Recruiting the Next Generation of Waterfowlers
How do we get more young people into waterfowl hunting? Just ask. Surveyed youth said they would be most inclined to go hunting, or hunt more often, if their father, another family member, or a friend asked them to go along. Why don't more kids get asked to go hunting more often? The reasons vary but are all too familiar to too many of us. "Not enough time" was cited most often (44 percent). Many people are working more hours per week and sometimes making less money. Economics can have a significant impact on hunting participation because initiation rates of children in hunting families drop off dramatically when household income falls below $40,000 a year. Perhaps most unfortunately, many adult hunters expressed the feeling that the inconvenience and effort necessary to introduce youths and novices to hunting takes away from their own enjoyment of the sport. Why are we facing the challenge of declining numbers of waterfowlers? Get out the mirror again.
If you do ask young people to go hunting and they say yes (which will be most of the time), keep their interests in mind when you take them afield, especially for the first time. Having fun is at the top of the list (85 percent) according to a recent youth survey. Other reasons include "being in the outdoors" (77 percent), "being with family and friends" (75 percent), and "for the challenge" (72 percent). So it's important to help young, beginning hunters have fun and be successful.
Finally, once children have been introduced to hunting, adults should take them often. In families where the father hunted one to three days a year, 27 percent of boys and 9 percent of girls became hunters. Hunting recruitment jumped to 46 percent in boys and 13 percent in girls in families where the father hunted 10 to 19 days a year. And in families where Dad hunted 30 or more days a year, 61 percent of boys and 26 percent of daughters joined the sport. Like so many things, repetition breeds success.
Ultimately, maintaining participation in waterfowl hunting comes down to ensuring that future generations have the same opportunities we had to enjoy the rich, diverse traditions of the sport. Through a commitment to conservation, we must first conserve sufficient wetland habitat to maintain abundant waterfowl populations and provide places for people to see and hunt the birds. Through a commitment to our waterfowling traditions, we must also make the effort to recruit the next generation of waterfowlers. Our generation is the link between the waterfowlers of the past and those of the future. We must do whatever is necessary to make sure that our children and grandchildren remember us for our commitment to them as waterfowl hunters and conservationists and not for our selfishness and indifference.
Recruiting Adult Hunters
Kids may be the largest pool of potential new waterfowling recruits, but approximately one-third of first-time hunters are over 20 years old. Like our children, they depend on other hunters to introduce them to the sport. The most likely adult recruits are relatively young (18 to 34 years old); from small city, town, or rural backgrounds; and are already involved in other outdoor activities. Their interest in hunting is sparked by conversations with hunters, and more than 90 percent begin hunting only after being invited by a friend. While their motivations include being interested in getting outdoors and seeing wildlife, social reasons like being with family and friends are increasingly important to them. Between 1980 and 2006, the percentage of adults who started hunting "to be with family and friends" increased from 9 percent to 20 percent.
Encouragingly, a high percentage (42 percent) of hunters said they introduced newcomers to hunting because "they showed an interest." So merely talking with your friends about your hunting experiences may be the best way to foster relationships that ultimately lead to sharing those experiences with others.