Minnesota DNR Reduces Hunting Barriers
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) knocked down more barriers to hunting participation this year.
The agency, which in recent years has expanded youth hunts, reduced the price of youth deer licenses, and propelled the state into a national leader in the archery in the schools program, has launched an apprentice hunter program that promises to nudge would-be hunters off the fence and into fields and forests. It is also developing a new mentoring program. The mentoring effort aims to work with existing hunting, fishing and mentoring organizations to link avid outdoors enthusiasts with youth who have an interest in the outdoors but not the opportunity to experience it.
The agency has also implemented a special deer hunting clinic for women, a guided grouse hunt for women, an outdoors family weekend that included shooting skills and other activities that aim to keep hunting healthy in the face of national trends that show a downward decline in hunting participation.
"Nationally, Minnesota ranks fifth in terms of hunting participation," said Dave Schad, DNR Fish and Wildlife Division director. "Currently, 13 percent of the population hunts. While that is down from 15 percent in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, it is still at a level that exceeds most other states. Moreover, the total number of hunters continues to be stable. The 2 percent decline is actually a function of population growth rather than a decline in hunter numbers." Minnesota has about 578,000 total hunters, of which about 80 percent hunt deer with a firearm.
Schad said the combination of the new hunter apprentice program and strong wildlife populations make this an ideal year to introduce someone new to hunting. "Think about it. Ruffed grouse numbers are at their highest level in years. Pheasant numbers are excellent again. Deer are abundant. What better time to introduce a friend, spouse, or child to someone's back forty or a nice wildlife management area perhaps 40 miles down the road."
To that end, what follows are some of the DNR's new hunting recruitment and retention initiatives.
APPRENTICE HUNTER VALIDATION
The apprentice hunter validation enables an individual who is normally required to have a firearms safety certificate, but does not have one, to try hunting for a year under the supervision of a licensed hunter. The validation is available to Minnesota residents only. It costs $3.50. The apprentice hunter needs to purchase all licenses and stamps normally required for the hunt. This program was developed because many potential new hunters are not sure they will like it and therefore want to experience a hunt before committing to a firearms safety class. Apprentice hunters must be within sight and sound of their supervising hunter. Mentored hunts of this type are as safe as other hunts, according to data from the International Hunter Education Association.
WOMEN'S DEER CLINIC
The DNR's Becoming An Outdoors Woman program hosted its first-ever deer-hunting clinic for women in August on a rolling and wooded farm in Kanabec County. More than 40 women signed up to get hands-on experience with rifles, shotguns and archery equipment. They also learned how to follow blood trails, hang tree stands, and were presented information on deer behavior and biology.
The DNR held its first-ever Becoming An Outdoors Family Weekend in August at Deep Portage Environmental Learning Center. The event featured skills-building events in both shooting and archery.
ARCHERY DRAW WEIGHT REDUCTION
The DNR reduced the minimum bow draw weight for taking big game from 40 pounds to 30 pounds. This change stems from research that indicated the 40-pound regulation was a barrier to women and youth who were long in heart but short in strength when it came to shooting a bow accurately. Industry and agency information indicates that a 30-pound draw weight is adequate to take Minnesota big game species.
The DNR recently convened a "kitchen cabinet-style" meeting of selected stakeholders to strategize ways to implement a successful hunting and fishing mentoring program. The gathering included input from Big Brothers Big Sisters, Kinship Partners, Kansas-based Pass It On Outdoor Mentors, Inc., and representatives of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and other hunting organizations.
WOMEN'S GROUSE HUNT
In partnership with the Ruffed Grouse Society, the Becoming An Outdoors Woman program will offer upland bird biology seminar and grouse hunt on the Mille Lacs Wildlife Management Area on Oct. 6.
NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR SOLDIERS
Minnesota military members who have served at any time in the preceeding 24 months in federal active military service outside the United States and who have been discharged from active service can take small game without a license (with official military discharge papers) and obtain one free deer license.
NATIONAL ARCHERY IN THE SCHOOLS PROGRAM
The DNR agreed last month to help fund a national study that, among other things, will determine if the students who participate in the National Archery in the Schools Program become target archers and hunters. During the last four years, more than 150 Minnesota schools have begun working with the DNR to teach archery as part of their physical education curriculum. More than 60,000 youth participate in this program each year.
People who want to take advantage of other special hunting opportunities should take note that Youth Waterfowl Day is Sept. 15. On that day, waterfowl hunters age 15 and younger (when accompanied by a nonhunting adult) may take certain waterfowl from one-half hour before sunrise to 4 p.m. Check the regulation booklet for additional details. Take A Kid Hunting Weekend is Sept. 22-23. During this weekend adult residents who are accompanied by a youth under age 16 may hunt small game without a license but must comply with open seasons, limits and other regulations.
Finally, Future Pheasant Hunters Weekend is Oct. 27-28. Together with Pheasant Forever chapters, the DNR encourages pheasant hunters to introduce a young person to hunting this weekend. Many youngsters will be hunting this weekend following mentoring sessions earlier in the year.
The DNR believes these and other approaches are reducing barriers to hunting participation. "As we look at the future of hunting, we need to do two things," said Schad. "First, we need to stay focused on the importance of habitat conservation, which is at the heart of all that's wild and wonderful in this state. And two, we need to stay in touch with our public by listening, learning and delivering the programs and services that are desired by society and are critical to the species we are entrusted to manage."