November 13, 2019

There’s More to Recruiting Hunters Than Sticking Them in a Blind and Parading Deer By Them to Shoot

When Judy Camuso was nominated to serve at the position of the head of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), in her testimony before the Joint Standing Committee for fish and wildlife, she pointed out that as part of her plan to grow more hunters and fisherman, she intended to become involved in a nationwide recruitment program, R3. She stated that her plan, “…will include measurable goals for recruiting, retaining and reactivating hunters and anglers but it will build relationships with non-consumptive users as well.” 

In a critique of Commissioner Camuso’s ambitious programs as commissioner, I questioned her intent to bring together consumptive and non consumptive users, while at the same time believing the two can work productively toward the same goals that satisfy both sides AND recruit new hunters and fishermen.

Today I was reading a Press Herald story about the MDIFW’s efforts at “recruiting” new hunters by allowing 9 hunters to be guided (spoon fed) on a deer “hunt” on the state-owned Swan’s Island.

I commend the commissioner and the MDIFW at making a swipe at recruitment. However, I am left with lots of questions about the event, the methods and within the article some comments and information that was given that was perhaps incomplete, leaving readers with a misguided understanding of the whys and wherefores of hunting, retention, and recruitment (R3).

The article in reference referred to Swan Island as “the perfect classroom” stating, “The place has become a haven for deer, which congregate in fields in groups as large as 50.” It may be, by one reporter’s perspective, as the “perfect classroom” but it is representative of what deer hunting in Maine is like? Who gets to do that? What happens when these 9 people (who expressed an interest in trying again) go off on their own and perhaps can’t afford a blind or a swivel seat to go in it? (It used to be a pot and a window…but I digress.) Will they ever see that many deer again?

“IFW set up pop-up camouflage tents to serve as blinds, equipping them with special swivel chairs that let the newbies quietly pivot as they watched the woods.” Even being “coached” by Game Wardens, staff, and biologists about “hunting techniques,” I wonder if it’s being all that honest with any possible recruit to place them in a ground blind where as many as 50 deer in a group might pass by because hunting has not been allowed on Swan Island for 50 years?

The article states that the 9 novice hunter program was a success because, “…seven of the nine bagged a deer,” and, “all the participants expressed an interest in hunting again.” Not knowing the reasons all 9 applicants were interested in this hunt to begin with, one has to wonder if sitting in a cold blind for hours on end and never seeing a deer, for years on end, a “novice” would express interest in trying it again? Maybe that has something to do with fewer licenses being sold?

In an attempt to place blame for loss of hunters and failure to recruit or retain more hunters, the author brings out the “numbers” and the talking point excuses of where the blame lies: “…technology;  overscheduled lives, especially for young families; and the aging of fish and game clubs that once formed the heart of the hunting community.”

HUH?

The last time I examined data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on why license sales for hunting were on the decline, the number one excuse given for not taking to the woods to hunt, was lack of time.

It’s easy to blame technology. Anyone with two eyes can see what so-called technology and social media is doing to American Society in general. Over-scheduled lives is a poor catchall excuse. Scheduling of our lives is driven by interest not by somebody’s “technology.” If hunting was part of the talk around the kitchen table, where that heritage is discussed before, during, and after the deer hunting season, people would find the time to hunt.

There are other reasons recruitment and interest to hunt are in decline…or in what might appear to be interest in hunting. One issue was discussed in the article in question. It began by discussing Apprentice Hunter Licenses. Bragging that the Apprentice Program has been around over a decade, listen to the hoops that need to be jumped through: “That license, which costs $26 for Mainers (and $115 for non-residents), allows someone 16 years or older who has never had a valid hunting license to hunt in the presence of a “supervisor.” The supervisor must be at least 18 and have had a hunting license for the previous three years.” Money, money, money and more “educational” programs that not just a perspective hunter has to go through in hopes they might become a longtime hunter.

You’ll always ruffle up the dander on the backs of some necks when you start discussing things like the potential obstacles any hunter or perspective hunter must go through to get their feet wet in hunting, or bringing a long-time hunter from Maine or away back when they have to take valuable time to attend classes for hunter “safety” and show “proficiency” in handling a gun and shooting it. While hunter safety has certainly made the woods during the deer hunt much safer, has anyone honestly assessed as to whether the decline in participation is directly proportional to the time constraints of hunter education, license costs, and…and…and…? Maybe, hunter education has stopped the total abandonment of hunting. Does anybody know? Does anybody care?

So, whenever we allow someone to feed us “data” that shows license sales and all the rigged demographics that go with them, nowhere is it ever discussed as to how hunter recruitment, retention, and re-interest is influenced by lousy hunting. Years spent afield with seldom, if ever, even spotting a deer probably plays as big a deterrent as anything, including technology and over-scheduled lives – time and money for what?

Just a quick glimpse into the past and it doesn’t take a statistics guru to figure out that as the deer harvest is trending down, down, and down (yes, with a couple false spikes upward) deer hunting license sales are also trending down, down, and down. Is it that we are not supposed to talk about such things? Is this why 9 novice hunters (out of 20 applicants) were placed in a blind on a small island that hasn’t been hunted for 50 years and deer sometimes will, literally, run you over? What’s wrong with bringing them to where my blind is? Where I haven’t seen a deer in years? I’m trying to remember when the last time I was able to sit in a blind – with a “special swivel seat” (wink-wink) where as many as 50 deer to a bunch passed by. Forget it. It NEVER happens in the real world. So, is MDIFW hoodwinking perspective hunters? How often will MDIFW continue to offer these free lunches to those who say they might be interested in deer hunting? Until the deer on Swan Island are all gone? Will potential recruits have to buy a license, and buy an “Any-Deer Permit,” like the rest of us do, when deer numbers on the island dwindle, like everywhere else in the state?

I’m not sure I know any real Maine hunters who don’t think it would be a great idea to recruit more hunters. I don’t know of any real Maine hunters who don’t think that if there were more deer perhaps the three “Rs” would take care of themselves. But what do I know?

I’m just a grumpy Ole Maine Hunter.

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