Skip to main content

Retaining Youth Hunters

Retaining Youth Hunters

The slow and steady drop in hunter retention and recruitment continues year after year. For example, New Jersey is down 40 percent over the past 40 years. Pennsylvania had 1.3 million hunters in 1982, but only 890,000 by 2004. Wisconsin resident deer gun hunters dropped from 645,000 in 2000 to 603,000 in 2010. Iowa dropped 20 percent from 1991 to 2001. And so it goes. State after state is losing hunters.

Today's young hunters have different attitudes about hunting, some that might surprise you. It's those attitudes that must be catered to if hunting is to survive into the future.

One probable reason is that the youth get involved in soccer, computers, and other activities before the legal hunting age. Another obvious reason is that the majority of people now live in big cities, where they are not involved with the outdoors. To offset all this, some states have initiated programs. For example, Kansas has a "Pass It On" program "to reverse the decline in hunter numbers," and in 2014 Pennsylvania launched their GoHuntPA program. The results are not in yet, but in general such programs have not yielded a noticeable growth in hunter numbers.

It's fairly obvious that since the average age of hunters gets older every year, unless you recruit and retain young hunters, hunting will continue to decline.


If young hunters are the key, then knowing more about their desires, and what makes a quality experience in the field for them, is critical. I'm a firm believer that hunters under 35 are different than older hunters. It should be no surprise that young hunters don't view the total experience as older hunters once did, because the world has changed. Everyone has a cell phone. That will not change. Social media overwhelms society. That will not change. Most young hunters look for information and buy gear online. That will continue as well. For those of us over 45, we had none of the above when we started hunting.


With the idea to learn more about their hunters and how they feel about hunting and regulations, Michigan contracted a private firm to conduct a study that was just released (Google "Understanding the Barriers to Hunter Retention in Michigan"). It provides some interesting information relative to what older hunters versus younger hunters think about their time in the field.

First, the researchers conducted six focus groups with three target audiences: 1) young men who were frequent hunters; 2) young men who were intermittent hunters; and 3) women who hunt. Then they did an online survey with 32,000 respondents who answered questions about where and when they deer hunt, their experiences with regulations, and their suggestions for changing regulations.

From these data, two issues rose to the top of the list — antler-point restrictions, and lowering the buck limit. Since these two issues are growing issues in many states, the results from Michigan are revealing. Note that Michigan has antler restrictions in some areas, but not in others, and this allows them to do some interesting comparisons.

Results showed that in areas with antler restrictions, nine percent hunted more often, six percent less often, and the rest the same. Does age play a role here? Apparently it does, because where there are antler restrictions in Michigan, 13 percent of the hunters between the ages of 18 — 28 hunted more often, while only six percent hunted less often. For ages 29 — 35, 15 percent hunted more, while only five percent hunted less. For hunters between the ages of 51 — 65, six percent hunted less, and only seven percent hunted more. Thus, antler restrictions appear to have stimulated younger hunters to hunt more. My guess is that hunting more may well lead to higher hunter retention.


In addition, respondents who said they hunted "more often" said they did so because there were more bucks and bigger antlers. Whether there really are more and/or bigger bucks in such areas is debatable. The fact is that young hunters tend to believe there are, and this gets them in the woods more. For the respondents who hunted in areas of Michigan that did not have antler restrictions, 20 percent said they'd hunt more with antler restrictions and 10 percent said they'd hunt less. Again, does the age of the hunter matter? The answer is "yes."

For hunters 18 — 28, 34 percent said they'd hunt more if there were antler restrictions, but only five percent said they'd hunt less. For hunters 29 — 35, 35 percent would hunt more, and only four percent would hunt less. For those 65 and older, seven percent would hunt more, and 15 percent would hunt less. Clearly, young hunters are different.

From the focus groups, there were 14 major topics among the open-ended responses. The one issue that was mentioned the most was support for a one-buck limit. Antler restrictions was second.


