All about Hunting
From small game and upland birds to big game, waterfowl and even the creatures that define the term “top of the food chain,” hunting offers a priceless bond with the natural world, food for the table and a welcome respite from the world’s daily grind.
Hunting Mentorship Program
Hunting preserves—private, regulated properties that stock game animals—are a great resource for hunters. They provide a controlled environment and an increased chance for success. Big-game preserves often include one-on-one guiding, great for novices, while upland bird preserves are a favorite for training young bird dogs.
Hunting safety is the first priority
Watch a safety video or take a hunter education course to learn more.
Read hunting laws and regulations
Hunting laws and regulations vary from state to state. Learn more.
Wear proper hunting gear
The more comfortable you are, the longer you’ll hunt and the better the chances for success.
Essential hunting equipment
Check out where to buy hunting firearms and ammo for your next trip.
Go with a friend
Hunting licenses can be purchased at various places, including local firearms retailers and angler supply stores, as well as directly from the local wildlife management departments online. States usually require hunters to take a hunter education course before they take to the woods, but many make exceptions if the hunter will be accompanied by a fully licensed and experienced hunter through an apprenticeship program.
Gathering Food Drives InterestThat scene has been repeated countless thousands of times across the country. Groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation and fish- and- game agencies from just about every state are implementing this same approach. Interested non-hunters attend one or more classes with an emphasis on how to hunt a particular species, how to process the animal into edible portions and how to prepare their game for the table. Once participants go through the classroom portion of the class, they get teamed with mentor volunteers to take part in an actual hunt. The pairing of new hunters with experienced mentors—the cornerstone of NSSF’s +ONESM Movement—is the most crucial part of the program. Unlike traditional hunter recruitment where young or new hunters tag along with more experienced friends or family members to learn the sport, many of the Field to Fork participants don’t have anyone in their circle to teach them the ropes. Mentors fill that role by being there to answer questions on planning and gear before the hunt and offer guidance in the field as the hunt unfolds. The approach of QDMA’s Field to Fork, as well as NSSF’s +ONE Movement, has become so successful that it has become a central tool for R3—recruit, reactivate and retain—programs nationwide seeking to attract new hunters. Derek Stoner, Hunter Outreach Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, says, “We are working on connecting to non-traditional participants who are interested in learning to hunt and need a quality mentorship experience to guide them through the process. Our hunter outreach team identified the Field to Fork program as an ideal initiative that reaches new adults and provides a well-balanced approach that emphasizes conservation, wildlife management, ethics and harvesting of wild game meat.”
Kentucky BornThe program got its beginning in the Bluegrass State back in 2010. Folks at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife were frustrated that they didn’t have a program in place to support residents asking to learn about hunting. Since many of those requests were coming from people outside the traditional hunting demographic and seemed to be centered around hunting from a wild game meat-procurement perspective, KDFWR came up with Learn to Hunt, which taught basic hunting skills that included processing and cooking game. The new program was quickly successful, with more applicants signing up than spaces available. Those early attempts taught the department some valuable lessons. At the top was the realization that the locavore movement was gaining steam and there was a vast pool of possible new hunters in urban areas who were interested in learning to harvest their own game. KDFWR knew they needed to expand the curriculum. It immediately started applying for federal grants to expand Learn to Hunt. The agency refined the course while waiting and for good news on the additional funding. In 2014, the grant was awarded. Realizing that food was one of the main reasons for interest in the program, KDFWR had already changed the name to Field to Fork and had designed a new, and now familiar, logo to go along with the new name. Another lesson learned in the years leading up to the grant was that simply spending time in class learning about hunting wasn’t enough to get the participants afield on their own. Since few of the participants had any experience afield or any support network of seasoned hunters who could answer questions and offer advice, class time alone wasn’t providing the confidence necessary to hunt by themselves. The answer was an expanded mentorship component in which classroom participants went afield with a mentor for a hunt or two. The hunts allowed the participants to experience real hunting situations with knowledgeable hunters, instilling that much-needed confidence, and successful hunts were followed by hands-on lessons in processing of game and a wild game dinner. Besides teaming up new hunters with an experienced companion, the expanded program allowed the classmates to form their own peer groups, something that continued well beyond the weekend class itself. The revised program was immediately successful. Soon, the department added classes beyond the original deer format to include other species like dove, turkey and small game. Then, over the next two years, KDFWR began to share Field to Fork with other state agencies, all of which employed it with success. Besides state governments, conservation organization like QDMA and NWTF, private businesses like SIG Sauer and Traeger Grills, and private sportsman’s clubs around the country have taken Field to Fork to heart. QDMA’s Forester says the Field to Fork program is vital to his organization’s recruitment efforts. The program focuses on three angles: hunting for food, because it has a high public approval rating; adults because they have the best ability to pursue hunting as a pastime; and social support, which is critical to getting potential new hunters past the “try it” stage. “We started using Field to Fork in 2016. We followed the data, made a few educated guesses and created a mentored hunting program that is efficient and effective,” he told me. “We created a food-focused program for adults, and we knew that we needed good mentors and community to create social support. How well has this approach worked for QDMA? “Through Field to Fork, we are having success creating new diverse hunters who are then sharing their stories, sharing their venison and, ultimately, becoming tomorrow’s mentors and advocates,” said Forester.
