By Mark Huelsing
For the past couple of weeks I have written about recruiting new hunters. These posts have been more ideological than practical, however today I want to share a few simple, practical tips that we should consider when recruiting new hunters.
In addition to using this bit of advice to recruit hunters, I have also found that these tips have been immensely helpful in simply changing people’s perspectives about hunting. There will be many people that will never hunt, which is certainly acceptable, but we should still try to give these people a positive perspective on the pursuit of wild game.
#1 – Know your facts
One common misconception is that hunters are just takers. We enter into nature and take things away – we don’t give, we don’t protect, we don’t steward, we don’t preserve. We take.
Now, I certainly can’t speak for all hunters individually, but I can talk about the positive impacts of hunting collectively. It is easy to find fault in the current conditions of public land access, game populations, and the balance of our ecosystem, but let me tell you – we would not be in as good of shape as we are if it were not for hunting.
Most hunters I know are ardently committed to preserving our game, our lands, and our heritage for the next generation. This commitment may be driven by a passion for hunting, but it benefits more than hunters. The general public receives great benefit from the work of committed hunters. These benefits are frequently the result of conservation efforts, public land protection initiatives, and habitat improvement projects.
In the whitetail world we talk a lot about improving our private property, but our public lands receive as much, if not more protection and improvement, both directly and indirectly, from hunters and groups that are supported by hunters. We have groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation that have protected and preserved over 6 million acres of land, the vast majority of which is open to everyone – those who hunt, fish, watch birds, photograph flowers, take hikes, or just want to escape into nature for any other reason.
Additionally, hunters have an enormous impact on the economy, both at a national level and in many localities. There are many businesses in small towns that would have to shut their doors if it were not for the influx of hunters ever year.
According to The U.S. Department of Interior, hunters spent over $30 billion on trips, equipment, licenses, and other items in 2011, for an average of $2,484 per hunter!1 This spending not only benefits the economy, but it is also what keeps conservation and habitat agencies funded. Those are some impressive numbers!
(My wife somehow thinks that my spending has accounted for about 4% of that $30 billion.)
#2 – Watch your language
The next time you get together with your hunting buddies and start telling stories or talking about how you are preparing for an upcoming trip, take a minute to step back and really listen to the language that is used. Ask yourself this question, “Would I understand what these guys were talking about if I didn’t know much about hunting?”
Hunters have their own language. There is no doubt about it. We often speak with slang, jargon, and unique expressions. We also frequently talk about concepts that are foreign to non-hunters and confusing new hunters.
I know how natural this language is; as soon as hunting becomes a topic of conversation our minds begins racing with excitement and we can’t keep our mouths shut. That is perfectly acceptable if we are chatting with our hunting buddies, but you would be surprised how confusing and overwhelming it can be to curious non-hunters. This audience typically isn’t concerned with advanced strategies or new products, they need the basics. They need to hear what it is like to be in the woods, simple ideas about how you locate deer, what it is like to encounter a wild animal up close, and maybe even what it is like to kill.
Be mindful of your jargon and get back to the basics. Talk about why you hunt, what it feels like to be in nature on a cool fall day, and some simple ideas about how others can begin to experience hunting.
#3 – Respect the hunt
I am not questioning the fact that the vast majority of hunters out there respect the hunt and the animals being pursued. Sure, there are exceptions in every crowd, but as a whole I think that most hunters treat the quest with the respect that it deserves. That said, sometimes it is easy for hunters to speak or act in a way that, from the perspective of a non-hunter, can appear disrespectful.
We can’t appease all non-hunters. The harsh reality is that hunting is killing, and this pursuit is unacceptable to some. However, we can act and speak in ways that help interested non-hunters see the respect that we have for the animals that we intend to pursue and kill.
I think there are some simple ways that we can show respect for the hunt. This would include showing appreciation for, and interest in non-trophy animals, and not simply focusing on antlers. This means helping people understand why we are selective in the animals that we pursue and what the appeal of hunting a mature animal is.
Showing respect also means emphasizing free chase principles and highlighting how we self-regulate our strict standards for ethical shots. Showing respect ultimately culminates in the fact that we aren’t killing simply for our own recreation, but also to participate in nature, for the good of the larger natural system, and for the significance of putting meat on our tables (or on the tables of those who are in need).
This is obviously an incomplete list, but these are the three things that I have found to be most helpful in conversations that I have had with non-hunters. However, getting these people to take the next step and start hunting will almost certainly require more than our words – we also need to be ready to give up our time to mentor them into the hunting tradition.
How about you? What has helped you share hunting with others in a positive way?
– Mark Huelsing is a regular guy with an irregular passion for bowhunting and the outdoors. If he is not bowhunting, then he is planning towards it, training for it, and writing about it at SoleAdventure.com