The government is us; we are the government, you and I. -Theodore Roosevelt

2008 North American Wildlife Policy Conference - Hunter Recruitment and Retention

Working Draft prepared by the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy

Hunter numbers have been on a slow and steady decline for the past thirty years. Numerous factors have contributed to this trend. Our nation has shifted from a rural to an urban culture. Competing interests such as work, structured activities, television, computers, and electronic games have replaced the unstructured outdoor activities of the past. As a result, passing on hunting traditions and skills has become more difficult and apparently less important in today’s world.

However, the challenges facing hunting and wildlife conservation have never been more daunting. Because of the decline in hunting, the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is at risk.

The challenges that face hunter recruitment and retention are numerous and substantial. The approaches used to enhance recruitment and retention should account for myriad of cultures and lifestyles in contemporary society. Hunting opportunities and social structures vary across the United States, so no one program or approach to recruitment and retention will suffice. Hunting has traditionally been passed from one generation to the next within a family social system. Mentors must be identified who accept the importance of hunting and are willing to devote time and energy to advise, educate, and participate in hunting with youth. Competition for time affects mentors as well as potential hunters. The complexity of agency regulations, licensing structures, and other mandates presents real or perceived barriers for current and potential hunters. Agency leadership support for hunting may erode over time due to competing issues, political interference, or lack of personal interest or background in hunting. New professionals entering the ranks of wildlife agencies have very different motivations and experiences than those of us brought up in a different generation and agency culture. Agencies have been reluctant or disinterested in using new methodologies, available data, and analytical tools to evaluate recruitment and retention programs. In addition, we have done little to measure or enhance the public’s support for hunting traditions.

To address these challenges and measure success, realistic goals must be established. The following five goals to enhance recruitment and retention were identified at the Technical Conference and will be discussed at the upcoming North American Wildlife Policy Conference.

First, recruitment and retention should focus programs and initiatives on skills development and competence.

Second, a pool of skilled and respected mentors who pass on hunting skills and ethics to recruit youth into hunting traditions must be developed.

Third, hunting and hunters’ support for conservation must be incorporated into conservation agency culture and conservation leadership. Conservation leaders must support and expect that current and future agency staff understand the role of hunting in conservation.

Fourth, access, opportunities, and information about hunting must be developed in order to remove barriers to participation.

Fifth, recruitment and retention programs must be based on reliable information about what potential hunters desire in the experience. Programs must be evaluated and adapted to reflect changing social landscapes.

Although the challenges may seem insurmountable, the goals are realistic and attainable if the hunting community and wildlife agencies commit to a comprehensive and coordinated approach to enhance recruitment and retention. We must be successful to sustain the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. On a more personal note, all of us who have learned to hunt have been given a gift. We can hold that gift to ourselves and watch a tradition die in our or our children’s lifetime, or we can share that gift with another friend or child. If we choose to share the gift of hunting, we can pass on a human experience rooted in thousands of years of practice and tradition, an experience that has shaped our nation and ourselves.


Support Conservation

Support Hunting

Support Conservation

Support Education

"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt