An explanation of the “R3” or Recruit, Retain, Reactivate Movement in Hunting.
The room was packed full of people from all parts of the industry: non-profits, state agencies, industry brands, and yes, millennials. In true introvert behavior we sat at a round table in the conference room in the back far corner with some people we knew. We watched with curiosity and interest as we awaited the start to the first-ever R3 Symposium hosted by the Council to Advance Hunting and Shooting Sports.
Just what is R3, the synonym for “recruit, retain, reactivate?” Trust me when I say that this term was lost on me at first. A friend of mine, Jesse St Andre, who works for a state agency, once said to me that we were doing “some great stuff in the R3 world.” That statement was lost on me. My literal response was, “What the f%3& is R3?” A few years later and thanks to Jesse’s help, I get it.
R3 is a national initiative to quite literally recruit, retain and reactivate hunters. The concept was birthed as the number of hunters in North America is witnessing its greatest decline in history. The “great cliff” is upon us as baby boomers age out of what can be a physically demanding form of recreation. In the most candid assessment, the tradition of hunting has (for the most part) failed to pass on to new generations. And no, this isn’t just about saving a culture. If you spend time reading our research and becoming familiar with our initiatives, hunting culture will most likely look much different on the other side of this.
Why Does R3 Matter So Much for Our Country?
I know what you’re thinking. My horseshoes club is failing to recruit new members, so does this mean we should create an “R3” initiative to save an age-old sport? Sure, but the underlying issue with the decline in hunter numbers has a direct impact on our environment, and not for the good.
We are home to a unique thing called the “North American Model of Conservation.” To put that in layman’s terms, it means that the funding for such things as game species, non-game species, public lands, and literally everything wild is significantly impacted by the hunting economy. That includes such things as the purchase of hunting licenses and stamps, the taxes on shooting sports, and one of the most important things of all–an inherent need to protect the resources in a sustainable manner.
The actual number at stake here is that 59 percent of the funding at state level comes from hunting, shooting sports and fishing. That’s an estimated $3.3 billion. With a “b.”That’s a big gap to fill in an age where our government cannot seem to balance a budget for pencil supplies in schools. The literal threat here is that if hunting goes away, so does the money.
The R3 Movement is a Response to a Crisis
I was recently reading (or I should say listening to) the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. This book goes all over the place. But perhaps one of the most compelling quotes in the book is, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” by Rahm Emanuel. He goes on to say, “This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before.”
Rewind six years ago and a brand like Project Upland would not have been invited into a room to discuss the future of hunting. We are in fact “industry outsiders.” But this moment in R3 has provided an opportunity for us as a community to consider new ideas, create mechanisms for future generations, and provide a more constructive conversation than before. This is an amazing thing and the power of collaboration is an intoxicating tool.
How did we arrive at this crisis? There is not a one-size-fits-all response to that. Let’s be truthful: it’s probable that a lot of things contributed to the current state of hunting. But here’s some food for thought.
“But Hunters Just Want to Kill Things . . . “
Trust me, if you do not hunt and you investigate the culture, I 100 percent get why it’s a turnoff. And I am not going to paint a pretty picture here because I believe a force of change is not only in order (and moral necessary) but inevitable. It’s tough to see past all the “big bucks” ultra-traditional conservative sentiment (yes, you can be a liberal and hunt), and all the way to the fact that the animal is eaten and hunters have a need for the resource to be sustainable.
For the past 30 plus years the “for profit” parts of the hunting industry have put forward a marketing ideology of selling more things without stopping and thinking about the cultural crisis they would create. It gave birth to what many of us like to call the “trophy craze” and spawned a generation of hunters who went from the days of celebrating conservation success through the record keeping of game animals in things like the Boone and Crockett books, and on to celebrating the names next to the numbers.
We have weaponized the word conservation (through no fault of the people who truly do conservation work) as a tool to throw in people’s faces for “good” arguments. A mentality that “I do more for conservation because I am a hunter.” And in return it has been weaponized and thrown back as “that’s your excuse for killing.” How about if as a culture we had an inherent want to protect the resource and didn’t need a pat on the back to be “confirmed.” A world where just the simple notion that some part of the environment was protected because that was more important than my ego. Just doing the right thing for its own sake.
We stir up insane confirmation for extremist groups like PETA when we flood Facebook with half a million profile images of dead animals using their filter. And then sit there and wonder why normal people hate us, just as (news flash) they hate PETA. They see extremism pitted face to face with extremism. Not conservationists concerned about the future of our environment. That’s not “sound science.”
We birthed a culture that finds people apologizing for shooting a “small buck” as a precursor to conversation. Where people boost egos on kill counts and find it culturally acceptable to play air guitar with their bow over a dead animal. The industry seemed to have forgotten that when you kill something you surrender certain forms of media out of moral integrity for the act that ensued.
Much like a funeral, there are a mix of emotions and rules that adhere to the celebration of life at a moment of death. You remember the moments before, you are overwhelmed with the present, and recognize the memory that needs to carry forward. The impending crisis to make sure the future is there.
Sustainability and Conservation Ethics
The core of all this truth is that if I take from a resource, I have a need to protect it. Sustainability is a more accurate term for what this perspective on what hunting is truly about. As this past culture and ivory tower begins to fall we found ourselves in a moment of greatest environmental crisis. Climate change, the decline of species, and deforestation (which means the permanent removal of tress, not clear cutting in a working forest) just to name a few. “Land ethic” is what Aldo Leopold called it, “a philosophy or theoretical framework about how, ethically, humans should regard the land.”
“Conservation Ethics” is a more modern and relevant capture and is what Ben Jones, President and CEO of the Ruffed Grouse Society, calls it. We find ourselves and our sound science ignored because of the cultural extreme we created. But the truth of conservation ethics is that at the end of it, it isn’t just about game animals or “who did the most.” It is about the moral obligation we face as humans.
Hunting creates a crazy type of hyper focus. As a woodcock hunter I find myself intimately involved in unique and biodiverse systems that without a need to know where woodcock live would probably be lost on me. A migration from Canada to the southern states that exposes some of the greatest gaps our human world has created. And since 1970, a steady 1 percent decline in population every year. Who cares about the American woodcock? I do. That’s the point. This is ultimately what R3 is about: bringing light to the future of natural resources so that people spend the time and resources to care about them and speak up for those who have no voice–only a legacy.
The Greatest Thing Anyone Can Do for R3
Mentoring is the fastest and most efficient way to create more hunters. I cannot recall the exact fact, but it’s something like if half the hunters today mentored one person in a season the crisis could virtually be reversed in a year. Mentorship is increasing, but not at those numbers. So if you find yourself at the end of this article saying, “What can I do for R3?” the answer is: mentor. There is no government program, Project Upland film, or article that can fill that gap. This is the moment in which we need community.