A Rare Dive into an Actual Data Set from First Generation Hunters.
The holy grail of hunter recruitment is being able to understand the process and thinking of a first generation hunter. By capturing that world view, the thinking goes, we can replicate their experience for others. If we are able to do that, we will grow our ranks in a more efficient and robust manner. For Project Upland, this information has always been important — the mindset of that sacred group inside our subculture. How did they get here? What challenges do they face? And how can we create more “first generation” hunters?
In our 2019 survey 31%, of the audience identified themselves as first generation hunters. That is a 1% increase from the 2018 upland hunting survey. The definition of “first generation” being that neither their mother or father hunted. This is an inside look into these new hunters.
How Mentorship Matters
We began by exploring the idea of mentorship, which has played a critical role in R3 efforts in recent years. According to our new hunters, 64% identified that they were mentored in the process while 36% did not have a mentor. They were then asked to agree or disagree with the following statement. “I prefer a mentor over being self-taught.” 67% agreed or strongly agreed, whereas only 5 % disagreed or strongly disagreed the rest answering neutral or N/A.
As an introvert, I have often wondered at the idea of mentoring. I always felt that, when given the option, I would have chosen a path that did not involve mentorship as long as I had the resources available to get educated on my own. The above proved that my introvert tendencies were that of a minority and the responses to another follow up question — Of the following which path would you prefer as a path to upland hunting? — Further supported that conclusion, when 81% chose Having a mentor to teach me to become a bird hunter and only 19% chose Having online content to teach me to become a bird hunter.
How to Empower New Hunters
These responses do show that while some people do not want to be mentored, most prefer it to being self-taught. But if we are still interested in serving/converting those introverts as well — and we should be — the question becomes, Are there enough resources available to empower introverts to become self-taught hunters? Our instincts pointed us to ask about online resources due to the fact that they are immediately available to most people and don’t require any additional social interaction. A significant percentage (68%) of the audience agreed or strongly agreed with the statement I would like to be able to find enough information online to become an upland hunter and only 3% disagreed or strongly disagreed. Our conclusion, based on those responses, is that there is a need — even from those who desire to be mentored — to expand online resources to educate aspiring hunters.
The Barriers of Entry
Next, we explored our audience’s perceived barriers to hunting. We found that only 20% of the audience identified “finding a mentor” as a barrier. We hope that his surprising small number is a result of the efforts from the R3 community to make mentoring more available to the public, but we didn’t dig further into that perception. The more looming barrier is one that we would identify as an online resource or media issue. A little over 72% said that “finding a place to hunt” was the most difficult factor in becoming a hunter. While this certainly is an issue of access, we believe it is an issue related to the above questions; a lack of online resouces. We came to this conclusion partly based on a later question: Do you think there are enough online resources about finding new places to hunt on public land? Of which 57% said no and 43% said yes. We believe that these results can and must be addressed by an expansion of online resources, the question become how and who should be filling such a gap in the community?
Big Game Hunting Vs. Small Game Hunting
One of our working theories is that the decline in hunting participation is directly related to the inverse growth relationship of Big Game vs. Small Game hunting. At the peak of hunting participation, small game hunters outnumbered big game hunters at a roughly 2:1 ratio. This statistic is virtually reversed today. We theorize that the perceived accessibility and repeatability of small game hunting creates fewer barriers than big game hunting. When we compared the responses of our first generation hunters versus those who grew up in hunting families, we found that 42% of first generation hunters hunted big game as where those from hunting families came in at 58%. While this feedback is not conclusive, it does show that, among the first generation hunters in our audience, big game is not as big of a deal.
The Importance of Hunting Dogs
Lastly, we were curious to explore how dogs played a role in the recruitment of first-generation hunters. More than half (54%) said that they shot their first bird over a dog. An astounding 79% said that dogs played a critical role in them becoming a hunter. Further, 36% said they got bird dogs and then became a hunter. And 85% of first-generation hunters in this survey currently own a bird dog. While we don’t believe in any one “silver bullet” of hunter recruitment, we certainly can see that leveraging the general population’s interest in and passion for dog is one of the most promising entryways for cultivating new hunters.
What this all Means
One of the important take aways here is that, there are significant chunks of the population to recruit as first generation hunters. Someone who didn’t grow up in a hunting family requires perhaps a different approach to recruitment, but they are certainly “gettable.” Availability of information seems to be the largest need, whether it’s “how to” hunt or finding new land to hunt. We know that small game is an excellent gateway and anything that requires dogs makes it that much better. It is also clear that mentoring is still desirable and effective and efforts on such causes are worth the resources devoted to them.
*The focus groups were surveyed throughout a period of 2 weeks during the month of March 2019, when upland hunting participation begins to taper off and spanned the entirety of the United States. The survey took an average of eleven minutes to complete and garnered a 97% completion rate for a total of 2620 responses. The findings of the survey are reported at a 95% confidence interval with a sampling error of less than 3%. For a look at the Methodology in this survey check out: 2019 National Upland Bird Hunting Survey