Hunting and shooting in America, some contend, could be at a crossroads. No question, it is in the sights of those who prefer seeing both activities go away. While a decline in hunter participation numbers suggest, perhaps, the downward trend is beyond this proverbial crossroad and inching downhill, the Archery Trade Association (ATA) is helping orchestrate a u-turn.
Jay McAninch, president and CEO of the ATA, has been a key player in forming the newly established Council to Advance Hunting and Shooting Sports (CAHSS). The CAHSS, McAninch is convinced, can springboard efforts to recruit and retain new shooters and hunters in America.
The council is all about “developing strategies for raising money – anywhere and everywhere – to be used to help state agencies recruit and retain new hunters and shooters,” said McAninch. “Our goal is to secure $50 to $75 million per year for staffing and programs so the states have the infrastructure and resources to create the next generation of shooters and hunters. And with leaders from industry, the major organizations and the agencies all on board, we know that’s doable.”
Eighteen months in the making, the 28-member council and its mission, along with serving to secure long term funding, is to develop strategies and programs that will help state agencies more effectively connect with prospective new shooters and hunters currently outside the reach of existing efforts.
“The bottom line is, if young people are never given the opportunity to experience the rewards of shooting, whether bow or gun, they will never become hunters,” McAninch said. “The sense of urgency we feel is because, if we don’t get this trend reversed now, it will be all the more difficult to preserve those important American traditions and values that are so deeply ingrained in our generation of shooters and hunters, not to mention the tremendous economic and social benefits that are derived from shooting, hunting and the conservation of natural resources.”
Ron Regan, executive director for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, said the “real excitement, the magic of this, really, is that so many state agencies are so solidly behind this concept. While state agencies have a lot of needs, from doing research on wildlife species to managing habitat, and so forth, what they are saying is that they are committed to taking some of that money and using it specifically for recruiting new shooters and hunters. That’s huge.”
Currently, 24 states have signed on to the council and have committed a total of $2 million toward getting it up and moving. Other states are in various stage of committing.
“Not since passage of the Pittman-Robertson Act nearly 75 years ago has something of this magnitude happened in the world of wildlife conservation, shooting and hunting,” McAninch said.
Since a major portion of state wildlife agency budgets come from the sale of hunting licenses, stamps and from the Pittman-Robertson program, states have much to gain from the council’s efforts.
“Without good wildlife habitat and wildlife populations to hunt, of course, people are less likely to hunt,” said John Frampton, Director of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. “The funding state agencies receive from license and stamp sales and from Pittman-Robertson is the lifeblood of any agency. But without new shooters and hunters coming into the fold, those funding sources begin to dwindle. We need to devote a lot more money, talent, and passion to recruitment.”
Frampton also believes industry buy-in and representation is a critical council component. “This is a significant opportunity to work with industry, to show industry that this is the right thing to do. We need to look to the future together to evaluate programs and really figure out what works versus what are just feel good programs and efforts.”
Industry figures to play a key role since manufacturers pay the Federal Excise Tax that becomes the Pittman Robertson dollars that end up in the state agency budgets. In fact, the states get 11 percent of every sale making partners of agencies and industry from the moment someone buys the equipment needed to shoot or hunt.
Until the formation of the council, McAninch said, “there were good things being done by a lot of concerned and committed organizations, states and industry companies, but what was lacking was the funding to have a critical mass of diverse professionals in the state agencies working to recruit and retain shooters and hunters. Now, we have all the players together and can develop a playbook everyone can buy into.”
Council leaders gives two basic reasons many potential new hunters do not become involved in the shooting sports:
1) They lack access to shooting facilities or places to hunt.
2) They often don’t have or know anyone who can teach them to shoot or hunt.
The council expects to overcome these hurdles by leading efforts to develop new shooting facilities where novices can practice and learn while, at the same time, the group will work to protect and expand access to quality hunting lands.
Those groups represented on the council are the ATA, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation; National Wild Turkey Federation; Pheasants Forever; Izaak Walton League of America; Safari Club International; Ducks Unlimited; Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation; Boone and Crocket Club; Wildlife Management Institute; Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies; Primos Hunting Calls; Easton Hoyt LLC; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
State fish and wildlife agency leaders from Michigan, Arizona, Virginia, Massachusetts, Wyoming, Kentucky, Kansas, and South Carolina are also members of the board.
For more information on the CAHSS, contact Mitch King, the ATA director of government relations, at (303) 585-0377 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.