed information was collected regarding twelve different program-types. While there was considerable overlap across the program-types that the survey addressed, it appears that cumulative nation-wide recruitment and retention efforts are substantial. State wildlife agencies reported, in aggregate, that they were involved in 313 program-types. NGOs reported that they were involved in 102 program-types. Program-types are the cumulative number of programs of all types being conducted by either state agencies or NGOs.
It should be noted that many of these program–types involve multiple partners so the realized total of program–types is less than the aggregate total of unique partners. State wildlife agencies reported having 247 partners, and NGOs reported having 848 partners, in aggregate, for these program types. Many of these are duplicate partners, but all are involved in some manner and add to the cumulative activity level. In addition, many of these programs have multiple-events associated with the program, so the cumulative activity appears to be even more substantial. Details and programmatic summaries by AFWA region where applicable are presented in the tables on this page.
In view of the substantial number of nation-wide R&R programs and the considerable effort they represent, it is sobering to consider that hunting license sales continue to decline. This conclusion points to a continuing need to better understand what efforts the general hunting community is making to halt the decline in participation and how well those effort are working. This continuing need extends well beyond the scope of this assessment.
Clearly, hunter recruitment activities and hunter retention activities are, by their application, different. One is designed to generate new participants while the other is designed to keep current participants. Unfortunately, there seems to be some confusion between these terms and their associated activities. In some regards, the hunting community refers to recruitment and retention synonymously and has not yet recognized their unique natures and challenges.
This confusion is, to some extent, documented in the responses to the question regarding the primary purpose of the program-types. Programs intended for both hunter recruitment and hunter retention were reported by 62% of state agencies and 48% of NGOs. States reported that 24% of their program-types were specifically for hunter recruitment and only 6% were specifically for hunter retention.
NGO responses indicate a similar pattern: 29% indicated that their program–types were specifically for hunter recruitment and 7% indicated that their program-types were specifically for hunter retention. (Note: These totals do not add up to 100% because not all respondents answered these questions.)
The authors caution not focus on these precise numbers. While it is clear that some program-types may be applied to both recruitment and retention processes, it is equally clear that many programs would likely benefit from a more targeted approach to achieve specific goals. The entire hunting community would likely benefit from well thought out and clearly articulated goals and objectives for each program in which they invest.
While developing clearly articulated goals and objectives is not easy, it appears to be a critical near-term step in addressing long-term hunting license sales decline.
Applying a more targeted approach to these various program-types logically leads to an examination of the planning process used to develop these program-types. The NSSF's Best Practices Workbook for Hunting and Shooting Recruitment and Retention is an excellent resource for developing a more targeted approach to achieve specific goals.
In addition, it appears that little focused effort is being devoted to retention programs. In the earlier discussion it was noted that hunter retention was the primary purpose of only 6% of state program-types and 7% of NGO program–types. Many strategists working in this area believe that efforts aimed specifically at retaining existing hunters are critical to stem the near-term loss of licensed hunters that serve to fund agency programs and mentor the next generation of hunters.
It is recommended (by the authors and others) that specific programs be developed that target the inherent difficulties that each of these issues (recruitment and retention of hunters) have in order to successfully overcome them. Clear thinking about the nature of the problems that are faced is a vital precursor to successful solutions.
1=Expected date of completion of March 2009.
Overall, approximately 25% of the state program-types and 36% of the NGO program-types were guided by program manuals. Of the 313 state program-types that submitted information, eighty had program manuals and another five were in the process of creating manuals. Of the 102 NGO program-types that submitted information, thirty-seven had program manuals and another was in the process of creating a manual. The tables found on this page contain details on the frequency of state (within AFWA region) and NGO program manuals by program-type. Several states and NGOs are notable in their development of program manuals, in particular Missouri (8 manuals), Texas (7), and Arizona (7); and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (8 manuals) and National Rifle Association (7).
In the absence of clearly stated goals and objects, evaluation of program outcomes becomes difficult. Of the 313 state program-types that submitted information, 99 reported having an evaluation process and twenty-six were in the process of developing formal evaluation processes. Overall, approximately 41% of state program-types are evaluated in some manner or are in the process of evaluation.
NGO program-types appear to be less likely to have evaluation processes. Approximately 18% reported having an evaluation process. Of the 102 NGO program-types that submitted information, fifteen had evaluations in place and another five were in the process of developing an evaluation program.
A 1 indicates that the program manual or formal evaluation is in progress and is not yet competed.
