DNR Takes Aim at Hunter Recruitment
By: Bob Bohland
Hunting license sales are seeing a sharp decline. Not just in the State of Minnesota, but nationwide. This is causing quite a stir among those in charge of managing wildlife and wildlife lands due to the majority of their funds coming from the sale of licenses. While not a new problem, it is one that has seen a lot of focus from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as of late.
In the spring of 2003 the Minnesota DNR, headed by Commissioner Gene Merriam, recognizing the trends and wanting to be proactive took steps towards slowing the decline of hunting and fishing license sales by forming a Hunter Recruitment and Retention Program and hired a full-time coordinator. In 2005, a group of DNR staffers met for an advisory committee. During this meeting they developed a plan for the long-term retention and recruitment of hunters. This plan identified several factors that the DNR felt were barriers for hunters to start or continue the tradition of the sport such as: access to hunting lands, lack of time, lack of outreach, etc. All told, 11 major impediments were found.
The group also addressed goals and strategies for the program and set priorities for how to market the program. Their major goal is to: “Sustain and increase participation in hunting by recruiting new and former hunters and retaining current hunters and maintain an annual hunting population of 570,000 individual license holders.” They plan to do this with six objectives:
1) Increase the recruitment rate of youth
2) Increase the recruitment rate of adults, including non-traditional groups (females, minorities, urbanites)
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
Since their inception in 2003, the group has seen success. Their biggest gains have been through the Becoming an Outdoors Woman (B.O.W.) program. Due in large part to this program, the number of female deer license holder numbers has risen from 44,349 in 2003 to 54,433 in 2008. From 2003 to 2008 firearm deer license sales rose from 644,751 to a record high of 791,715.
Another program that has seen success has been the Hunter Apprentice Validation program. According to Minnesota law, a hunter born after December 31, 1979 must have completed a firearms safety course prior to purchasing a license. In 2007, the DNR introduced the Hunter Apprentice Validation to allow new hunters to try out the sport before deciding if they would like to go through with the class. After purchasing the apprentice validation, the new hunter must be under the supervision a licensed adult hunter. Originally this validation was only good for one year, but for 2011 the DNR has extended it to two years in a lifetime.
But their work is not done. Their recent focus has been on grouse, ducks, pheasant, and other small game. Normally small game license sales rise and fall depending on the population outlooks for pheasant and grouse. But Minnesota small game sales have remained stagnant in recent years, so this year they have started a push to introduce more hunters to small game.
Other programs that the DNR offers are: Becoming an Outdoors Family, Mentored Youth Spring Turkey Hunts, Mentored Youth Waterfowl Hunts, Mentored Youth/Women Upland Bird Hunts, National Archery in the Schools, the Scholastic Clay Target Program, Take-A-Kid Hunting Weekend, among many others.
Many of these programs are always looking for volunteers and mentors to help. If you are interested in participating, contact the Minnesota DNR through their website (www.dnr.state.mn.us). To keep hunting and fishing available and to increase availability of funds for management, we as stewards of the outdoors need to do our part to help; bring a kid out hunting with you, introduce others to the sport, or just spend a day helping out at one of the DNR’s programs. And remember, the most important thing you can give is your time.