Since 1937 Ducks Unlimited (DU) has had one mission: To conserve, restore and manage wetlands and associated habitats for North America's waterfowl. That mission has been successfully carried out by more than 50,000 volunteers who help fuel the most successful event fundraising program in the non-profit world. The mission is guided by science and has helped conserve and restore nearly 15 million acres, improving habitat for more than 900 different wildlife species in North America.
The importance of giving back to a resource is critical – whether you donate your hard-earned money, give the gift of your time and energy, or perhaps both. Having a healthy landscape for waterfowl and other wildlife is of the utmost importance. But it's not just wildlife that benefit from DU's conservation work. Having people who connect and use those landscapes for recreational purposes is just as important. It's for this reason a movement called R3 – Recruit, Retain and Reactivate – has gained the attention of conservation organizations like DU.
R3 represents a national movement among the conservation community focused on increasing participation in hunting, angling, target shooting, trapping and other outdoor recreational activities. The Council to Advance Hunting and The Shooting Sports, along the Wildlife Management Institute, have made R3 a priority over the last few years, bringing together state fish and wildlife agencies, industry partners, conservation and shooting sports organizations in an effort to ensure that hunting and target shooting have a bright and secure future.
DU has and will continue to host and participate in the "traditional" youth mentored hunts where volunteers take individuals afield for in most cases, their first hunt. Since 2017 DU has impacted over 5,000 young hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts. While these forms of recruitment, retention and reactivation programs are beneficial, DU has found that a targeted approach to a specific age group has created a sustainable network of mentors, well-equipped to tackle the challenges that the R3 movement faces – peer to peer interaction.
DU's first ever collegiate fundraising chapter was chartered in 1984 at the University of Texas at Austin. One year later the Tiger Chapter at Louisiana State University held the first collegiate sanctioned event to help support DU's conservation mission. Now, more than 120 chapters are active across the country with more 2,000 student volunteers involved.
DU's university chapter program is all-encompassing. Students join chapters for a variety of different reasons that include the social aspect and being a part of something bigger than themselves. Many joined because they grew up hunting or shooting competitively for their high school and are entrenched in the outdoor and hunting lifestyle. It is for this reason that DU's college chapter program is the perfect foundation for providing a peer-to-peer mentoring atmosphere for those looking to begin their journey in the outdoors or for those looking to expand their opportunities.
Over the past few years the R3 movement has exploded, and research has shown that having multiple peer-to-peer interactions afield will result in much higher retention rates. It is extremely difficult, especially in waterfowl hunting, to take someone out for their first hunt and then turn them loose and expect them to become an annual license purchaser. DU's college chapter program provides lifelong friendships and connections with students from across the country, enabling students to form a passion and connection to the outdoors overtime and in a safe environment.
DU's mission has remained unwavering since it began 83 years ago: Conserve the habitat waterfowl use most, restore anywhere we can and manage all things good for waterfowl, other wildlife and people. The R3 movement is real and it's important. DU has, and will continue to, empower individuals who want to experience the outdoors for themselves through a sustainable network of peers who share a passion for the same thing – wetlands, waterfowl and passing the outdoor traditions on to the next generation, no matter which generation that might be.