1= expected completion of summer 2009, 2= no date given, 3= expected completion in 2009, 4= we’ll always be evaluating
The tables above contain details on the frequency of state (by AFWA region) and NGO program evaluations by program-type. Several states and NGOs are notable in their development of program evaluations, in particular Texas (9 processes), Arizona (7), and South Carolina (7); and National Rifle Association (6 processes) and Texas Wildlife Association (4).
Details on the program evaluation metrics were also collected. Most of the metrics employed measure program outputs rather than program outcomes. These types of measures are valuable in monitoring participation and response rates, but do not capture behaviors or after-event participation. As a result, it will likely be difficult to determine which programs are successful in actually recruiting new hunters or retaining existing hunters.
In addition to the need for improved program planning and evaluation, it appears that additional effort toward developing programs for non-traditional participant recruitment programs and mentoring may be needed. As the ethnic and racial demographics of the United States increasingly diversify, the development of programs that connect these groups to natural resources and outdoor recreational opportunities will be critical to mid- and long-term strategies aimed at increasing hunter participation.
Encouraging and developing programs that provide mentoring opportunities for new hunters, regardless of their age, are also critical near-term strategies that need additional emphasis.
The need to exchange information regarding which agencies and organizations are conducting programs, the partners involved with each, and how well the programs are working also remains critical.
The report is completed by final conclusions based on the survey data and numerous recommendations at both the administrative and programmatic level.
Systematically implement a process within agencies to identify and reduce the barriers to R&R of hunters. This effort should involve both agency staff and external partners in the NGO community. This should be a perpetual effort rather than a one-time review.
Assign a specific individual (staff, partner, or contractor) to coordinate the many R&R efforts that may be ongoing within the agency or organization. It is critical that someone have this specific responsibility.
Improve efforts to communicate with new, existing, and recently lapsed hunters. Enhancing efforts to communicate to lapsed hunters is particularly important. These efforts should be carefully monitored to evaluate their effectiveness. As baby-boomers age, encouraging existing hunters NOT to lapse will become increasingly important. Some states are researching predictive models to identify hunters most likely to lapse, and then marketing to them specifically.
Allow a reasonable amount of time for programs to incorporate what they have learned from their evaluations into their future programs so that each succeeding program-cycle can be more effective than the last program-cycle. Communications and marketing programs often require multiple years to become successful. A key to programmatic success is to establish the internal feedback loop that consciously designs and uses the results of the program evaluation to improve the program. Programs that do not show a reasonable return on investment should be considered for elimination.
Improve efforts to communicate with transient hunters. Society’s increasing mobility will likely make these efforts even more important in the future.
Develop additional programs to enhance the social support networks that are critical to advance a new "recruit" through the “awareness/trial” stage of initiation through the “continuation without support” stage.
Establish state-level R&R oversight groups. Ideally, these groups would include a broad cross-section of agency staff in addition to non-agency staff. Additional program development is also needed for mentoring programs and programs to attract non-traditional participants.
Develop line-items within agency/organization budgets to specifically address R&R efforts. These budgets should be tracked and R&R programs should be evaluated against budget expenditures as measures of their successes.
Pose specific questions to program sponsors regarding the goals, objectives, program planning processes, and means of evaluation as part of the process to determine whether to sign-on as a partner or participant.
Improve integration and coordination between hunter and angler R&R programs. Examination of license sales data has shown that there is considerable participation overlap between these two groups. This recommendation is not limited to state agencies. Improving integration between the two participant groups may present opportunities to expand the reach of the hunting NGO community as well.
Continue to develop the Strategic Plan. An element of this plan should be the creation of a national Web site where details regarding specific programs can be posted and shared.
Develop specific, separate goals and objectives for hunter recruitment and hunter retention programs. The more specific these goals and objectives, the easier it will be to measure the success of the program.
Improve the planning of recruitment and retention programs by using resources such as NSSF's Best Practices Workbook for Hunting and Shooting Recruitment and Retention as a planning guide. Plans should be reviewed, updated and improved on an annual basis.
Develop improved, easy-to-use evaluation processes for existing programs.
Measure both outputs and outcomes to determine program effectiveness. Effective evaluations are best designed during the planning process by setting measurable objectives.
Coordinate and integrate hunting and fishing R&R efforts as much as possible. It is likely that coordinated messages will be more cost-effective and will achieve a greater market penetration.
Improve the hunting community’s ability to share information regarding R&R program efforts and effectiveness.
This publication was partially funded by the Multistate Conservation Grant Program (Grant DC M-59-R), a program supported with funds from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and jointly managed with the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, 2007.