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National Hunting and Fishing Day
Hunter Recruitment in Alaska
In part to celebrate the 2012 75th Anniversary of Wildlife Restoration.
Hunting is a lifestyle and an important activity for millions of Americans, bringing them outdoors and in touch with nature. More than 13 million people across the country enjoy hunting, and through hunting they contribute to wildlife conservation and management. National Hunting and Fishing Day on September 22, 2012, celebrates the programs that ensure that hunting continues for future generations.
Hunting in general is a sport with a strong relationship to family history. Typically, it takes a hunter to make a hunter. An important determinant of the number of new hunters in any state is the number of active hunters in that state. In Alaska, sales for resident hunting and trapping licenses increased over the past decade from 87,558 to 105,128; about one in every seven residents purchased a hunting license. About 60,000 residents consistently participate in big game hunting, others enjoy hunting birds, waterfowl and small game. The national trend also shows that the number of hunters age 16 and older in the United States increased nine percent between 2006 and 2011 (13.7 million). Big game hunters increased eight percent, migratory bird hunters increased 13 percent and hunters seeking other animals increased 92 percent.
I was raised in Alaska and began shooting a traditional bow with my father at the age of five. I was hunting small and big game soon after. It remains a family tradition to subsist off the land and we thoroughly enjoy participating in the outdoors. My husband is also an avid bowhunter and we enjoy passing on that history and experience to our son and take him outdoors often. But not every youth has that family history. Thankfully with today’s technology and programs youth interested in hunting can find hunting mentors and opportunities through local clubs, shooting ranges, online resources, and even schools. Although more than 90 percent of today’s hunters were raised in families like mine that hunted, there are those who are introduced to hunting and encouraged in other ways. My husband can attest that. Since he was not raised in a family that hunted, he was able to pursue his interest through adult mentors and youth hunting opportunities provided by clubs like the Professional Bowhunters Society. The public can help recruit hunters by inviting friends to go hunting. One study showed that 86 percent of active hunters said they had been invited to go hunting by a friend, and 28 percent subsequently increased their hunting participation. Hunters can increase hunting participation by mentoring a peer in hunting activities, talking positively about hunters and the sport, providing information about target shooting opportunities, providing information on hunter education classes and how to purchase a license, and offering opportunities to get kids outside and recreating. Studies show that outdoor recreation leads to a desire to participate in nature. People that are interested in outdoor sports, especially those involving challenge and nature experiences, are most likely to take up hunting.
Recruiting and retaining hunters is part of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s (ADF&G) mission and a priority. ADF&G’s Hunter Education programs are growing fast and are successfully recruiting new hunters to carry on the culture and traditions. In 2011 more than 3,000 students were certified in basic hunter education and growth and interest continues in rural areas. Students can take the classroom portions of many of these classes online which makes attendance more convenient. In 2011, 91 classes were offered for bowhunter and 26 classes for muzzleloader certifications. Nationally, more than half of hunter education students of license-purchasing age obtain a hunting license after the course and are extremely interested and highly likely to go hunting following the course. In Alaska, all youth course graduates receive a free range pass to Rabbit Creek Shooting Park for a free day of shooting and a Hunter's Handbook which allows them to enter to win nationwide prizes including a "Heritage Hunt" for the winning student and their volunteer instructor. A student in Alaska and his instructor from Kodiak won some nice optics a few years back.
ADF&G Hunter Education programs reach a wide audience and a wide range of interests. In 2011, 36 percent of students who attended hunter education classes were minority groups. In Juneau, hunter education is offered to all middle-school students through the schools. Other programs introduce women to the outdoors and teach them important skills that enable them to pursue hunting, fishing, camping and hiking. Similar programs do the same for kids. Other programs promote hunter safety, introduce kids to archery, trap shooting and small game hunting. Recruiting new hunters or bringing an inactive hunter back to the sport not only helps conservation and wildlife management but helps to get people active and healthy.
ADF&G programs that recruit youth (and women) into the hunting sports include:
- National Archery in the Schools is now in more than 90 schools, including rural communities, and more than 10,000 kids have participated. This is our fastest growing outreach program. Many of these youth find their ways to other shooting sports and a percentage gravitate into bowhunting.
-Scholastic Clays Target Program youth shotgun leagues are active in six communities and provide a pipeline to small game hunting. Volunteer coaches in the Mat-Su Valley, Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula and Ketchikan offered coaching and competition for more than 250 youth and the numbers are growing. In 2011, more than 20 youth from Alaska competed in the Program’s National Tournament in Sparta, Illinois.
- Two or three annual small game hunts which usually include a bird hunt at Falcon Ridge in Wasilla and hare/ptarmigan hunting in the Interior. Youth can attend that have completed basic hunter education or who are in youth shotgun leagues.
-Two, two-day Outdoor Youth Days summer camps and Alaska Conservation Camps which provide three camp opportunities (Basic, Advanced, and Advanced Module) at Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge in Fairbanks for kids ages 11 through 16. These events fill up as quickly as they are advertised and many kids go on to sign up for a hunter education class and/or a youth shotgun league.
