Conservation and the Future of Our Hunting Traditions

CPW’s Crystal Chick leads Women Afield pheasant hunt. Photo by © Crystal Egli/CPW

Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation (R3) Programs Spreading Nationwide

Today, roughly 11.5 million Americans hunt in a country of 320 million people, according to American Hunter magazine. This means that less than 5% of people in the U.S. hunt. From 2006 to 2016, 1 million Americans stopped hunting. The Aspen Times stated in a 2007 article that the number of people hunting in Colorado decreased 24 percent from 1991 to 2006. In a Colorado Hunter article titled “Hunting is for Girls,” the author pointed out that the average hunter in Colorado is a 55-year-old white male. In other words, the clock is ticking.

“If the downward participation trend continues, it will result in diminished capacity to conserve species cherished by hunters and all outdoor enthusiasts. The threat is real. But from the crucible of crisis opportunity emerges …”

As explained by the Council to Advance Hunting and Shooting Sports in “What Is R3?”

Most of us have heard about R3 (i.e., Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation). This is an important issue for anyone concerned about wildlife management, conservation and the future of our hunting traditions. And the modern R3 movement is showing glimmers of hope by focusing on three areas of success—adults in general, females as a subgroup, and food. Successful efforts to recruit new hunters from these groups are underway in Colorado and nationwide.

Women Afield/Rookie Sportsman Program

Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) has a “Women Afield” program dedicated to teaching women basic skills in hunting, shooting sports and angling. The program is designed to allow women to learn in a comfortable environment. CPW offers seminars and clinics to teach basic skills in the classroom or on the range with plenty of “hands on” experience. In addition, the Women Afield Program offers opportunities to participate in mentored small game and big game hunting.

CPW’s Rookie Sportsman Program (RSP) offers opportunities for individuals and/or families with limited outdoor experience to try their hand at hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation. The program links participants to a mentor who will guide them through a year-long safe, ethical and educational experience. The program also creates a social support network for participants to use as they continue on their journey. Other hunting-conservation groups—in Colorado and nationwide—are following CPW’s lead and starting similar programs.

Women in the Woods

Kylie Schumacher
Kylie Schumacher

During June 2018, Kylie Schumacher volunteered as the Northern Colorado Regional Director of the Colorado chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA). By the end of the year, Kylie and BHA headquarters had put a “Women in the Woods” Campfire Storytelling event on the docket for February 6, 2019. The evening featured “an all-star lineup of all women speakers representing some of the most exciting leaders in the hunting, fishing and conservation community.” It was a huge hit!

Subsequently, Kylie and BHA launched a “Women in the Woods” R3 series led by women for women interested in taking the next step to learn more about hunting, angling and conservation. They’re hosting one session per month covering different topics, starting with hunting basics and ending with getting participants out in the field this fall. The first session (Hunting Strategies: An Introduction to Hunting) was held on March 3 at the Welsh Rabbit in Fort Collins, where in addition to sharing information, participants enjoyed some great tapas, beer and wine thanks to the Welsh Rabbit and Cambium Dining Group.

Modern Carnivore

In November 2018, the Minneapolis-St.Paul Star Tribune ran an article titled “In the field: More and more hunters are out to fill the freezer? Why go hunting? ‘For the meat’ is becoming a more common answer.” The article featured a Minnesota-based group called Modern Carnivore that released a seven-part film on YouTube called “Awaken the Hunter Within.” The film follows three new hunters learning to hunt and butcher wild game.

Mark Norquist

One of the group’s goals is to expand and diversify the pool of hunters, said Mark Norquist, who founded Modern Carnivore 10-plus years ago. Norquist tries to persuade anyone who loves the outdoors—canoers, hikers, campers—to take the next step. “The opportunity is to move from being an observer in that natural environment to being an actual participant in it,” Norquist said. Eating the hunted food is an important part of the experience. Modern Carnivore posts wild game recipes such as pan-seared duck breast with highbush cranberry sauce, goose pastrami, buffalo squirrel legs and fish tacos.

Norquist and Modern Carnivore also hold half-day retreats called the Modern Carnivore Experience, where participants take the initial steps toward becoming a hunter. The sessions attract young foodies, couples and even retirees; all of whom want to learn how to harvest their own meat.

It’s no coincidence that Modern Carnivore focuses as much, or more, on cooking and eating wild foods than it does on how to procure them. The website’s tagline is “Eating Meat Responsibly.” Visit Modern Carnivore to view the “Awaken the Hunter Within” video series.

Aldo Leopold Foundation

During 2018, the Aldo Leopold Foundation in Wisconsin started a Learn To Hunt Deer program. The participants ranged in age from mid-20s to 60; all but one were female. The program was co-sponsored by the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, funded with a DNR grant. John Motoviloff, Wisconsin R3 Specialist for the NWTF, organized and led the program.

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) is widely considered to be the father of modern game management. He was a scientist, philosopher, teacher and writer. He wrote the first book on the topic, Game Management, in 1933. Leopold also wrote the book that many consider to be conservation’s bible, A Sand County Almanac, which was published posthumously in 1949.

The Leopold Foundation owns some 2,000 acres along the Wisconsin River near Baraboo. Leopold’s famous “Shack” sits near a clearing a few hundred yards from the river. Not only did Leopold believe hunting was a noble pastime, but he also vigorously argued that the “fair chase” of game connects us to the outdoors in a healthy way.

“I have always considered myself fortunate to have learned hunting in my youth. It allowed me to freely express the hunting-gathering gene I believe is in all humans,” said Paul A Smith, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel outdoors editor. “Today many Americans, like the participants in the Learn To Hunt program, need an organized opportunity to try hunting later in life.”]

Gladly, organizations and groups like CPW, BHA, Modern Carnivore and the Aldo Leopold Foundation are stepping up and leading the way to help ensure that our great hunting traditions and legacy are passed on to current and future generations. We need many more like them!


David Lien is a former Air Force officer and co-chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He’s the author of “Hunting for Experience: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation” and during 2014 was recognized by Field & Stream as a “Hero of Conservation.”

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