Executive Summary- Hunter Recruitment and Retention Plan
Declining hunter participation is a problem that needs to be addressed because hunters are pivotal to wildlife management fiscally, operationally, and socially. Additionally, hunting is a valued part of Minnesota’s heritage and culture – so much so that it has been given protection in the Minnesota Constitution.
In January 2002, the DNR Wildlife Roundtable (stakeholders) considered hunter participation issues, identified the perceived causes, and made general recommendations to overcome the projected decline in hunter numbers.
The specific barriers they identified were (in order of rank):
1. Access to land (private, public, and quality)
2. Lack of mentors
3. Lack of public awareness/ or hostility to hunting or guns
4. Lack of time
5. Lack of outreach to minorities and women
6. Complicated regulations, regs book
7. Selfishness of current hunters (oppose youth hunts, don’t want more competition)
8. Poor hunter behavior
10. Single parents
11. Lack of volunteers
The general solutions that they brainstormed were as follows (in no particular order):
1. Mentoring programs
2. Public relations/marketing
3. More public land/ walk-in areas/ shooting ranges
4. Special hunts
5. Increase availability of Firearms Safety classes (recruit instructors)
6. Reduce regulatory barriers/ simplify regulations book
7. Reduce fees for young hunters
8. In-school shooting sports and outdoor education
In the spring of 2003 DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam established a Hunter Recruitment and Retention Program, and a coordinator was hired. This is the only staff person working full time on hunter recruitment and retention issues.
In 2005, a multi-disciplinary group of agency staff (Hunter Recruitment and Retention Advisory Committee) was convened to provide input for the development of a Hunter Recruitment and Retention Plan. This group also discussed goals, barriers, strategies and priorities for the hunter recruitment program to aid in the development of a long-term plan. Their opinions and recommendations mirrored the findings of the stakeholders from 2002.
The findings of the 2002 Roundtable and the 2005 HRR Advisory Committee serve as the framework for the Hunter Recruitment and Retention Plan. The body of the plan is based on the best available data and research on hunter recruitment and retention.
ACTION PLAN FOR SUSTAINING
MINNESOTA’S HUNTING HERITAGE
Problem: Declining participation rates for hunters and trappers threaten family traditions, our outdoor heritage and the future of fish and wildlife conservation by reducing social, political, and financial support.
Goal: Sustain and increase participation in hunting by recruiting new and former hunters and retaining current hunters. Maintain an annual hunting population of 570,000 individual license holders.
1) Increase the recruitment rate of youth
2) Increase the recruitment rate of adults, including non-traditional groups
3) Increase the retention rate of current hunters
4) Increase the number of hunters participating in multiple hunting disciplines
5) Reintegrate former hunters
6) Create a positive image of hunters and hunting among the general public
Guiding Principles for Boosting Participation
1. Make it Easy. Barriers to participation need to be reduced. Regulations that limit participation should be identified and re-evaluated to weigh the impact on hunter participation against other justification for the regulation.
2. Invest Early: The younger an individual starts hunting; the more avid they tend to be, and the less likely they are to desert.
3. Diversify the Portfolio, Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket: Hunters that pursue multiple species or hunt in multiple seasons are less likely to drop out of hunting because they have more options and opportunities to participate, making them better equipped to deal with adversity. A gun deer hunter has a short window of opportunity, but a bowhunter has a wide one. Grouse specialists have population crashes every decade, how do they fill the lull? Plus, hunters that buy multiple licenses can help address the fiscal impacts of a non-growing hunter population.
4. Location, Location, Location: Access to places to shoot and hunt that are close to population centers facilitates recruitment by making it easier to fit trips to these locations into busy schedules.
5. Fight Fire with Fire: Competing recreational activities are actively trying to draw new participants using marketing. They are able to move their activities to “Top of Mind”, where hunting does not hold that same distinction. Hunting needs to get into that indirect battle.
6. A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush: Retaining current hunters is more efficient than recruiting new hunters, and should be a high priority.
7. Compound Interest: By making our assets (large existing hunter base) work for us recruiting new hunters, we can exponentially reach more new hunters.
8. Sell the Sizzle, Not the Steak: Marketing hunting must appeal to the motivations of the individual, not the motivation of resource managers. Focus on the fun and enjoyment of hunting. Understand that resource managers have a different perspective than their audience.
9. Know thy Enemy/Competitors: We have to recognize that competing interests are the competition. If kids are playing soccer 7 days a week, they aren’t hunting, so soccer is a competitor. If they are not the enemy, they certainly are rivals.
10. Have a Can-Do Attitude. Agency leaders must be willing to embrace outside of the box thinking and approaches, and the agency and its’ partners must have a positive outlook knowing that their efforts can work to boost hunter participation rates.
A. Outdoor Mentors
Existing mentoring programs (Big Brothers Big Sisters, etc.) have a need for more adult mentors, and an increasing number of hunters would benefit from having young people to take hunting. An “Outdoors Skills and Mentor Program” will help put those two groups together. Efforts will include cooperating with existing mentoring organizations to recruit sportsmen as adult mentors, as well as provide activities relating to hunting and the outdoors for mentoring groups. Additionally, the department and its’ partners will participate in the recruitment of volunteer mentors, training and background checks for the mentors, outdoor skills/information programs, loaner equipment, as well as organized, high-quality special hunts for the participants.
B. Special Hunts
Special hunts provide high quality experiences in a controlled, mentored environment. By utilizing areas with high populations that are otherwise closed to hunting, special hunts are able to provide most of the limiting factors for recruitment. The success of youth hunts are limited only by the number of participants they accommodate and the ability to attract the right youth who will benefit the most from the opportunity.
C. Hunting Access
To increase quality-hunting access, the department is focusing on the WMA acquisition program, and its goal of 1.9 million acres by 2055. The department will work with partners to explain the liability protections afforded private landowners who allow access to their land for hunting. At some future date, the department may start a Walk-In Hunting Area program to expand public access opportunities in areas that cannot or should not be acquired. Efforts to encourage private landowners to allow access are critical.
D. Shooting Opportunities
Shooting skills are a specialty not readily found in the general population, and are a pre-requisite for hunting participation. Hunter recruitment depends on introducing non-hunters and youth to the shooting sports. Sporting clays, rifle shooting and archery shoots develop hunting skills and help non-hunters make a natural progression to hunting. Shooting range opportunities are limited in Minnesota, especially on public land and in the metropolitan area. While it is important for the department to continue to develop shooting opportunities, it is essential that existing private and non-profit range operators encourage beginning shooters and host family activities.
E. Marketing and Promotion
The hunting industry in general, and wildlife agencies in particular, has a poor record of marketing the sport of hunting. Many of hunting’s competitors for limited leisure time are actively seeking to attract participants through marketing and advertising. Hunting has traditionally been passive about attracting new participants. However, creating awareness of the benefits of hunting (to society and to individuals) among non-hunters, increasing social support for existing hunters, helping hunters find opportunities, and elevating hunting to a top-of-mind recreation choice can all be accomplished with marketing.
F. Education and Awareness
Education and information programs will provide support mechanisms for all of the hunter recruitment and retention efforts, and will be closely tied with the marketing and promotions efforts. All forms of media will be utilized. Improving the regulations handbook to make it more user-friendly will increase awareness and access.