Young Hunter Recruitment in the Digital Age
We’ve all heard it. Hunter numbers are way down over the last three decades. We’ve lost millions. Specifically, young hunter totals are lagging behind and aren’t enough to offset those that are aging out of the sport. Negative attrition trends regarding hunting continue, and while all hunter recruitment is good, attracting kids and youth remains the most effective way to counteract these trends. But why are these trends happening in the first place?
In addition to an aging hunting population, common reasons continue to be a declining amount of hunting land, divisiveness in the hunting community, and the influence of the anti-hunting contingent. However, there is more involved: namely, the actual behaviors of children and teens these days. And in one way or another, advances in digital technology are a prominent influence.
Large Antlers Everywhere
Huge antlers are very often the standard these days. A quick survey across today’s various media channels proves it. Simply put, some young hunters want to shoot a deer like the ones they are exposed to on television, YouTube, podcasts, and social media. You know, the extremely massive and long-tined ones – ones that many hunters never see on their hunting grounds, much less harvest.
Inherently, some kids want to hold out for this class of buck – whether or not it even exists in their given hunting area. And what about the photo of the kid on social media proudly posing with his deer only to be greeted with comments like, “That deer is too young,” or “You should of let him walk”? Intended or not, adults often attach boundaries to the hunting experience – and dampen it.
And then there are the kids allowed to shoot bucks with antlers of giant proportions – on their first hunt. Sure, it’s the parent’s right to let them do so, but we have a tangled mess of mixed signals. Whatever the case, it’s important to allow young new hunters to be happy with whatever they shoot. Praise them on digital channels and, at a minimum, keep it positive.
The Tethering of America
…Tethered to electronics that is. When I was growing up, there was one hunting channel on TV (and it was weekly). Early on, my technology was limited to an Etch-a-Sketch before graduating to the likes of Pong. I was lucky to be introduced to hunting and fishing at a young age. But even if I hadn’t been, our entertainment generally took place outside. This meant, among other things, perch-jerking in the creek and long sessions with BB and pellet guns.
Conversely, today, most youths are attached to smartphones, video games, and tablets. They’re like extra appendages. My daughters were not much different, though I did teach them to love being outdoors at a young age. They love to fish. They enjoy hunting as well, even though they prefer watching animals more than shooting them — nothing wrong with that in my book. Needless to say, when they were young, we enjoyed many enjoyable evenings together in the deer stand. So much so, I have no doubt they will introduce similar activities to their kids. Still, others never get this chance, and it is challenging to promote hunting and the outdoors when the level of entertainment is based on the strength (or existence) of a WIFI signal.
Social Media Alone
Though it goes through changes, social media isn’t going anywhere. Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter have become a significant part of the lives of younger individuals. Let’s be honest though – it is the same for many of us, regardless of age. Though it’s mainly for business purposes, I, for one, tend to my social accounts and content every day. And I’d be lying if I said I never checked Instagram to see what huge bucks were killed, or the occasional humorous hunting meme.
Yes, these online social media channels have become fixtures, and using them has become as prevalent as mowing the lawn or putting gas in our vehicles. For me, it has primarily replaced television (except for my Netflix binge-watching). Yes, we’re in the midst of an uphill battle here when it comes to promoting hunting to our younger counterparts.
What about the youngsters that actually try hunting, only to subsequently give it up? After all, it’s easy for them to do amid the numerous digital distractions and short attention spans. While it’s okay that hunting isn’t for everyone, many efforts aimed at recruiting first-time hunters lack no mechanism for follow up reinforcement. When this occurs, it’s like a self-imposed lost opportunity. Keep the momentum going by creating repeated hunting opportunities for young prospects. If you don’t personally have the resources, solicit family, friends, or friends of friends with hunting land to keep their fire burning.
There is no better example than Texas’ 2nd Amendment Teen Hunters Model. This approach involves a multi-year program that provides young people with recurring opportunities to experience hunting for different species using various hunting methods. Additionally, it gives the chance to earn different NRA Instructor credentials, as well as funding to cover NRA Life memberships. Best of all, with the fun of hunting fresh on their minds, hunters maintain the desire to continue participation in the future.
During this age of hunting-selfies and Facebook likes, it can be tough to reach and retain young people in the hunting ranks. Nonetheless, as already mentioned, we can’t just make digital channels disappear. So we need to use them to our advantage. Share the good facets of hunting: the adventure, the fellowship, and the wild game food.
When it comes down to it, our hunting legacy and traditions are on the line, and we need to make the right moves to sustain, if not grow them. So, seek to push the right buttons, whether on your trail camera, smartphone, or keyboard. And remember that many potential young hunters are watching.
Based in Texas, Jerald Kopp is President of 1st Light Hunting Journal. His articles cover a variety of topics about hunting and the outdoor lifestyle. Jerald is an avid outdoorsman with deer hunting and whitetails being by far his greatest passion. He was introduced to hunting and fishing at an early age and has been enjoying it for 40+ years. In 2005, he established the Empowerment Outfitter Network (EON) – a faith-based non-profit organization that provides hunting opportunities for disabled and terminally-ill children and youth. When not hunting, he spends his time traveling and enjoying life with Amy, his wife of over 30 years. Jerald and Amy have two adult daughters and a son-in-law.