Retaining Hunters for the Future: Oklahoma’s 2021 Deer Conference and Expo

When the NWTF creates and enhances wild turkey habitat, it also benefits many other game and nongame species. In much the same way, when it comes to recruiting, retaining and reactivating new hunters (known as the R3 movement), the mission often extends beyond just wild turkey hunting and encompasses the entire outdoors lifestyle. R3 is an important part of the NWTF mission and was especially exemplified in the 2021 Oklahoma Deer Conference and Expo, hosted by the NWTF and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

To preserve our hunting heritage and to combat the declining number of hunters, which results in less funding for conservation efforts, NWTF chapters across the country host a variety of mentored outdoors events, ranging from dove and deer hunting to fly fishing and, of course, turkey hunting. Deer hunting is one of the most popular and accessible forms of hunting throughout the country; deer are often many new hunters’ first harvest and provide a great entry point to learn about other types of hunting, outdoorsmanship and conservation.

Despite its popularity, deer hunting can also be an intimidating endeavor for beginners. Providing quality information and keeping these new hunters engaged were the top reasons the NWTF Oklahoma State Chapter created and cohosted the 2021 Oklahoma Deer Conference and Expo.

“This event has been about six to seven years in the making,” said Rick Nolan, NWTF Oklahoma State Chapter secretary. “It all started with me spending too much time on Facebook hunting groups [laughs] and seeing a lot of people asking good questions [about deer hunting] and not getting good answers.”

Inspired to bring beneficial information to new hunters, youth and adult-onset hunters alike, Nolan began working with his local NWTF Tri-City Sportsmen Chapter to host Deer 101 workshops.

These smaller events were designed to assist new or novice hunters who do not have the benefit of a friend, family member or colleague to mentor them. The event won a national Best Inaugural Event Award at the NWTF  Convention and Sport Show in 2020, but Nolan and the Oklahoma team were determined to grow the size and participation and wanted to create something larger.

“Spending five to six hours in a deer stand, you cannot help but think about these things,” Nolan said. “I kept thinking to myself, how can we make these events bigger and more impactful. After a lot of meetings, discussions and Zoom calls with NWTF staff, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and partners, we decided to host a deer conference and expo.” 

This year’s event included a wide variety of sessions covering specific aspects of deer hunting, including introduction to bow hunting, introduction to rifle hunting, deer biology and behavior, shot placement and field care, how to find a place to hunt and more. Subject experts led each session, including ODWC Big Game Biologist Dallas Barber and many other sportsmen and women from Oklahoma.

With over 100 attendees, Nolan and the Oklahoma flock were happy with the participation and excited to grow the event.

“We will soon be discussing where we can host this event in the future to garner more participation,” Nolan said. “I would like to see this grow to include turkey and waterfowl hunting too.”

For Nolan and many sportsmen and women across the country, introducing and retaining new hunters is as much about continued funding for conservation as it is preserving a special way of life.  

“I’m 67; I don’t have to worry, but for my grandkids and for future generations, if we do not address these declines in hunting participation, I believe the opportunities for hunting will be diminished as well,” he said.

To learn how you can get involved in your region, click here.

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Oklahoma