Halting the Decline: Young Hunters and Anglers Wanted!

father teaches his son how to fish

Reconnecting Our Youth with Fishing and Hunting

America’s youth are spending a lot more time on indoor activities and less time out in nature. Outdoor activities like hunting and fishing have seen a drop-off in participation by the young in recent years. This has an impact on our wild lands and waters, communities and, of course, the kids themselves.

Anyone who has trapped, fished, or hunted over the last 10 years or so will certainly have noticed that the demographics of the outdoorsman have seen some changes.

One of the most telling of changes is that the average age of the person engaged in these outdoor sports is increasing. At first, this may not seem like a big deal until you realize the younger generation is not following in the footsteps of past traditions that would otherwise offset the increase in the average age.

This is a clear indication that today’s youth are less interested in outdoor activities compared to past generations who many would say had fewer distractions. There are a variety of factors that can be blamed for the decline in outdoor sports and recreational participation by young people.

Such factors are likely to include electronic devices and video games consuming their free time, as well as parents working more, which means less time to introduce their children to the benefits of outdoor pursuits.

For many of today’s children and young people ages 6 to 17, there are likely to be multiple factors that impact the likelihood of participation. However, the long-term goal is to reconnect them to the great outdoors because they are, of course, the next generation of hunters and anglers. But how do we turn the tide and get more kids involved in the great outdoors?

Fortunately, the decline in these once popular activities has not gone unrecognized by state wildlife agencies, decision-makers, and concerned communities.

State agencies, organizations and individuals are coming together to encourage today’s youth to reconnect with the great outdoors. If successful in their endeavors to promote change, wildlife budgets, our lands and waters, and America’s youth will all be much better off, they point out.

Benefits of Outdoor Recreation to Children

Perhaps the most appealing benefit of keeping the hunting and fishing traditions going is that nature does wonders for health. Whether this relates to mental wellness or physical exercise, there is simply no question that getting outside in nature will benefit our children’s well-being. Let’s take a look at a few of the most worthy benefits of spending more time outdoors:

Free and Fun Exercise

Well, perhaps not always free but definitely fun. It’s Obvious that getting involved in outdoor recreation such as fishing, hunting, and hiking/camping is simply so much healthier compared to sitting inside playing video games or watching TV. Children who are active outdoors are more likely to be physically fit.

Creates Emotional and Mental Wellness

But there’s more. Plenty of studies have also indicated that being out in nature can offer a host of benefits. Encouraging the younger generation to get outside more can help alleviate stress, enhance social behavior, help them gain self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment, improve recovery from physical trauma and promote optimal psychological functioning.

Outdoor Education

Children that are willing to get involved in outdoor activities and educational programs are able to demonstrate improved physical and mental health, as well as better environmental stewardship and social skills.

Why Should the Decline Concern Us?

Studies show that adults who were introduced to outdoor activities as children are more likely to continue those activities into adulthood than those who did not have an early introduction.

However, many states are finding that with declining youth participation, the growth rate in the numbers of anglers and hunters is not keeping up with that of the population, a growing concern for wildlife officials and the outdoor recreation industry.

For instance, in Florida, a state known as the “fishing capital of the world”, officials are concerned about the impact that a drop-off in youth outdoor participation will have on recreational license revenues and taxes collected from the sale of outdoor equipment. That is despite a modest increase of about 226,000 more fishing licenses sold in 2016 over the previous year.

In Colorado, where the number of issued hunting licenses has dropped by 23% since 1998 and the average age of the hunter is 55, attracting the next generation has not been easy.

The state has cut their wildlife budget and a potential deficit of $15 million to 20 million looms over the state in the next few years. Officials fear a scaling down of access to leased fishing and hunting lands as well as to conservation programs without an increase in license fees.

While growth rates in recreational fishing among young people have been flat or even shown some marginal gains in recent years, participation in hunting has seen a gradual decline since the 1980s.

The sales of hunting licenses are essential to fund the annual work that goes into wildlife conservation and habitat restoration. Also, the proceeds from hunting supplies and related costs fuel a billion-dollar industry that supports many hundreds of thousands of jobs.

father and son on a hunting trip

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service records, the latest certified license data indicates there are approx 14.5 million hunters (about 4.5% of the population). This figure shows the decline from the 1980s when there were approx 16.3 million license holders (closer to 7% of the population).

Hunting-related expenses alone can inject nearly $38 billion dollars into the U.S. economy on an annual basis. Also, the monies paid by outdoor enthusiasts cover the cost of nearly 80% of the funds used by the state fish and wildlife agencies.

Fewer active hunters or fisherman means there is a sizable reduction in the amount of income received by states and the conservation agencies that are tasked with the role of managing hunting and fishing habitats and populations.

Also, with the decline in people involved in outdoor recreation, there are fewer and fewer people that are vocal and care enough to attempt to influence important public policies related to the future of hunting or fishing in their communities.

What Is R3 and Can It Turn the Tide?

In response to the stale growth and drop-offs in youth involvement in hunting and fishing, there have been program rollouts across the U.S. that aim to combat this problem and get more young people involved in outdoor recreation.

The hunting/shooting sports industry, shooting and conservation sports organizations, and state fish and wildlife agencies in the U.S. are getting proactive and rolling out several initiatives to increase youth participation in this area. One major implementation is referred to as the R3 Initiative. This basically involves three major stages referred to as Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation.

The R3 Initiative is an important step in the process of reactivating the popularity in these outdoor pursuits, with many outdoors focused groups putting this into action as a top priority. For instance, an organization like the National Wild Turkey Federation is solely attempting to get at least 1.5 million new hunters active in the U.S. within the next decade.

Coordinators who teach the principles of the R3 Initiative are available in many states and natural resource agencies are investing heavily in hiring staff to teach this program in their local towns and cities in an effort to reverse the decline in participation.

While it does appear that the R3 Initiative is a huge project, it is certain to be an important subject for those concerned with the future of wildlife, conservation, and management of our natural resources.

Here’s to wishing the initiative a great success. We need more young anglers, hunters and outdoorsmen to carry on the tradition.

We’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject – what do you think?


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About Dorado

John Pardal, aka Dorado, is the editor as well as an author for Reel Adventure Fishing. He has fished extensively up and down the U.S. Atlantic coast, throughout much of Florida and a bit of the Caribbean. John loves writing about all aspects of sportfishing and is passionate about conservation and promoting sustainable fishing.