Laying a foundation for a lifetime of safe hunting
So, you’ve asked a friend to go hunting with you, and you’ve even set the date. Now all you have to do is get your buddy geared up and wait for the big day, right? Wrong.
Your hunt will never leave the truck if the new hunter doesn’t have his or her hunter’s safety certification. That’s because most states won’t issue a hunting license unless a hunter can prove he or she has the proper credentials. So, once you’ve gotten a friend interested in hunting, the next step is have him or her enroll in a hunter education course.
A hunter ed course used to be a significant time commitment, involving a couple days or nights of in-person instruction. However, technology has made the process much easier.
There are a number of excellent online hunter education resources available, including Hunter-Ed.com and the International Hunter’s Education Association. The best part is that many states also offer online courses, so your plus-one won’t even have to burn a weekend in a classroom, instead being able to complete the coursework in his or her free time on a computer or smartphone.
Be sure to inform your buddy that that the class isn’t designed to be tough. It’s meant to teach beginners the basics of gun safety and safe practices afield, not to trick them into failing. Prospective hunters need no prior knowledge of firearms, game animals, or hunting to take and pass the course. For most kids, it’s actually fun.
Hunter’s safety education is mandatory, and can sometimes be an obstacle in getting a new hunter afield. Fortunately, it’s now relatively easy to accomplish. Make sure it gets done.
About the Author: A native Oklahoman, Jeff Johnston is an NRA-certified shotgun, rifle, and handgun instructor, as well as an NRA Distinguished Expert shooter. A lifelong hunter, he’s taken many different species of game, including a few giant whitetails and one rare masked fox squirrel from Georgia of which he’s particularly proud.
QDMA Goes One-On-OneHank Forester, the Quality Deer Management Association’s (QDMA) Hunting Heritage Program Manager, says it’s imperative hunters reach out to non-hunting communities for recruits. “For years we tried the shotgun approach, with large group outings for both adults and young hunters. That style is hard to sustain and track. New adult hunters sometimes felt uncomfortable or lost in the large group setting, and youth hunters from non-hunting families didn’t always have the resources they needed to continue hunting,” said Forester. While QDMA still holds several large-scale youth hunts across the nation each year, it is placing more emphasis on a one-on-one style of hunter recruitment. “We’ve had tremendous success with our Field to Fork Program,” said Forester. “What we’re finding is that we need to go places where non-hunters are, like farmer’s markets and universities. We set up at these locations with cooked venison and invite people over to give it a try. Studies show that over 70 percent of the population approves of hunting for food, and the venison samples the perfect way to break the ice get a conversation about hunting started.” The approach is working. Hank reports that participation slots in the college clubs and farmer’s market programs fill quickly. Once participants sign up, they meet over several nights to learn about hunting techniques, safety, processing and wild game cooking. From there, they attend a range day where to gain hands-on experience with either the crossbows or firearms they’ll use to hunt. The programs culminate in a hunt weekend, where participants go on mentored hunts with QDMA members and local volunteers. After the hunt, everyone reconvenes to get a hands-on lesson in game processing, and the weekend ends as a social event with wild game as the menu centerpiece. The program makes waves. “We’ve found that adults who attend these programs together form their own hunting communities. We try to encourage that by offering follow-up events and hunts to the entire group even after the program is completed. What we are seeing is that the members of these groups form bonds that extend well past the program itself, and they come to rely on each other when they have questions or need a hand in the field,” Hank said. Not only do the participants in the QDMA programs learn to hunt, they pay it forward by introducing others to the sport. “This is where we see the NSSF +ONE in action. We have one graduate of the program who has now taken several new hunters out on his own. He also butchers his extra venison and donates it to those interested in trying venison for the first time at the university where he works. We have started calling it ‘Venison Diplomacy,’ and it is working to attract new hunters,” says Forester.
