ENHANCED MARKSMANSHIP PROGRAMS FOR HUNTERS: Meeting the Challenge to Increase Participation in Hunting and Shooting

A symposium was held by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the International Hunter Education Association with the goal of developing specific recommendations for increasing participation in hunting and the shooting sports. A report discussing their findings entitled “Meeting the Challenge to Increase Participation in Hunting and Shooting” was later compiled and released. This project was motivated by the fact that while the American population is increasing; active participation in shooting and hunting is declining. The traditional “answer” to this problem has revolved around hunter education programs. As the report concludes, however, hunter education can not solve this problem alone. In fact, it may be a hindrance in some cases. In no way is this an indictment of hunter’s ed. programs. Standard hunter education held throughout the country provides needed basic training for everyone that takes the field. And, unless hunters or shooters take it upon themselves to attend a private sector class or participate in organized events, hunter’s ed. is the only formal learning experience they receive. The problem is these programs shouldn’t be viewed as a catchall recruitment tool. If the shooting sports and hunting are to grow, we need to look above and beyond. As Wisconsin DNR hunter education director Tim Lawhern has wisely inquired to his instructors, “Where do we go from here?”

Just as hunter education can never serve as the be-all end-all program for hunter recruitment, neither can any other single program. What is needed is a variety of programs made widely available to all interested hunters. For success, we need to work with current hunters/shooters, with hunters/shooters who aren’t currently active for whatever reason, and with folks who currently have no interest in shooting or hunting.

Working with Current Hunters One of the important points discussed in the IHEA/NSSF paper is the need of more opportunity for current hunters/shooters. In order to increase our base of participation it is essential to provide more options beyond basic hunter’s education and annual hunting seasons. Quoting the report, “Agencies should provide opportunities for hunters to develop and satisfy multiple motivations to encourage their long-term participation.” Three motivations that the conference decided as primarily important are Achievement, Affiliation, and Appreciation.

Hunters motivated by Achievement are looking for ways to demonstrate skill and garner a little recognition. Those motivated by Affiliation are looking to develop their own identity and relationships with others through hunting, while hunters driven by Appreciation are interested in “escape” and value “getting away” to nature. The conference concluded that working with people roused by the first two motivations would be most productive in promoting hunting because “[h]unters driven solely by appreciative motivations may not be good candidates for mentoring unless they see hunters as essential supporters of ‘wilderness’ and open-space.” The report is not trying to imply that appreciating nature and hunting is a bad thing, rather, those hunters who are motivated primarily by their interest in the solitude of nature may not be the best candidates to actively spread the word outside the hunting community. Given that our efforts within the hunting community should focus on hunters that are Achievement-Oriented and Affiliation -Oriented Hunters, lets look at each group.