State fish and wildlife agencies all across the country are confronting the same problem.
Namely, that’s how to replace license-buying anglers and hunters who age out of those sports with newcomers on a one-to-one basis.
That’s spawned this.
The first-ever National R3 Symposium – an event focused on recruitment, retention and reactivation – is being held on May 21-23 in Lincoln, Neb. Sponsored by the Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports, it’s focusing on “resources and partnerships needed to secure the future of hunting, angling, target shooting, and boating.”
Recent activity shows how seriously states are taking the issue.
Two, Iowa and Georgia, adopted R3 plans last year.
Thirty-five are expected to have R3 coordinators on their staffs within the coming months, said Samantha Pedder, director of business development for the Council. That’s up from 17 at the start of 2017.
Some states – this is the latest trend — are even hiring or appointing R3 teams to find tomorrow’s sportsmen and women, she said.
“That is monumental,” Pedder added. “And that’s a huge opportunity.”
Getting people outdoors to repalce those who age out is critical.
Bob Frye/Everybody Adventures
The number of R3 coordinators – including those working for private conservation groups – is approaching the kind of “crtical mass” where real change might be possible, she said.
States face challenges, though.
It’s relatively easy to design and promote programs and events aimed at teaching people to fish, for example, said Carl Richardson, education section manager for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. It’s even easy to tell, immediately afterward, if people learned anything.
Harder to track, he said, is what that means for license sales.
They fund most fish and wildlife management, after all.
“The challenge is, what impact are we having on the bottom line, on the sales aspect?” Richardson said.
He said the commission is trying to answer that in a way no one else ever has.
The agency is working with Southwick Associates, a Florida-based research firm specializing in outdoor marketing, to determine whether attendees of various recruitment, retention and reactivation programs actually turn into fishermen and women.
The commission provided Southwick with the names or more than 29,000 people who took part in some kind of commission outreach program since 2010. Southwick is trying to figure out how many subsequently bought a license.
That’s proven tougher than perhaps expected.
When people buy a fishing license, the automated license sales system captures the legal name on their drivers license.
It may be Andrew Patrick Smith, for example. But when they register for a family fishing program, they may use the name they commonly go by, such as Andy Smith or Drew Smith or even Patrick Smith.
The commission and Southwick went through records by hand trying to match things up.
“That’s a lot of records,” Richardson said.
The early results of that work are somewhat promising.
Richardson said the commission has long tried to reach people younger than 45 in its programs. The idea has been to reach an audience younger than the typical license buyer.
It’s seen some success there.
According to the licensing system, about half of license buyers are younger than 45. But 62 percent of adults taking part in family fishing programs are.
The commission is likewise making some progress when it comes to another demographic, namely women. More women take part in commission programs than buy a license in general, Richardson added.
“We are not preaching to the choir with a lot of our programs,” Richardson said. “We are talking to potential new buyers.”
More answers will be coming soon.
A Southwick representative is scheduled to attend the commission board’s next meeting in April. They will present a full report on their work then.
In the meantime, efforts to help agencies like the Fish and Boat Commission are underway, too.
Cyrus Baird, director of programs for the Council, said legislation in Congress – on both the House of Representatives and Senate sides – would “modernize” the Pittman-Robertson Act.
Under Pittman-Robertson, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collects a tax on the sale of things like firearms, ammunition and archery gear. That money is then doled back out to the states based on how many licenses they sell.
There are restrictions on how the money can be spent, however.
That’s where the new legislation comes into play, Baird said.
“Essentially, it’s a piece of legislation that will allow state fish and wildlife agency directors to use a portion of their Pittman-Robertson dollars for recruitment, retention and reactivation efforts,” Baird said.
They could, for example, use federal dollars to promote participation in hunting, said Dan Forster, vice president and chief conservation officer for the Archery Trade Association. The existing restriction on just that kind of spending “is a significant issue” for most states, he said.
Agencies could also build shooting ranges to provide people who want to get outside with places to go.
That’s all critical, Pedder said. The R3 movement is growing. Now is the time to capitalize on the momentum it’s generating, she added.
“What we sense is that this is one of the fastest movements happening in the conservation world,” Pedder said.
Engaging the armies in recruitment, retention, reactivation
The National R3 Symposium is not meant just for professionals working in hunter recruitment and retention.
It is, according to organizers, for anyone with an interest in perpetuating hunting, shooting, fishing, boating and the outdoor sports.
As important as the event is, many believe a lot of the work to keep people going outdoors will have to happen far away from Lincoln. And it will have to happen every day.
Specifically, the job of keeping those traditions alive falls to the people who cherish them most. The “orange army” and “blue army” – hunters and anglers – have to recruit people to replace themselves, said Marty Hogan, a contractor for Powderhook Inc. working on R3 issues.
“Really trying to engage them will be huge moving forward,” he said.
Powderhook CEO Eric Dinger put it well in a video on Facebook.
Ten years ago, Dinger said in the video, there were 18.5 million hunters across the United States. In 2017 there were 10.5 million.
“I have a 10-year-old little boy. What’s that number going to look like when he and his friends are 12 years old and ready to take hunter ed?” he asked.
Dinger said it’s up to individual sportsmen and women to reverse that trend. If every hunter introduced a newcomer to the sport next year – be that a child or adult — “that number looks completely different.”
“You need to decide whether a decline in hunter numbers means enough to you to do something about it. And there’s no fluffy way to say that. Are you going to do something about it or not?” Dinger asked.