NWTF Takes a Multi-Pronged ApproachAnother conservation group active in the recruitment of new hunters is the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). It is so active, in fact, it purchased a large tract of land next to its Edgefield, South Carolina headquarters for the sole purpose of hosting first-time hunters and testing new recruitment programs before implementing them across its vast network of state and local chapters. Like QDMA, NWTF is targeting young adults, college students and families with an extended-learning program designed to not only teach newcomers how to hunt but to form a hunting community and social network that, hopefully, will last for years to come. Pete Muller, Public Relations Manager for NWTF, says they are doing that by hosting several events for each group over a year’s time. “We start with classroom sessions, but also get the participants out in the field for range time and hunts for a variety of species like turkey, dove and deer,” said Muller. “With help from industry partners like Yeti and TriStar Arms, we are able to host and outfit group hunts on both our property and that of local landowners who volunteer their time and lands to our programs. Many of the college students have come from the nearby Clemson University Ag Department, where programs from South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources have allowed us to offer opportunities to these students,” Pete said. Once a new program has been refined, it is then distributed to local and state chapters, as well as R3 (recruitment, reactivation, retainment) coordinators, for implementation. This past season, for example NWTF chapters in Arizona held three turkey camps that welcomed more than 500 people, many from the metro-Phoenix area who had no past hunting experience at all. Volunteers like Tim Denny of the Mingus Mountain NWTF Chapter — NWTF encourages its chapter members to volunteer through its Mentored Hunt Challenge, in which every member who mentors a new hunter is entered into a drawing for a new Yeti 65-quart cooler — organize the hunts and work to pair new hunters with more experienced mentors so that everyone has an enjoyable time at camp. On still another front, NWTF’s Hunting Heritage program partners new hunters with outfitters who volunteer to take them on high success-rate guided hunts. The hope for this program is that new hunters learn tips and techniques from professional guides, eliminating a lot of the frustrating trial and error they would go through if learning to hunt on their own — trial and error that can leave one looking for a different pastime.
Delta Waterfowl — Partnering Among the CattailsThe decrease in hunter numbers is also a concern to Joel Brice, Vice President of Waterfowl and Hunter Recruitment for Delta Waterfowl. “We encourage our members through our First Hunt Program to mentor new hunters, not just for one hunt, but over an entire season to teach them all aspects of waterfowl hunting, including boating safety. Since 2003, Delta Waterfowl has introduced over 68,000 people to hunting. Last year alone featured 260 mentored hunt events with over 12,000 participants. Both members and new hunters who participate in the First Hunt Program get recognized with certificates and collectible pins,” says Brice. Like QDMA and NWTF, Delta Waterfowl has found great success in targeting young adults around universities in their search for interested new hunters, something that Brice says there’s a real need for. “In working with various universities, we’ve discovered a troubling trend,” says Brice. “Over half the current wildlife degree majors at many schools not only don’t hunt actively, they’ve never hunted at all! These are the students who, upon completion of their degree, will be helping to craft wildlife laws for years to come.” “We’ve targeted these non-hunting wildlife majors to not only teach them to hunt but to show them the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation in action. That way, even if they don’t continue hunting in the future, they will have a much better understanding of it in their future careers.” Participants are teamed with professors and volunteers and meet several times over a semester to discuss varying aspects of waterfowl hunting and get hands-on experience in the field. The program concludes in an end-of-semester hunt where they get to put their new skills to work in real-world conditions. *** These groups and others like them are working hard to ensure that not only will future generations have game to hunt, there will be hunters to pursue that game. As hard as these groups are working, their efforts will only be effective if their rank-and-file memberships embrace NSSF’s +ONE Movement and introduce someone new to the sport of hunting. If you are a member of a wildlife conservation group, get involved by working with your local and state chapters to find and mentor people in your area who might be interested in learning to hunt. The future of our sport depends on it.
Little Bird, Big ResultsMentored dove hunts are springing up around the country as a way to introduce new people to the sport, and state agencies are going out of their way to make them possible. Why dove hunting? For starters, unlike turkey and big-game hunting, doves don’t require a lot of specialized gear. Just about any shotgun style, a few inexpensive boxes of shells, a jug of cold water to drink and something to sit on is about all it takes for a successful day in the dove field. Too, for most states, dove hunting takes place in late summer or early fall, making the weather inviting for someone not used to spending hours in the cold. The fact that dove hunting is more of a social event than the solitary waiting for other game animals helps as well. Then there’s the shooting itself. The fast-paced action and frequent shot opportunities of a good dove field keep newcomers interested and tuned in to the hunt. A miss is quickly forgotten as the next bird flies by in range. Doves also make great table fare, appealing to those new hunters who have taken up the sport in search of clean, organic meat for the family table. To make the hunts attractive to new hunters and mentors alike, state agencies are doing things like planting fields of sunflower, millet or other grain on public lands to attract doves. Often, these fields are limited to mentor hunts for the first several days of the season. That’s important because knowing they are afield with other new hunters helps ease the worry of newcomers to the sport who might otherwise feel intimidated in a field full of seasoned veterans.
