Fast forward to the year 2060. If we do our jobs as conservationists, public hunting access across the nation will have increased, there will be ample opportunities for Americans to put wild game in their freezer, and hunters will be just as passionate as they are today; however, they will look much more diverse than they do in 2021.
To preserve our hunting heritage and continue the successful model of the Wildlife Restoration Act, active hunters will have to be more representative of what America looks like, inclusive of people of all age groups, races, classes and overall varying demographics.
Currently, the vast majority of hunters in our country are middle-aged to late-aged white males. The fact that this majority will inevitably age out, coupled with more people residing in urban areas and increasingly disassociated from hunting, leaves us in our current predicament and why hunting participation is on the decline.
Luckily, the NWTF, state and federal wildlife agencies, private groups and other nonprofits are engaged in groundbreaking research that illustrates both future population dynamics and how to best use this information to recruit new, non-traditional hunters.
What does the next generation of hunters look like? Here are some of the aspects we need to consider:
Wildlife Values are Changing
The idea of hunting for trophy or sport are increasingly antiquated ways of viewing hunting and outdoor pursuits. The next generation of hunters will primarily hunt to procure their own food, to aid conservation efforts and to connect with nature, according to “America’s Wildlife Values,” a recent project conducted by researchers from Colorado State University, Ohio State University, the University of Minnesota and Responsive Management.
The study compared “traditionalists,” who believe animals should be used to benefit humans through things like medical research and hunting, with “mutualists,” who put animals on a more equal footing with humans.
“Overall there is a decline in traditionalists which could be due to factors like urbanization and a more diverse America,” said Mandy Harling, NWTF director of Education and Outreach Programs. “The good news is that the vast majority of American’s support hunting when put in the context of procuring food and done ethically and in accordance with regulations.”
Diversity is Key
The next generation of hunters will be representative of the American melting pot, the study concluded. In order to achieve this, the hunting community must be inclusive and curate programs and messaging that resonates with people from all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities. Currently, minority groups comprise about 37% of the American population, and by 2060, minority groups are projected to comprise about 57% of the U.S. population.
“It is imperative that we reach these growing populations and let it be known that hunting is for anyone who is interested,” Harling said. “The NWTF is proud to welcome people from all walks of life into the hunting and conservation community through our outreach programs, and we are thinking of new and innovative ways to make folks from all backgrounds feel welcomed in the outdoors.”
Firearm Ownership and Shooting Sports on the Rise
Despite hunting participation being on the decline, the National Shooting Sports Foundation reported there were approximately 21.1 million firearm background checks in 2020, compared to 7.2 million in 2000. Moreover, the NSSF reported that the overall participation of shooting sports is on the rise.
Of those new shooters that participated in shooting sports, the top participants would be considered minorities in hunter participation, including females, African Americans, Latinos and those residing in large cities.
Conservation groups, agencies and hunting groups must continue to foster a bridge between shooting sports and hunting if we are going to diversify and increase participation in hunting.
“Shooting sports are a great entry point into the outdoors,” Harling said. “That is why so many of our events have a sport shooting component. For certain people, this gives them time to get accustomed to shooting before hitting the woods. As shooting sports participation continues to rise, we’ll continue to create a bridge between sport shooting and hunting.”
So what will the next generation of hunters look like? They will be a highly diverse group of people from all walks of life, background and demographics that value filling their freezer with sustainable meat, connecting with nature and conserving our natural resources into perpetuity.
It’s our job as conservationists and hunters to create an outdoors landscape where everyone is welcomed and plays a role in America’s great wildlife conservation story.