More Than One Way to Talk About Grilled BackstrapWhile starting one of the most successful hunter recruitment programs in history might seem like enough of an accomplishment, the folks at KDFWR weren’t finished. Brent McCarty, R3 Branch Manager for KDFWR, says the department is constantly researching new ways to introduce the program to anyone who might be interested in hunting. One of the most promising new initiatives is Cook Wild Kentucky. In a partnership with the University of Kentucky’s Cooperative Extension Service, the KDFWR is working with the University’s Nutrition Education Program to come up with delicious, easy-to-make wild game meals. The recipes and cooking instructions are printed on the back of color-photograph postcards that get distributed through the state’s 120 cooperative extensions. KDFWR is also working directly with approximately 80 county agents to train them to hold their own Field to Fork classes, making the program more accessible to the entire state. McCarty says this increased coverage is a key to stopping the decline in hunter numbers. “We simply aren’t seeing the numbers we need to sustain license sales from traditional sources,” he explained. “We need to recruit new hunters from non-traditional demographics and making proven programs like Field to Fork more accessible to everyone is key to moving the needle.”
Support from Capitol Hill“Over and over, we hear that one of the biggest problems that new hunters face is a lack of access to land,” McCarty told me. “Unfortunately, a lot of our state is made up of private land. We have landowners who are interested in hosting youth and Field to Fork hunts for new hunters, but their land is already being hunted during our regular firearms season.” KDFWR realized that growing Field to Fork would require additional properties, so KDFWR worked with the Kentucky legislature to pass regulations allowing specially permitted firearm hunts on private land outside of the regular season dates. “We’ve found landowners are much more willing to host these hunts if they are still able to hunt their property or host friends during the traditional firearms season,” says McCarty. *** There is no denying that hunter numbers across the nation are going down. Population centers are becoming more urban, and conventional, familial induction of new hunters is falling as current hunters age and their children and grandchildren don’t remain in the sport. Innovative programs like Field to Fork are reaching out to non-traditional demographics to recruit and train a new kind of hunter—and it turns out those new hunters look surprisingly like those hunters of old who hunted with one goal: feeding their family. About the +ONE Movement NSSF encourages all current hunters to take the +ONE Pledge. Reach out to someone new—someone outside your circle of friends and family who hunt—and teach them what you know about hunting, conservation and the deeply meaningful ability to put food on the dinner table that you harvested yourself. Talk with your local game wardens and state game agency professionals or reach out to QDMA’s Field to Fork program and others like it and let them know you’d like to serve as a mentor. There are thousands of people out there who want to hunt for their own food and don’t know where to turn to get started. With +ONE and programs like Field to Fork, you’re the solution to that problem.
https://youtu.be/7sVCB508XdYHave you ever considered expanding your hunting party and family with a hunting dog? A four-legged partner is the perfect hunting +ONE to make your trips afield more memorable.