Adjusting to a Changing HunterOne agency that has embraced the mentored dove hunt idea is the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Its program offers special hunting areas to mentor/mentee pairs. The mentor must be at least 21 years old and hold a valid Ohio hunting license. The new hunters can be any age, as long as they have either never possessed an Ohio hunting license or had previously held an Ohio hunting license or apprentice hunting license but not completed Harvest Information Program (HIP) certification — something necessary for hunting — in the last five years. Eric Postell, program manager over outdoor education for the ODNR, says the way the department is going about hunter recruitment has changed over the years. “We aren’t doing the approach to getting as many people as possible together for a large event that used to be so common. Instead, we have implemented the R3 — recruit, retain and reactivate — approach, focusing on more detailed events for smaller groups, say 20 to 30 new hunters. Our hunt clinics now are a complete training course. The participants might spend a day learning about the type of game they are hunting and how to hunt it, get paired with a mentor, then go straight to the field to hunt. After, we help them process their game and show them how to prepare it for a meal,” says Postell. Postell reports that newcomers to the sport aren’t interested in the same aspects that traditionally attracted new hunters. “Today, with new hunters, it’s all about being a part of the natural cycle, about acquiring food for the table. “We know Millennials are interested in our programs,” he added. “Our events fill up as soon as we post an opening. What we don’t know is if the new hunters from the clinics are remaining active in the sport.” To that end, the ODNR has recently hired a customer engagement coordinator whose job will be to mine data from the Ohio hunter recruitment programs to see if participants purchase Ohio hunting licenses down the road. “We hope the information gained from this position will help us tailor our recruitment initiatives to fit the most successful examples from our clinics,” says Postell. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) takes a similar approach. It’s teamed up with the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), Quail Forever (QF), the Missouri Prairie Foundation (MPF), the Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM) and private landowners to provide mentored dove hunts for first-time hunters on fields across the state. New Missouri hunters can apply for the hunt individually and be paired with a mentor at the field. Each field is limited to two first-time hunters and their mentors per acre to maximize safety and provide a quality experience. Like the ODNR, the MDC has shifted from concentrating on recruiting youth hunters to providing opportunities that appeal to those of all ages. Justin McGuire, Hunter Education Coordinator for the MDC, says,” We have adjusted existing programs and created new programs to include adult first-time hunters. The Department has worked hard to find a balance between youth- and adult-centered programs, and we’ve put a lot of effort into engaging partner organizations. We hold hunts in conjunction with NGOs and other government agencies such as the Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife. This allows all involved entities to share in the cost, labor and positive exposure. Everyone in the industry has a vested interest in recruiting, retaining, and reactivating hunters and shooters, and partnerships allow everyone to provide more efficient, effective programs for participants without unnecessarily duplicating efforts. “Many of our programs, dove hunts included, focus on recruiting first-time hunters,” McGuire continued. “For those programs, we focus our marketing and restrict our registrations to participants who have never hunted or, at a minimum, have never hunted that particular species. In that way, we’ve been very successful in using our programs to introduce new hunters.” The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife (KDFWR) is another state agency using mentored dove hunts to attract new hunters. For several years now, the KDFWR has offered these hunts to youths under 16. Adult mentors can take up to two youth hunters afield at a time. Wes Little, a migratory game bird biologist with the agency, says, “We’ve been partnering with private landowners for years now to plant and maintain dove fields for use by Kentucky’s hunters. We have traditionally reserved several of these fields for mentored youth hunts on the opening weekend of the season. “The department feels these mentored hunts offer young hunters a safe and low-pressure hunt they wouldn’t get in an open public field. We run the hunts from 2:00 to 7:00 p.m. to avoid the hottest part of the day and place the hunters in the field when the doves are most active. After the hunt, many of the landowners offer a picnic for the participants to make it an all-around fun-filled day afield.” While these youth hunts will continue, Little went on to add that the KDFWR was moving toward attracting young adults to the sport with a new program of mentored hunts. “New data is pointing to young adult non-hunters as a demographic that responds well to new hunter programs, and so we have started working with our R3 coordinator to offer more mentored hunts for young adults,” he said. “Like the youth hunters, we pair the participants with mentors who can help them with the entire process, from gear selection and the hunt itself to cleaning and preparing their game afterward.”
One Step for New Hunters, One Step for +ONEFor many agencies, these mentored hunts are proving to be a useful tool in the fight to stabilize hunter numbers, and this model is being implemented by these agencies and others to cover additional game species. Best of all these efforts support, both directly and indirectly, the +ONESM Movement. This nationwide NSSF initiative works to encourage experienced target shooters and hunters to take someone new to the range or field and introduce them to the sports they are passionate about, just as someone once introduced them. For more information about the +ONE Movement and to take the +ONE Pledge, visit LetsGoShooting.org and LetsGoHunting.org. You may also be interested in: https://www.letsgohunting.org/articles/grilled-dove-poppers/ https://www.letsgohunting.org/articles/doves-the-perfect-youth-hunt/
An article written by Steve Sorensen published in September 2018 on DeerandDeerHunting.com