Harrisonburg, VA – -(Ammoland.com)- Three new Responsive Management studies completed during the first quarter of 2012 suggest continued growth and support for hunting across America.
Examining initiation into hunting from three different angles, the studies together indicate that increased interest and involvement in hunting will follow increased exposure to the sport, particularly through several crucial sources: peer influence from friends, classmates, and neighbors; hunter education courses sponsored by state fish and wildlife agencies; and first-time apprentice licenses that temporarily exempt new hunters from hunter education requirements and allow them to “test drive” the sport for a certain period.
Understanding the Impact of Peer Influence on Youth Participation in Hunting and Target Shooting
In a study conducted as a project of the Hunting Heritage Trust in cooperation with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) to examine the effect of peer influence on youth involvement in hunting and target shooting, Responsive Management found that the more familiar youth are with individuals their own age who hunt and target shoot, the more likely they will be to support and participate in these activities: youth who know others who hunt and shoot (or who hunt and shoot themselves) are more likely to say that the activities are “perfectly acceptable,” more likely to recognize the role of hunters in wildlife conservation, and more likely to believe that hunters and shooters possess desirable qualities like intelligence, care for the environment, and care for other people.
At the same time, youth who are unfamiliar with hunting and shooting (particularly because they lack close friends or relatives who hunt or shoot) tend to fill in the gaps in their knowledge with anecdotal impressions or–worse–misinformation, myth, and misperception: almost half of youth (46%) hold a negative opinion about hunting compared to other sports and activities, and a further 59% strongly or moderately agree that legal hunting as practiced today in the United States causes some species to become endangered. These percentages suggest a fairly widespread lack of familiarity with the two activities in question.
The more familiar youth are with individuals their own age who hunt and target shoot, the more likely they will be to support and participate in these activities. ~ Peer Influence Study
Despite misperceptions among many youngsters, the study, which entailed two focus groups and a nationwide scientific telephone survey of youth ages 8 to 17 years old, revealed that most youth support hunting and shooting and affirm the right of others to participate in them: 78% of survey respondents said they approved of hunting when it is legal to do so (49% strongly approved) and 86% approved of target shooting when it is legal to do so (50% strongly approved). Similarly, regarding the right of others to hunt and shoot, youth are largely accepting and tolerant, even if they personally disagree with the activities. Indeed, the most common reaction by youth to a friend going hunting or target shooting is to actively encourage the friend’s participation, rather than to be neutral or actively encourage the friend not to participate. While most youth surveyed had never been invited to go hunting or target shooting, the results regarding the number who would go if invited point to substantial openness among youth to try the activities: nearly 24 million youth ages 8 to 17 would be likely to go hunting if invited within the next 12 months, and nearly 17 million of these individuals are non-hunters. Similarly, nearly 28 million youth ages 8 to 17 would be likely to go target shooting if invited within the next 12 months, almost 13 million of whom are non-shooters.
Because youth are more likely to support and participate in hunting and shooting if they are familiar with individuals their own age who take part in these activities, the research reinforces the obligation for youth hunters and shooters to recognize the weight and importance of their words and actions with regard to their peers’ perceptions of the two activities. In fact, one of the chief recommendations to emerge from the peer influence study is the creation of a “Youth Hunter and Shooter Ambassador Program,” initiated to capitalize on the current population of youth hunters and shooters who can positively influence their peers’ attitudes toward the sports. The report also recommends that agencies and organizations encourage invitations to hunt and shoot, encourage talk about hunting and shooting, and promote and encourage the social aspects of the two sports wherever possible.
Increasing the Number of Hunter Education Graduates Who Purchase Hunting Licenses
Two other recent studies were conducted under grants provided by the NSSF’s Hunting Heritage Partnership program and involved several southeastern state fish and wildlife agencies and their hunting constituents. The first study examined the rate at which graduates of classroom and online hunter education courses in Alabama, Georgia, and Kentucky go on to purchase licenses and hunt during the season immediately following their course. In addition to a series of focus groups conducted with youth and adult hunter education graduates in each state, this project entailed a pair of telephone surveys: the first was a pre-course interview implemented in 2011 with individuals scheduled to complete a hunter education course within the month; the second, follow-up interview was implemented in mid-February 2012, after most major hunting seasons in the three states had ended.