Wisconsin Turns to Adults for New HuntersWisconsin is one of those states actively seeking new hunters. Since 1990, it has lost over 100,000 licensed deer hunters, one-seventh of its deer-hunting population. Emily Lehl is the Wisconsin DNR’s R3 Coordinator. R3 stands for “recruitment, retain, and reactivate” and is a national initiative followed by many state agencies. “In 1996, our department implemented the ‘Learn to Hunt Program.’ Back then, our first inclination was to target young people for introduction to hunting. We set up ‘Learn to Hunt’ as a way to get kids from non-hunting families involved in hunting. We were able to get special seasons and relaxed limits implemented,” said Lehl. After several years of “Learn to Hunt,” the DNR discovered a few things. One, most of the kids involved in the program were from hunting families—not really the target audience the agency needed to attract new hunters. Second, the participating kids who were from non-hunting families had no support network to continue hunting. With that knowledge, starting in 2011, Wisconsin DNR officials shifted its R3 efforts from kids to young adults. “We noticed an increase in interest from young adults who were looking at hunting as a means to procure organic protein for themselves and their families,” said Lehl. Since most of these young adults had neither hunting experience nor a network of hunters to turn to for advice, the department implemented a series of “Hunt for Food” classes designed to provide information, mentorship and hands-on experience the new hunters would need to continue participating in this American pastime. The classes meet once a week for four weeks. The first class is held in a classroom setting where participants get to know one another and get a basic overview of hunting methods, general safety and equipment needs. The second week is spent in the field covering actual hunting situations and methods. Week three moves to the shooting range to introduce the new hunters to either firearms or crossbows. All of this training culminates in the actual hunt weekend. Participants are paired with volunteer mentors and then put their training to use. After the hunt, everyone reconvenes for a hands-on butchering class to process game from any successful hunts, and the final part of the class has participants and their families attending a wild-game dinner. Not only does the meal introduce properly prepared wild game, it gives the attendees a chance to socialize and form bonds that should help form a lasting support group for future hunts. The program has been so successful that the Wisconsin DNR is now encouraging hunting and conservation clubs across the state to adopt the framework and hold classes of their own. “We traditionally see these clubs focusing on youth, but with the success we are seeing from the ‘Hunt for Food’-style programs, we are encouraging these clubs to shift that focus to young adults,” said Lehl.
Kansas Takes a Multi-Pronged ApproachAnother agency seeking to stem the decrease in their state’s hunter numbers is the Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks and Tourism (KDWPT). From 2011 to 2016, hunter numbers in the state dropped 16 percent. Tanna Fanshier, R3 Coordinator for the Department, is working to reverse that trend. One of five states awarded a monetary grant from the Association of State Fish and Wildlife Agencies for programs to expand hunter numbers, the KDWPT is attacking the problem on multiple fronts. In addition to re-engaging hunters who have stopped participating in the tradition, Fanshier says the KDWPT is reaching out to non-traditional hunting audiences, including women, college students and Millennials. “Our Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) classes are proving to be extremely popular,” said Fanshier. The classes are held at multiple locations throughout the year with experienced volunteers covering a variety of topics, including basic hunting, species-specific hunting, camping, firearm or archery gear training, bird and wildlife ID and fishing, in hands-on training. “One of the things I’m really excited about is that we have recently scheduled our first BOW class with an all-female instructor group,” Tanna said. “We think having women as instructors for the class will remove some of the apprehension participants might have when signing up for the class.” Like the Wisconsin DNR, the KDWPT is also seeing great return on investment from programs centered on young adults and their desire to learn to hunt as a means of procuring organic protein. “We have seen great success in tapping into the locavore movement among young, sometimes urban populations. We are using both fish and game dishes as a way to introduce a non-traditional segment of the population to hunting and fishing,” said Fanshier. Unfortunately, one of the biggest hurdles for new hunters is finding a spot to hunt. With approximately 98 percent of the land in Kansas being privately owned, this is particularly true for new hunters in the state. To combat this issue, KDWPT began a Walk-In Hunting Access (WIHA) pilot program in 1995. The program paid private landowners to open their land to walk-in hunters. By 2004, WIHA had grown to over a million acres; during the 2018-’19 season, WIHA provided over 1.2 million acres of ground to hunters pursuing a wide variety of game species. To ease liability concerns, Kansas state law has provided landowners who lease their land to the state for recreational purposes immunity from damages or injuries that result from ordinary negligence.
