Efforts are Underway to Increase Hunter Retention

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The Arizona Game and Fish Department has recently undertaken efforts to explore opportunities for increasing hunter and shooter retention and recruitment in the state.

In September of 2004, the department chartered a Hunter and Shooting Sports Retention Team (HRR Team) to evaluate potential barriers to hunting sports and to identify specific recommendations that can be adopted by the department to address declining participation in hunting and shooting sports. These trends reflect a national phenomenon that has been experienced by state wildlife agencies throughout the country. Game and Fish’s Pinetop Regional Supervisor Jon Cooley, who chaired the HRR Team, provided the Arizona Game and Fish Commission with a briefing of the team’s findings during the commission’s Jan. 20 meeting in Scottsdale.

One tool the HRR Team used during the process was to conduct an online hunter needs assessment survey that was distributed to 50,000, with the department receiving responses from approximately 7,000 people, the majority of which consisted of active Arizona hunters. The survey participants identified several factors that represented “barriers” to their participation in hunting, including:

* Not getting drawn for a big game tag – 90 percent.
* Urbanization/development of hunting areas – 65 percent.
* Lack of time – 59 percent.
* Off-highway vehicle disruption – 54 percent.
* Overcrowding – 51 percent.

The ability to go big game hunting might be a barrier to participation, but the HRR Team also recognized other hunting opportunities as a way to diminish barriers and increase recruitment. “Among the major themes reflected in the approaches recommended by the HRR Team is emphasizing small game hunting as a vehicle to promote hunting recruitment and retention and to serve as a bridge to the more limited big game hunting opportunities,” said Cooley.

The HRR Team developed 12 main recommendations as the base of a comprehensive hunter recruitment and retention program, which are broadly highlighted in the following:

1. Construct a comprehensive property management plan for the Robbins Butte, Powers Butte and Arlington Wildlife Management Area complex to promote small game opportunity and provide a venue for hunter recruitment/retention activities.

2. Develop a short-term hunting lease program through landowner relations designed to obtain access to private lands for small game hunting opportunities.

3. Implement enhancements to the department’s Hunter Education Program that promote course convenience and flexibility to customers and that further institute adaptive management evaluation/management practices that mitigate potential barriers to entry.

4. Charter a team to identify improvements in the delivery of hunting information through the annual regulations booklet in a manner that encourages and facilitates use and understanding by new/inexperienced hunters in particular.

5. Evaluate existing big-game draw and hunt structures to maximize hunting opportunity on a sustainable basis.

6. Institute special licenses that promote participation of new hunters through family/friend social structures that serve to reinforce and support hunting activities.

7. Create department positions, public information and outreach efforts, and Web site enhancements that promote and support hunter recruitment/retention programs and activities.

8. Create a new hunter recruitment and retention coordinator position within the Information and Education Division to launch and coordinate the implementation of department hunter recruitment/retention programs, activities and promotions.

9. Establish a full-time shooting range development coordinator position in the Information and Education Division to promote convenient public access to shooting sports/ranges.

10. Launch coordinated, department-wide public information and outreach efforts that promote hunting and otherwise reinforce hunter recruitment/retention efforts and activities made available to the public.

11. Update the department’s strategic planning documents to proactively address urban encroachment as it relates to maintaining small game hunting opportunities in proximity to urban areas, which serve to advance hunter recruitment and retention efforts.

12. Conduct periodic/annual reviews of important hunt draw and license sales data and trends and apply adaptive management practices to department hunter recruitment/retention programs as needed.

Various HRR Team recommendations are already being implemented. For instance, the big game hunt guidelines were significantly revamped this year in light of the hunter retention team recommendations. Efforts were also increased to provide small game hunters better information on where to go for quail, doves, rabbits and waterfowl. The department developed a Hunter Newsletter and a process has been initiated to look at improving the hunt regulation booklet.