Inside the Outdoors: Maybe recruiting hunters is our job too

Why is this important? Its importance is greatest for those who hunt, for the simple reason that there are other forces – economic, social, political, for example – whose interests often conflict with the interests of hunters. Overall, the Minnesotans are not anti-hunting. But the viability of hunting as a leisure activity depends on the habitat, access to these lands and waters, and the game found there. When it comes to protecting and managing vital natural resources for hunting – our forests, wetlands, lakes, rivers and grasslands – priorities can collide.

Photographic illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Often it takes political muscle to ensure that our priorities are taken into account with the consideration we think we deserve; to influence politicians and decision-makers to legislate and regulate in a way that promotes the protection and enhancement of wildlife habitat, water quality, public access and the pursuit of goals consistent with maintaining our hunting traditions.

Consider the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution. It was passed by voters in 2008 and devotes 3/8 of 1 percent of state tax revenue to conservation and the arts. It took years and a Herculean effort in the form of rallies, petitions, testimonies and pressure applied by the state’s conservation forces – mainly hunting, fishing and conservation groups in general, as well as many dedicated people – to get the amendment on the general election ballot. and approved. Without a doubt, it took muscle.

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Unfortunately, political muscle is a numbers game. Without a constitutive number, political muscles atrophy, just as our own muscles atrophy from lack of exercise. This is why the number of hunters is important. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has attempted to address the decline in the number of hunters – and increase the number of anglers as well – through its Recruit, Retain, Reactivate program – called R3 for short.

One of its components is the coordination of mentors, which in this case means pairing volunteer hunters and fishermen – the mentors – with adults or families who wish to enjoy the benefits of hunting or fishing and who have need advice. R3 also provides grants through a sub-program called No Child Left Inside, funds that are awarded to groups that develop and deliver natural resource-based outdoor education and recreation programs. One element of this initiative is specifically aimed at retaining our current hunters and fishermen and recruiting new ones.

Photographic illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Photographic illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Hunting regulations have also been used to encourage greater participation. Specific to waterfowl hunting, the Minnesota DNR has, in several stages, over the past few years, relaxed harvesting rules, in hopes of stemming the haemorrhaging number of duck hunters. Things like the special youth waterfowl hunt before the start of the general waterfowl season, first held in 1996 and changed from a day to a full weekend. Also bag limit changes that allow hunters to harvest more wood ducks and mallards, eliminating the start of midday on opening day, eliminating the 4 p.m. closing time at the start of the season , removing restrictions on motorized lures and this year adding a special teal at the start of the season. only season at the beginning of September.

So far, there are few signs that these changes have had a big effect. On the other hand, a positive thinker might suggest that without some of these changes, the number of waterfowl hunters could have declined even more. In the end, there is little MNR can do to encourage hunters and fishermen today to continue their engagement and to get those on the sidelines to join in the fun.

A recent column by Minneapolis Star-Tribune outdoor columnist Dennis Anderson celebrated four decades of dedication from a southern Minnesota sportsman who was a mentor to young hunters. This individual took young hunters under his wing, “showed them the ropes” of hunting, how to be safe in an activity that is not without risk, and in the process, hopefully, helped them. instilled a conservation ethic and a sense of responsibility to be good stewards of our natural resources.

That this is so remarkable that it deserves to be celebrated is a statement about how self-centered most of us are. Most of us are engrossed in our own participation in hunting passions. When it comes to mentoring, maybe we’ve introduced our own children, or the child of a hunting partner, to the sport we love. But at best, most of us educated and guided a replacement for ourselves when we finally put our decoys away and oiled our shotguns for the last time. Many avid hunters do not have offspring that will carry on their parents’ tradition of hunting and shooting sports, and for them the tradition may end.

One positive development is the recent explosion in youth interest in school-sponsored clay target leagues. It has become the fastest growing youth sport in Minnesota, and it has grown beyond our state borders to include over 30,000 participants in over 1,000 teams across. national. Only a minority of these athletes are likely to become avid hunters, but they represent fertile ground for recruiting into the ranks of hunters.

Photographic illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Photographic illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Many of us support Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the Ruffed Grouse Society, and similar organizations. But chances are our support is limited to membership, attending a fundraising banquet, or perhaps purchasing raffle tickets to help fund the missions of these worthy organizations. conservation. This is important, but it can give the impression that “I have done my part”. But could we do more?

The 2000 film Pay it Forward depicts a junior high school English teacher challenging his students to imagine an idea that could change the world for the better. A student came up with the idea of ​​responding to a favor or kindness not only with gratitude, but also “paying it up front” with a good deed done for someone else.

Could this be where we come in? Could we look for an opportunity to mentor someone, either through our local sports club, a mentoring opportunity with our local chapter of a large conservation organization, or by making ourselves available to participate in the network? MNR certified volunteer mentors?

Most of us are busy with events in our own lives. Almost everyone, including young people or adults we could mentor, will likely have a lot of things competing for limited leisure time. But nothing is accomplished if we assume that the effort will not be successful. A quote from a first-century religious scholar seems to fit here: “If not you, then who? If not now when? “

(More information about the DNR Certified Volunteer Mentor Network is available from Coordinator Ben Kohn, [email protected], or 651-259-5178.)

Helen L. Cuellar

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