Kentucky Gets Creative with Firearms Seasons and Mentored HuntsThe Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife (KDFWR) is also on a constant search for ways to stop falling hunter numbers. Brent McCarty, R3 Manager for the department, says the state of Kentucky has long been at the forefront of new-hunter recruitment. “Our department has a large R3 staff for agency size, an indication of just how important it is to us,” says McCarty. “We were the first to introduce the ‘Field to Fork’ program that has been adopted by so many other agencies and organizations. And we are still the most active with more than 40 ‘Field to Fork’ programs last year, alone.” Brent said. “One of the biggest impediments to new hunters in the state is access to a place to hunt. We have a lot of experienced hunters who would like to mentor new hunters, and landowners who offer their farms to host hunts. Trouble is, the most effective tool for new hunters is a firearm, and both the mentors and the landowners tend to be either hunting themselves or hosting friends and family hunting their property during the relatively short firearms season. To combat this, we’ve recently gotten legislation passed that allows us to host firearm mentor hunts on private land outside the regular season. This gives us the opportunity to pair up experienced mentors with new hunters in the NSSF +ONESM Movement-style on farms that don’t have other active hunters on them at the time,” said McCarty. KDFWR is also in the process of switching the required Hunter Safety Certification from an either partial or complete in-person class to a completely online course. “Not only is this going to make it easier for new hunters, it will free up the four regional hunter ed coordinators and nearly 400 volunteers we have across the state to move away from hunter ed and more toward R3 initiatives,” said McCarty. While efforts like these from various state game agencies might not entirely reverse the decline in hunter numbers, they can turn the tide. Introducing a new, non-traditional demographic to hunting is helping to spread the word to a much wider audience, good news for the long-range well-being of the tradition we love. Curious about what your state’s natural resources agency has to offer you, from public hunting lands to game seasons and apprentice hunting license programs? NSSF’s Where to Hunt is your one-stop resource for state-by-state information, and it’s just one of the resources for both new and experienced hunters at LetsGoHunting.org. Give it a visit and see all it has to offer—and then head to the field for a great day of hunting. You may also be interested in: https://www.letsgohunting.org/articles/fish-wildlife-agencies-use-mentored-dove-hunts-to-introduce-people-to-hunting/
A Challenging StartGrowing up in a housing project in Allentown, the third-largest city in Pennsylvania, John Annoni needed an escape from troubles at home and in the projects. He found it in an adjacent woodlot, where he would marvel at the birds and squirrels while dreaming of far-off destinations he’d read about in magazines like Boys’ Life. “I allowed Mother Nature—the squirrels, the starlings and the rat—to consume me by me chasing them,” Annoni says. “What I found was that when I was doing that, there was an absence of worry. Mother Nature, her critters and that pursuit saved me. “One day I saw a ringnecked pheasant in a dump. It was the most beautiful bird I’d ever seen. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I went back weekend after weekend after weekend to see if I could find it again. That’s where the passion first came from.” From those humble beginnings, Annoni developed a rich fascination with the outdoors, learning to fish and hunt and ultimately deciding to pay it all back while serving as a teacher in the Allentown School District. He started Camp Compass in 1994. But rather than setting up shop at a local rod-and-gun club, he opted to stay in inner city Allentown and make a difference in the lives of the students who might need it most. “I was sitting in the classroom, working with the kids, the same kids I’m working with now, thinking that the books aren’t cutting it,” he says. “I was coaching basketball, and I just really wanted to do something I thought could change lives. “In the city, there are enough [afterschool] programs, but there was nothing here that was based on what helped me as a kid. I looked around and started working with kids, using an outdoor curriculum.” Today, Camp Compass is widely recognized as one of the most unique outdoors education models in the country. The nonprofit organization is geared towards introducing inner-city youth to hunting and the shooting sports. While Annoni is reluctant to put a figure on how many individuals he’s impacted, he says thousands of students have been exposed to the outdoors via Camp Compass, while well over 200 have gone through every level of the program.
