CHAMPAIGN, Ill., 3/26/20: Today’s hunters are more diverse and more likely to hunt for the meat than for the camaraderie of fellow hunters than in generations past. Understanding these motivations and constraints with scientific data helps staff of the Illinois Natural History Survey’s (INHS) Learn to Hunt Program draw new hunters to the activity.
Since the 1970s, hunting in Illinois has steadily declined, partly because of the expansion of cropland and urban sprawl. Public lands now make up only 2 percent of the state. Less than 2 percent of Illinoisans are hunters, according to Dan Stephens, INHS manager of the Learn to Hunt Program.
Recruiting new hunters benefits the state, Stephens said. Hunters pay an 11 percent federal excise tax on firearms and other equipment that support state efforts in land purchases for habitats and in managing wildlife populations. Illinois hunters spend $1.3 billion annually.
“Hunters are the main group that funds conservation efforts,” Stephens said. “Hunters really pay their way.”
Stephens and his colleagues tap into their website analytics and scientific surveys of attitudes, motivations, and constraints to understand how to recruit new hunters. They found that often teenagers who are interested in the sport have no connection to hunting through family members or friends.
“In many cases, teens are interested, but their parents don’t hunt and don’t know how to hunt or where to take them,” Stephens said. “In Illinois, we recruit youth through their parents. Our mantra is, if you get mom involved, you get the whole family involved.”
The hunting culture is no longer dominated by white males, and hunter motivations differ as well. The social aspect is not as important as hunting for food, getting out into nature, and learning a new skill.
“We particularly focus on helping new hunters see the relevancy of hunting in our modern society,” Stephens said.
Stephens divided the potential market into four targets: nature lovers, food-motivated hunters, social enthusiasts, and sportsmen. The Learn to Hunt recruiters use Facebook and Instagram to reach different markets and collaborate with various organizations that help to spread the program message.
In their workshop and through social media, the team reaches the food-motivated hunters by discussing the nutritional aspects of wild game and providing recipes, such as wild turkey schnitzel and chicken-fried venison and waffles with serrano honey. For social enthusiasts and for those new to hunting, Learn to Hunt offers a mentoring program.
In a free one-day workshop offered at multiple locations around the state and now in its third year, the team provides the opportunity for new hunters to target shoot and to process wildlife once it has been shot.
This year, the team added e-learning courses that cover much of the information in the workshop for those who have time constraints.
The Learn to Hunt program recently won the Recruiter of the Year Award from Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever for their success in recruiting the next generation of hunters. About 65 percent of workshop participants bought a hunting license the following year.
For more information about the Learn to Hunt program, visit
https://publish.illinois.edu/hunttrapillinois/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Learn to Hunt Program is supported by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and several Illinois organizations.
Media contact: Dan Stephens, 217-300-0875, email@example.com