During the R3 (Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation): Fast Enough, Bold Enough, Good Enough?” panel discussion at the 43rd annual NWTF Convention and Sport Show, Bob Ziehmer, senior director of conservation for Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, was asked for his thoughts on the future of hunting.
“We’ve lost too many hunters in the last five years,” Ziehmer said. “If we don’t change, it’s going to continue to go downward … We see this as the responsibility of every single person [in the industry].”
Other industry experts joining Ziehmer on the panel Feb. 14 in Nashville, Tennessee, were Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Director Jim Douglas, From Field to Plate founder Jeremiah Doughty, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director Chuck Sykes and Gray Loon Marketing Group’s Director of Outdoors Brita Turbyfill. The group discussed how well the hunting industry and conservation organizations have risen and are rising to the challenge of protecting our wildlife and laying a foundation for hunting’s future.
Scott Lavin, Arizona Game and Fish Department wildlife recreation branch chief, moderated the panel discussion.
“I think this is a very timely conversation,” Lavin began. “There’s a lot of work that has happened [with R3] that has changed the face of our industry.”
Lavin continued by asking the panelists if they thought the hunting and conservation industries were, indeed, fast enough, bold enough and good enough at keeping up with conservation and securing a future for our hunting lifestyle. The overwhelming response from the entire panel was a resounding “no.”
“I would say that we’re not really devoting all the resources to this effort that we probably should,” Douglas said. “I don’t see the sense of urgency in a lot of our organizations [that should be there].”
The panelists offered up a myriad of solutions to the problems facing the hunting community.
Sykes addressed the higher level of focus many have placed on children rather than introducing adults to hunting.
“I’m not saying that’s bad, but it’s not working,” Sykes said. “If it was working, we wouldn’t be in the shape that we’re in … We need adults to buy hunting licenses.”
Turbyfill echoed this point.
“We have a really awesome opportunity to get adults into hunting,” she said.
Turbyfill added that we may be failing with outreach, too.
“I’m not even sure if we’re even trying enough to reach people outside our industry,” Brita Turbyfill said. “What’s going to resonate with these people? It’s not the same type of pro-staffers that this industry tends to use. There are a lot of different motivators, and if we use those in a smart way, we’re going to reach new audiences. We have to communicate with a different message if we’re going to reach different people than what we’re used to in our industries.”
“We need to have candid discussions so we reach the masses,” Ziehmer said. “We can get there, but we need to have hard conversations to make sure we’re all moving in the right direction.”
To make a difference in where our hunting heritage is heading, Douglas said that we must look to our current hunters.
“We need to instill a sense of personal responsibility in everyone who cares,” Douglas said. “If everyone in this room took the [NWTF Mentor] Pledge today, to take one new person hunting … we could touch more people with that than some states could in all their programs.”
Doughty explained that we can all guide new hunters.
“Everyone is good enough to mentor,” he said. “You can’t be afraid to take these people out there.”
Doughty also said we must take people different from us hunting and not worry about what other hunters think about that.
Turbyfill said improving our image to potential new hunters lies in communication.
“I think the good news is, we have communication tools and can reach, obviously, a lot of people,” Turbyfill said. “If it’s my personal responsibility to get somebody else to hunt, I’ve got to think about how I’m communicating about things. I can’t talk about it necessarily the way that my dad talked to me about it, because they don’t necessarily want to hunt for the same reasons I want to hunt … The way that we portray ourselves as hunters is something that we need to take personal responsibility for. We have to educate hunters about how they’re communicating so they can think about the fact that if you want to teach someone else to hunt, ‘what’s their human interest?’ It may not be the same reason that got you interested.”
The bottom line from the panel: Hunting and conservation are headed down a lonely road, but fixing the current trend is not impossible.
“It’s an easy solution, we just need to get out of our comfort zone,” Sykes said.
— Heiler Meek