Growing Kids Through the OutdoorsThrough Camp Compass Academy, students are introduced to firearms safety, hunting and shooting over an extended period of time, something that’s especially important since most come from families that have little to no exposure to the outdoors pursuits. Visit the classroom and you’ll see individuals from diverse ethnic backgrounds, both male and female, soaking up everything Annoni and the other academy instructors have to share. [caption id="attachment_3247" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Students at Camp Compass Academy spend two years learning in the classroom as they earn the opportunity to go afield.[/caption] The curriculum is broken into five levels called “The 5Es”—Exposure, Exploration, Extension, Effective Application and Example Mentoring—and students work their way through the stages over a period of years. Annoni says the most important level is Extension, where the kids participate in the academy weekly. “Growing kids into [hunters] in a place that’s nontraditional (like downtown Allentown) is not only high-risk, it’s high reward,” he says. “It has to be very strategic, and that’s what we’ve built here. We are as diverse as it comes and that is the beauty of us.” [caption id="attachment_3249" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Image Courtesy of Amanda Snyder.[/caption] When students enter Camp Compass, they must first prove their dedication to learning and their classmates before they head afield. In fact, an individual has to complete two years before he’s even able to go on a hunt. The reason: Annoni’s goal is not to just take them hunting, but to help make them hunters. That’s why the most dedicated students end up heading afield on multiple occasions, sometimes traveling to destinations as far away as North Carolina, Texas and North Dakota to pursue big and small game. Petersen’s Bowhunting Editor Christian Berg says Annoni has been successful with his students because he’s authentic. “He came out of the Allentown projects and faced many of the same struggles as today’s teens,” says Berg, who’s known Annoni for two decades. “The outdoors was instrumental in shaping his life and helping him achieve personal success. Now, as an educator and passionate outdoorsman, he is pouring his life back into the lives of others. “There are many, many great things about the Camp Compass program, but, at its essence, I believe one of the big reasons it succeeds is because John sees himself in his students and his students see themselves in him.” Talk to the students and it’s easy to see the passion they have for the program and their mentor. Sixteen-year-old Hector Buxo, who comes from a family that doesn’t hunt, says his parents were surprised when he told them he wanted to join Camp Compass. Now, five years in, he has pursued whitetail deer, Canada goose, pheasant, turkey and more. “I liked how different this was from the other programs there were,” Buxo says. “It was something totally new. I really liked how we all work together, and we all talk together.” Shane Reznick, 14, who has been in Camp Compass for two years, agrees the comradery between students is what makes the program work. “It’s a community of people as well as hunters,” he says. “We learn a lot about the environment, protecting the environment and making sure you respect the animals.”
Beyond the ClassroomAs a result of Camp Compass and his work introducing others to the outdoors, Annoni has been featured on outdoor television shows and national news like CNN and NBC Nightly News. In 2008, Outdoor Life named him one of the 25 most influential people in hunting and fishing, and two years ago he was one of the first non-faculty members selected as a co-principal investigator for a Cornell Lab of Ornithology National Science Foundation study. Not surprisingly, he receives high praise from others in the industry. “John has quietly gone about his mission of reaching inner-city youth for decades,” says Mossy Oak’s Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland. “He does it with little money, little support from the hunting industry, little exposure—but big passion. He reaches kids we cannot because he was one of them. His story is amazing, and he makes me humble.” After a quarter-century leading Camp Compass, Annoni is as committed as ever to his students, but he is also looking for other ways he can help grow hunting and shooting sports. As a person of color, one area he feels he can lend his expertise is in broadening diversity and inclusion efforts. He also wants to share the Camp Compass philosophy with others from coast to coast, as well as start teaching adults who want to learn about mentoring in the hunting and the shooting sports. While acknowledging it would be hard to start other Camp Compass-type programs due to the time required, he says he’s proud of the work he, his assistants and Camp Compass supporters have done over the past quarter-century. “I did not think I would be doing this program this many years later because of the stamina that it takes,” he says. “I knew that somewhere along the journey, whether it was five or eight years in, that we were going to impact kids and families who would not have been impacted otherwise. “Is it practical to say Camp Compass will be celebrating a 50-year anniversary? No, that’s not practical. But, while I’m still breathing and able to help, the Camp Compass philosophy can be shared across the country and what people do with it is their choice.”
***John Annoni and Camp Compass clearly demonstrate that mentoring is key to growing hunting and the shooting sports. NSSF’s +ONESM Movement, which encourages all active hunters and target shooters to extend an invitation to someone new and show them how safe and enjoyable these pastimes are, works to achieve the same goal, but on a nationwide basis. Annoni says the National Shooting Sports Foundation is a keystone when it comes to recruiting and retention in the hunting and shooting sports. “Its +ONE Movement is a critical initiative. It is really needed and it is able to move the needle with the long arms it has. NSSF is positioned like no one else to impact the future of hunting. “While my focus has been primarily youth, lately adults have been reaching out to me about hunting,” Annoni added. “The +ONE Movement has the ability to be a spectrum of support for people of all ages.” For more information and to learn how you can help introduce someone to hunting and the shooting sports, visit LetsGoHunting.org and LetsGoShooting.org. You may also be interested in: https://www.letsgohunting.org/articles/the-ultimate-hunting-plus-one-goal-building-lifelong-hunters/