- Becoming an Outdoor Woman (BOW) events bring new women into the hunting sports. More than 400 attendees participated in 2011. These events also fill up as quickly as they’re advertised. Most have never touched a firearm prior to taking the firearm-related classes and many women return to attend other clinics related to hunting. A variety of other classes provide basic outdoor skills that "break the ice" and encourage women to recreate outdoors.
-Beyond BOW activities, normally for smaller groups of 10-12 women, attend a Raspberry Island deer hunt, wild game care clinic, firearms maintenance, archery tuning/basics, rifle shooting, bear safety/defense, map & compass, and women-only hunter education courses. These programs are offered in many states and likely contribute to the national increase in women hunters.
-Salmon Celebration Days are coordinated by the Division of Sport Fish Aquatic Education Program in Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak and Mat Su Valley and our Hunter Education staff and volunteers for the archery station. These events have 12 to 20 hands on activity stations and in 2012 the event had 1,013 attendees.
-Potter Marsh Discovery Days is a two-day outreach event with many partners sponsoring booths and educational activities. One day is for summer camp and youth groups (ages K-6 and preschool), and the second is for the general public with a focus on families. The goal is to encourage kids and people of all ages to connect with nature and learn about and appreciate Potter Marsh. Archery is usually a popular activity at the event.
According to Jerry Soukup, the Hunter Education Program Lead, these programs would not be possible, or as popular as they are, without the support of the more than 400 volunteer instructors that help each year. Our instructors donate over 6,000 hours per year, but clearly enjoy that time as they come back year after year.
Alaska is rated as one of the least-restrictive states for kids to hunt and is one of 17 leading states with youth and family-friendly hunting laws which pave the way for hunter recruitment. The hunter education certification is only required for hunters to hunt in a few specific areas within the state, otherwise a license can be purchased without it. Unlike most western states, residents under the age of 16 do not need to purchase a hunting license. A youth can get his own big-game tag at 10 years of age and an adult can have a youth under 10 years of age harvest big game under his harvest tag. There are 20 states with very restrictive hunting laws prohibiting youth to hunt big game until they’re 12 or older, including California, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Utah, and Oregon. These restrictions could hinder nationwide recruitment since studies found that introducing youth to hunting prior to middle school age is the most effective to keeping the tradition alive for the long-term. Younger children have a much greater enthusiasm for hunting than those introduced to hunting at a later age (16 years and older).
Alaska’s current 2012 hunting license fee for a resident is $25.00 which is also relatively cheap compared to other western states. Although, harvest tags for muskox, brown bear and ducks/geese add additional cost on top of the license. In general, we’re lucky that our general license gives us the freedom to hunt all game species. Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington charge by species so it adds up to get a license for all game. For example, in Oregon, if a hunter wants a license for deer, elk, bear, cougar, and antelope the cost would be $155.50, in Washington it would cost $115.50 for a combined game license, and in Colorado, a one size fits all license for all species would cost $509.
The Alaska Legislature has also made it a priority to promote opportunities for youth to hunt. Under Alaska Statute 16.05.255(i), the Board of Game must establish annual hunting seasons that are open before schools start and before regular hunting seasons begin for resident youth ( under 17 years of age) and their mentor to take big game. The Board of Game has aided in providing unique youth opportunities by creating drawing hunts that are only for kids 10 to 17 years of age.
In 2011, hunting accidents and illegal activities reported by the Department of Public Safety in Alaska remained low. In addition to hunter recruitment, Alaska’s Hunter Education program has resulted in safer, better informed, and more prepared resource users. Conclusive evidence shows that the hunter education course has dramatically reduced hunting related firearms accidents — up to 75 percent in some states — and has brought about positive change in hunter skills, attitudes and behavior. The hunting community benefits from ethical and responsible behavior because it improves perception of hunters and of hunting as a legitimate activity and game violations are reduced. The general public has benefited from healthy and well-distributed wildlife populations to view, harvest, and otherwise enjoy. It’s also important for the Alaskan hunting population to keep in mind that when they purchase the license and equipment to shoot a caribou, they are directly helping the caribou populations by supporting the biologists that manage those populations.
Not only does the hunting provide personal, social, and conservation rewards but it has a significant impact on our economy and provides jobs. In 2011, hunters spent $34 billion on trips, firearms and equipment, licenses and other items to support their hunting activities. Total hunting-related spending increased from 2006 to 2011 by 30 percent. Each year hunters support almost 600,000 jobs across the country, generating salaries, wages and income of more than $20 billion annually. Hunting also contributes money to rural economies that truly need it. Alaska is rated the 2nd highest in the U.S. for average annual bowhunting expenses and with every eight new bowhunters recruited, a new job is created. Nationally, bow hunting has continued to increase and nationally, the percentage of female hunters has increased to almost 10 percent of the hunting population.
ADF&G is proud to contribute to the hunting sports recruitment to encourage the nation’s youth to enjoy the outdoors and invest in wildlife conservation. These activities provide many benefits both statewide and nationwide to individuals, families, economies, wildlife, and the environment. It is exciting news to report that as National Hunting and Fishing Day approaches for 2012 we can celebrate the increase in hunters, hunting-related spending, jobs, and continuation of important programs that contribute to this increasing trend.
Amy Pinney is the Federal Aid Coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Conservation in Juneau.
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P.O. Box 115526
1255 W. 8th Street
Juneau, AK 99811-5526