At first glance, state parks — with their emphasis on nonconsumptive activities such as camping and hiking — may seem removed from the mission of recruiting, retaining or reactivating hunters and anglers. But on a closer look, they can offer a suite of resources for hosting Learn to Hunt and Learn to Fish events.
As the population of America grows more diverse and the hunting community looks for ways to reach these audiences, the question of access arises. How, and where, does the traditional hook and bullet community begin this dialogue?
State parks can act as a funnel for bringing new populations into the outdoors. Devils Lake State Park in Wisconsin draws in more than 1.2 million visitors annually, making it the Badger State’s most visited park. What’s more, the park and its programs act as a safe and trusted place for outdoor recreation.
“State parks have education programs that can help people who are new to the outdoors feel comfortable,” Park Naturalist Sue Johansen-Mayoleth said. “Naturalist programs at these venues can serve as gateways to spark interest and make people want to know more.”
Location, Location, Location
Just as the value of a property is driven by its proximity to key amenities, state parks located near urban and metro areas are potentially valuable to the R3 community. Visitors who arrive are naturally curious about what the park has to offer. And that is where R3 programs can hang their shingle.
Steve Sharp, NWTF R3 coordinator for Michigan, has been offering shooting and archery events at state parks in the Detroit and Flint metro areas for the last five years. Sharp strives to create a relaxed atmosphere by having a fun competition amongst park campers, who take their winning targets home and later receive a certificate in the mail with their name and score.
“We let people know about our Learn to Hunt events and have had numerous people attend those as well,” Sharp said. “In fact, some families book their vacation around when we are there. It’s a great way to reach out to people who haven’t had the opportunity to take up hunting.”
Hotspots in Cool Places
Parks — whether state, national or county — often exist to highlight a certain natural feature like a lake, waterfall, mountain range or some unique landscape. In this way, high-quality aesthetics are baked into the experience of visiting the park.
Some state parks offer hunting opportunities that may not be well known to the general public. By working with park staff, those looking to schedule Learn to Hunts can take advantage of these opportunities. Coordinating signage for these events with park managers allows novices a quality hunting experience while providing for the safety of other park visitors.
Kasie Harriet, NWTF R3 coordinator for Oklahoma, has worked with the state’s department of wildlife conservation on a series of small game hunts designed for novice hunters. Harriet notes abundant game animals and good resources as hallmarks of her experience hosting R3 events in Sooner state parks.
“State parks, in their offseason, are a great resource for hosting R3 events,” she said. “They typically have great facilities, bunk rooms and common areas, perfect for larger groups and overnight stays. They also have great hunting opportunities, especially in the small game department, which is an excellent hunt for new hunters.”
It Never Hurts to Ask
A complex matrix of administrative codes, state laws and local ordinances govern what can or cannot be done in state parks. Smaller eastern states tend to have more restrictions. Those in the Midwest, South, and the mountain West may offer more latitude. Also, while firearm discharge may be illegal within a given park, archery may be permitted.
Staff personnel can also affect the degree to which a park is R3-friendly. Park managers, like any other group of people, vary in their willingness and ability to think outside the box. Sometimes, all it takes is beginning a dialogue. As the old saying goes, “It never hurts to ask.”