As hunters anticipate autumn’s first trips afield, a national effort to remove barriers for youth and novice hunters, Families Afield, has helped reverse a decade-long decline in hunting participation.
The Department of the Interior recently released findings from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Recreation study. More than 90 million Americans participated in wildlife-related recreation with a 9% overall increase in hunting participation from 12.5 million hunters in 2006 to 13.7 million in 2011 − welcome news to the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance and National Shooting Sports Foundation.
In 2004, the three organizations partnered to start Families Afield after a Youth Hunting Report showed a downward trend in hunter recruitment and retention numbers. To date, the initiative has been instrumental in bringing positive legislative change to 33 states, resulting in more than 782,000 new hunters.
“We’re proud of Families Afield’s success thus far,” said George C. Thornton, NWTF CEO. “But we’re as committed as ever to introducing more youth to the outdoors and removing hunting restrictions in this country. America’s wildlife populations and rich hunting tradition depend upon it.”
NWTF’s dedicated volunteers work to bring new hunters and conservationists into the fold — about 100,000 every year — through its outdoor education events and Women in the Outdoors, Wheelin’ Sportsmen and JAKES youth outreach programs.
“Conservation and firearms industry organizations have been particularly effective at communicating the benefits of hunting,” said Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates, which is a leading research and data analysis firm focused on the sportfishing and hunting industries.
Southwick points to organizations such as the NWTF, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance as having programs geared toward growing youth and overall participation and have even teamed up to ease age restrictions that deterred many young people from participating in hunting.
The USFWS study also identified wildlife-related recreation as an important catalyst for economic growth, with outdoor enthusiasts spending $145 billion on wildlife recreation in 2011. Hunting-related expenditures alone increased 33% as hunters spent $34 billion on trips, licenses and other associated expenses.
Hunting fees and excise taxes — paid by hunters and shooters — underwrite much of the country’s habitat and conservation programs.
“No other civilization or nation has lost their wildlife resources and then rebuilt them like we have. Federal excise taxes on the sale of firearms and ammunition, matched three to one by hunting license dollars, funded the comeback of wildlife in this country. That restoration was made possible by dedicated hunters,” said James Earl Kennamer, Ph. D., NWTF chief conservation officer.
The NWTF is the leader in upland wildlife habitat conservation in North America. A nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving the wild turkey and preserving our hunting heritage, the NWTF and its volunteers work closely with state, federal and provincial wildlife agencies and other partners.
Through these dynamic partnerships, the NWTF and its members helped restore wild turkey populations throughout North America, spending more than $372 million to conserve 17 million acres of habitat.