Age was also a factor in rating the importance of deer hunting. Forty percent of hunters aged 18 — 28 said deer hunting was the "most important" activity, while 34 percent of hunters aged 51 — 65 said it was "most important."

What about land-management education? Again, age was a factor. When asked if deer hunters were interested in land-management classes, 58 percent of hunters aged 18 — 28 said they were either interested (34 percent) or very interested (24 percent), while 48 percent of hunters aged 51 — 65 said they were interested (31 percent), or very interested (17 percent). Clearly, the age group you want to encourage to stay in hunting is different than the age group that is dying out.

The Michigan study also looked at what hunters thought about the complexity of their regulations, and concluded that those were not an issue. The consulting firm that did the survey also concluded that antler-point restrictions were a draw for younger hunters, but noted cautions about implementing a one-buck limit and antler-restriction regulations before further data was collected. However, they did suggest that there were differences in hunters based on age, and suggested that "the DNR should regularly survey deer hunters to see if/how (these) attitudes change over time."

There are many variables that affect hunter recruitment and retention, so it's hard to know if implementing antler restrictions or lowering the buck limit will affect hunter numbers. The world is changing and retaining hunters may well involve some of those changes.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Spot-and-Stalk Texas Hog Bowhunt

Spot-and-Stalk Texas Hog Bowhunt

Bowhunter Equipment Editor Tony J. Peterson spot-and-stalks hogs and whitetails in Texas.

Daytime Bighead Carp Bowfishing

Daytime Bighead Carp Bowfishing

Curt Wells is with members of the Muzzy Bowfishing team as they set their sights on bighead carp during the day in Kentucky.

Daybreak Whitetail Bowhunt

Daybreak Whitetail Bowhunt

Bowhunter TV Editor Derek Mleynek has a chance to fill his buck tag on a mixed bag hunt in Texas.

Kansas Turkey Bowhunt

Kansas Turkey Bowhunt

Bowhunter contributor Matt Palmquist sets up shop for a turkey hunt in Kansas.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

 Cooking venison in camp is the best way to celebrate success.Fresh Meat: Cooking Venison in Camp Recipes

Fresh Meat: Cooking Venison in Camp

David Draper

Cooking venison in camp is the best way to celebrate success.

This venison kebabs recipe marinates for a full day to take the already flavorful Asian bulgogi sauce to the next level.Grilled Korean Bulgogi Venison Kebabs Recipe Recipes

Grilled Korean Bulgogi Venison Kebabs Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

This venison kebabs recipe marinates for a full day to take the already flavorful Asian...

A recent study examines what does look for when choosing a mate.Does Antler Size Really Matter To Does? Whitetail

Does Antler Size Really Matter To Does?

C.J. Winand

A recent study examines what does look for when choosing a mate.

The public needs to understand the value of harvested and consumed wild game.Understanding the Value of a Wild Game Harvest Industry

Understanding the Value of a Wild Game Harvest

Dr. Dave Samuel

The public needs to understand the value of harvested and consumed wild game.

See More Trending Articles

More How-To

New year, new look at your whitetail groundSummer Scouting from Scratch How-To

Summer Scouting from Scratch

Tony J. Peterson

New year, new look at your whitetail ground

Here's how to go from longbeards to big bucks on public land in the same season.Scout for Whitetails While Turkey Hunting How-To

Scout for Whitetails While Turkey Hunting

Tony J. Peterson

Here's how to go from longbeards to big bucks on public land in the same season.

You can share the elk timber with dangerous bears if you're smart and prepared.Bear Aware: Elk Hunting in Grizzly Country How-To

Bear Aware: Elk Hunting in Grizzly Country

Ron Niziolek

You can share the elk timber with dangerous bears if you're smart and prepared.

If you desire peak performance from your hunting bow, learn these skills.Bow-Tuning Techniques for Peak Performance Bows

Bow-Tuning Techniques for Peak Performance

Joe Bell

If you desire peak performance from your hunting bow, learn these skills.

See More How-To

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Bowhunter App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Bowhunter subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now