By Courtney Nicolson, Associate Director of Communications, Sportsmen’s Alliance
When those of us in the hunter education world speak about how to grow the number of licenses purchasing hunters in the US, there is a definitive plan of attack called R3. This term refers to Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation. Starting in 2016, the National R3 Community is a group of professionals that work with the Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports to discuss partnerships, resources, and motivations to grow the numbers in our ranks.
Most of the attention is often focused on the first R. Indeed, Recruitment seems like the biggest pool to dive into. With less than 5% of the country being hunters, that other 95% looks like a wide-open opportunity. Of course, you can’t have the additional two Rs without first creating a hunter. Historically, the recruitment of new hunters happened at home and at a young age. An overwhelming number of hunters began as a child following around their family’s patriarch through the woods, toting a .22 rifle or .410 shotgun in search of bushy tails twitching in the notches of trees. In recent years it’s an inspiring trend that we see an abundance of adult-onset hunters coming from non-hunting families. I am one such hunter.
I took hunter education at the age of 23. I made a few hunting friends in the state of New York, where I was living at the time, and it was a sorrowful goodbye when my company relocated me to Denver, Colorado, at the age of 28. “But who will I go duck hunting with?!” I lamented as I packed my boxes. My only concern was this cross-country move to a state where I didn’t know anyone. Priorities, right?
I started a group called Colorado Women Who Hunt on the old Meetup.com website, and at our first Meet and Greet event, I heard many stories. “I used to hunt. . . until”. This was my first real interaction with the third R of Reactivation. As I met more and more women (our group grew to over 300), I heard three main stories. ‘I used to hunt with my family and didn’t continue the tradition’ and ‘I used to hunt and then moved somewhere new and didn’t have friends to go with or places to go’ where two of the groups. However, by a large margin, the story I heard the most was ‘a spouse or significant other introduced me to hunting, we separated, and I never hunted again’.
Retention and Reactivation are circular processes that can happen to a hunter. Retention is best defined as retaining a hunter who will purchase hunting licenses annually and spend time afield in pursuit of game. The longer a hunter stays out of the active stage, the harder it becomes to reactivate. Since we already have the three R’s of R3, I added a new acronym called P4: Places, Partners, Products, and Parenting. Each of these four P’s can be an opportunity for Reactivation or a roadblock.
I meet a lot of hunters who used to hunt growing up but then went off to college, perhaps in a metropolitan area, and never hunted again. The roadblock created by a change in location can be significant. If you grew up hunting on your family farm, lease, or hunting club, the entire concept of scouting and the knowledge required might be foreign. Before digital mapping tools, knowing where public and private land intersected was a challenge. Hunting whitetail deer on your family farm in Wisconsin is different from hunting elk on public land in Colorado. Simply the process of applying for a license will seem completely overwhelming. Without a real push to continue your hunting endeavors in a new place, they might be gone.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife does an incredible job of offering 101 courses from everything from Elk Hunting 101 to Big Game Application 101. They even provide particular iterations of these classes for women only. Not only is it a great way to learn about your new home state, but you might even meet a new hunting partner there. Find out which state parks allow hunting and see if they have any habitat restoration projects. Volunteering is a great way to get the lay of the land, and again, you just might make a new friend.
Retirement can be a huge catalyst for Reactivation. With the sudden influx of free time, and perhaps funds, many see retirement as a chance to find new hobbies or spend time kindling the love of old ones. You may also give you the time to take that dream hunt somewhere far away, or to purchase a guided hunt close to home. This might be a nudge to get back into your old boots.
There is overlap between Partners and Places, and the two should go hand in hand when looking to get back into the hunting lifestyle. As generations pass, families may be spread farther apart geographically than ever. If needed, plan that trip home for Christmas, book a guide, and take out the family member who introduced you to hunting. Take that first step if you feel that knowledge needs to be passed down. Let them know that you are interested in getting back into hunting, and you’ll be surprised by the outpour of support. . . and books. So many books. Sometimes going home to your old stomping grounds is just what is needed to reignite that flame.