Between 53% and 70% of individuals who had never hunted or possessed a license before obtained a hunting license for the following season after completing a hunter education course. ~ Hunter Education Study
Overall, the study results are encouraging for the participating agencies and point to the effectiveness of hunter education offerings in the three study states: about three-quarters of hunter education graduates of license-purchasing age across the three states went on to obtain a hunting license after the course for the following hunting season, and between 53% and 70% were individuals who had never hunted or possessed a license before. Similarly, between 59% and 82% of hunter education graduates went hunting in their state of residence during the season immediately following their course (between 47% and 63% were individuals who had never hunted or possessed a license before).
In addition to these core findings, the hunter education surveys also determined that most hunter education students come from hunting families, with most having some level of hunting experience prior to completing a course. Furthermore, between 24% and 48% of students across the three states held a hunting license of some type before the course, suggesting that some hunter education students enroll in a new course to replace a lost certification card or to obtain certification for a new state of residence. Additionally, many hunter education students are adults accompanying children or spouses to courses for their first time.
Overall, the hunter education research suggests that the fewer barriers students face after completing a course, the more likely they will be to purchase a license and hunt. As such, one of the recommendations prompted by the study is for agencies to obtain funding in order to issue at the conclusion of each course a hunting license to all students who successfully complete hunter education. Whether or not this means a nominal fee applied to courses currently offered for free would likely vary by state; however, the data suggest that students will be substantially more likely to continue their involvement in hunting if they leave a course fully licensed and ready to head into the woods. Other recommendations include the distribution of “one-stop shop” information on how to begin hunting, the need for agencies to maintain contact with new hunters through a dedicated email list, and the need to encourage hunter education classmates to keep in touch, especially for future hunting trips together.
Evaluating Apprentice Licenses as a Hunter Recruitment Strategy
In the second HHP grant-funded study, Responsive Management conducted five focus groups and a telephone survey to examine a population of potential hunters one step removed from hunter education: holders of apprentice licenses, which exempt prospective hunters from state hunter safety certification requirements while they hunt with mentors or other properly licensed individuals. The research involved five states, three of which (Kentucky, Virginia, and South Carolina) offer apprentice licenses as a one-time exemption, and two of which (Alabama and Georgia) sell apprentice licenses without a limit on the number a sportsman can purchase.
Between 18% and 38% of apprentice license holders enrolled in a hunter education course after obtaining an apprentice permit. ~ Apprentice License Study
As with hunter education students, many apprentice license holders have experience hunting before they obtain an apprentice permit (between 54% and 69% across the five states had hunted prior to holding an apprentice license, usually on private land). Regarding the effectiveness of apprentice licenses as a recruitment tool for encouraging subsequent hunting participation, between 18% and 38% of apprentice license holders across the five states enrolled in a hunter education course after obtaining an apprentice permit (among those who did not, between 17% and 41% said they were very likely to do so within the 12 months following the survey). Additionally, between 27% and 61% of apprentice license holders across the five states purchased a state hunting license after obtaining an apprentice license (among those who did not, between 38% and 57% said they were very likely to do so within the 12 months following the survey). Finally, between 62% and 76% of apprentice license holders surveyed said they were very likely to go hunting within the 12 months following the survey.
Interestingly, the study determined that the intent or motivation of the hunter purchasing the apprentice license is influenced in large part by any purchasing limitations instituted by the sponsoring state agency. In states where apprentice licenses are one-time permits that can be purchased and used only once, apprentice license holders are obligated to move on to hunter education and regular licenses after their trial hunting period expires. On the other hand, in states where apprentice licenses can be purchased multiple times, the permits tend to be popular among longtime hunters attracted to the convenience and inexpensive price of a short-term hunting license. Further, some states also include fishing privileges with their temporary apprentice permits. In many cases, an apprentice license sold may simply indicate an individual seeking a short-term, inexpensive fishing permit (many such sportsmen do not even bother to hunt on the permit at all, thereby demonstrating the shortfall of gauging new hunter recruitment simply through apprentice license sales).
In addition to recognizing these differences in the two types of apprentice licenses (i.e., one-time versus unlimited offerings), recommendations from the apprentice license study include communicating state hunter education requirements to apprentice license hunters, emphasizing hunter education as the natural next step following an apprentice permit, and providing follow-up information and “next step” guidance to new hunters who purchase apprentice licenses.
About Responsive Management:
Responsive Management is an internationally recognized public opinion and attitude survey research firm specializing in natural resource and outdoor recreation issues. Our mission is to help natural resource and outdoor recreation agencies and organizations better understand and work with their constituents, customers, and the public. For more information about Responsive Management, visit www.responsivemanagement.com.