Speaking of old flames. . . if a past love interest taught you how to hunt, that passion for hunting doesn’t need to end when. . .er. . .that passion does. Bringing knowledge back into it, many women I meet say they don’t know how to hunt without their ex-partner because they didn’t teach them while afield. I’ve experienced this. I remember my very first duck hunt. I asked my ex-partner to explain how he chose to arrange decoys. He bristly responded, “I don’t have time; the sun is coming up.” In my first foray into the wetlands post break up, I threw a half dozen decoys into a semi-circle, and my strategy refined over time. Find yourself some new partners.
When moving to a new place or looking to reactivate in your home state, a surefire win-win is to join a local chapter-based wildlife non-profit such as Ducks Unlimited or the Ruffed Grouse Society. Volunteer for the committee and attend some banquets and habitat restoration projects. You might just meet a new friend to hunt with and will learn an abundance of knowledge about hunting in your new state or how hunting in your home state has shifted since you left the scene.
I’ve worked in the hunting industry my whole career, and as a marketer, it is someone’s job to make you think that you need everything from this year’s catalog to be a successful hunter. That is simply incorrect. However, if you have been an inactive hunter for many years, you likely need a lot of replacement gear. Some sizing to safety updates will be required for camouflage clothing and boots, tree stands and ground blinds, and perhaps even more costly items like firearms and optics. The costs for a reactivated hunter can be just as much as for a newly recruited hunter.
Just because you don’t have an older sibling to hand you down used clothing and gear doesn’t mean you need to buy new. Used clothing stores, online marketplaces, and apps are great places to find used camo clothing. Maybe a friend is upgrading their optics and is interested in selling you their used rifle scope. Need a big-ticket item like a boat or hunting lease? Going in with hunting partners can lessen the sting of the sticker price and provide company, but make sure rules and expectations are agreed upon and put on paper if needed to protect your friendship. As my partner says, “Everything on your boat is broken; you just don’t know it yet.”
We’ve all seen the meme, a photo of a pregnancy test with a positive symbol and text with some witty phrase surmounting to “Your hunting days are over.” When welcoming a newborn into the world, finding time to hunt might be a challenge at first. For some parents, this can be a catalyst to them falling out of the hunting world and maybe never reactivating again.
Your children might just be your reason to reactivate as a hunter for other parents. I am a hunter education instructor, and I have seen a remarkable trend of women coming in with their children. Sometimes they are taking the course themselves as a new hunter. Some are reactivating as hunters. This is an example of how important all three Rs are to the hunting community. If you are focused on recruiting new young hunters, a delightful repercussion might be creating a second new hunter in their parent or a win for reactivating a hunter.
I firmly believe that anyone can become a hunter at any age in any state. I also think that you can also reactivate as a hunter. Be curious, and step outside of your comfort zone. Take that hike, and find your local sporting goods store and gun range. Maybe create a new community for hunters where you live. Life is short, and it’s never too late to take that hard right turn. Hunting brings a sense of fulfillment and comradery that I have yet to find elsewhere. What once was can be again. If you are interested in reactivating as a hunter, know that an entire support system in R3 nationwide is waiting for you. Come on back, ya’ll, ya hear!
2021-2022 The Hunting Wire Voice of Leadership Panel
The Voice of Leadership Panel is an appointed group of outdoor industry leaders who have volunteered to contribute their voices on key hunting and outdoor recreation issues to inform, inspire, and educate participants within our community.
- Cyrus Baird - Senior Director of Government Affairs, Delta Waterfowl
- Karen Butler - Founder/President, SLG2, INC DBA: Shoot Like A Girl
- Eric Morris – Producer & Host - N.onT.ypical Outdoorsman TV
- Ken Perrotte - President of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoors Writers (AGLOW)
- Brenda Weatherby - Director of People and Culture, Weatherby, Inc.
- Courtney Nicolson - Associate Director of Communications, Sportsmen's Alliance
- James “Jay” Pinsky, Editor, The Hunting Wire
- Peter Churchbourne, Director, NRA Hunter Leadership Forum
- Jim Curcuruto, Executive Director, Outdoor Stewards of Conservation Foundation