Missouri Uses Hunter Statistics to Strengthen R3 Efforts

By actively mining existing licensing and participation data, states can better inform and tailor recruitment, retention and reactivation plans for prospective hunters.
Photo Credit: John Hafner

Author: Cassie Scott

What if hunters revealed what it took to keep them engaged? What if you listened and changed the way you approached recruiting new participants? Could such efforts increase the number of hunters in your state, and result in an increase in annual revenue for your archery business?

Good news: They do, and you can. All it takes is a little analysis and strategic planning.

The Missouri Department of Conservation is analyzing its extensive hunter statistical datasets to create a more strategic recruitment, retention and reactivation plan for boosting hunting participation statewide.

Lonnie Hansen, a retired resource scientist with the MDC, is analyzing multiple datasets to identify trends in license-buying habits and harvest records, as well as hunter behavior and demographics. His work will help guide industry and agency marketing efforts.

“There isn’t enough information to determine where our state’s money should be spent when discussing R3 efforts,” Hansen said. “My objective is to evaluate characteristics of people with different permit-buying habits to gain insights into where our efforts to recruit and retain hunters is best spent.”

Why the Analysis Matters

As more people buy hunting and fishing licenses, they generate more money for states to manage wildlife populations, regulate hunting and fishing, and increase access to public lands. Photo Credit: John Hafner

License-sales data reveal much about hunters and hunting. As more people buy hunting and fishing licenses, they generate more money for states to manage wildlife populations, regulate hunting and fishing, and increase access to public lands. Because state wildlife agencies rely on license sales and federal excise taxes as their primary funding sources, it’s important to increase or at least stabilize hunter numbers.

Tom Kulowiec, supervisor for MDC’s biometrics and human-dimensions unit, expects Hansen’s analysis to improve the agency’s R3 efforts.

“As an agency, we’ve collected these datasets for a while, but up until this point we haven’t used it as extensively as we should,” Kulowiec said. “Lonnie’s work is an attempt to take this information and do some in-depth work with it. With the department shifting toward the R3 emphasis, the information may give us clues on how to move forward.”

Ronald Reitz, who reports to Kulowiec in the MDC, agreed: “Before you can influence change and take action, you need to understand where you’re at. (Then you can) start moving on R3 efforts to make sure they’re efficient and effective.”

How are Data Collected and Analyzed?

By tracking every person in its license database, the Missouri Department of Conservation identifies trends and pathways into hunter participation. This tactic is a shining example of how existing data can strategically inform statewide hunter R3 efforts. Photo Credit: John Hafner

The MDC creates a unique Conservation ID number for every person in its license database. Customers receive the ID the first time they buy a hunting or fishing license, and it stays with them for life. Hunters can also obtain a Conservation ID by enrolling in a hunter-education course.

The state began using this method in the late 1990s when point-of-sales licensing systems became electronic.

“Other states may have something similar, but most can’t tie permit buying with the number of datasets that we can,” Hansen said. “The unique ID allows us to determine just who our hunters are, including their demographics, hunting success, and hunting interests, strategies and attitudes, all while remaining anonymous. We can track trends and gain insight into why hunters are consistent permit buyers or intermittent buyers, or drop out altogether. That information will help guide our efforts to increase recruitment and improve retention of Missouri hunters.”

That analysis also helps the MDC track trends and identify pathways into hunter participation and serves as a shining example to other states of how existing data can strategically inform hunter R3 efforts when used effectively.

The state does not tie the information to the individual; they remain anonymous.

What Did the Data Analysis Reveal?

By analyzing license-sales data, the Missouri Department of Conservation found that female bowhunters increased 39.7 percent from 2004 to 2015. However, they also found the female dropout rates are much higher than males. This information helps the MDC tailor its R3 plan to keep this demographic engaged. Photo Credit: David Stonner, MDC staff

Let’s look at some MDC license numbers from 2004 to 2015.

  • Archery permits increased from 246,576 to 309,797 (25.6 percent).
  • Female bowhunters increased from 11,724 to 19,430 (39.7 percent).
  • The mean age of male bowhunters rose from age 38.5 to 41.4, a 7.5 percent increase.
  • The mean age of female bowhunters fell from age 42.1 to 39.7, a 5.7 percent decrease.

Researchers also identified five trends.

  • After four years of nonparticipation, hunters are considered “lost.” They don’t typically re-engage.
  • The most consistent participants are 45 to 64 years old.
  • Hunters younger than 34 are less consistent. In fact, only 15 to 30 percent hunt four consecutive years.
  • Female bowhunters are typically younger than male bowhunters.
  • About 45 percent of males and 20 percent of females hunt four consecutive years.

Hansen said the MDC has put considerable effort into recruiting young hunters in recent years. The agency heavily supports the National Archery in the Schools Program, and those efforts are showing up in license-buying data.

Hansen also said the increase in female hunters is a national phenomenon. That increase is primarily in women younger than age 20. Hansen traces the increase to societal changes, but finds females drop out of hunting at much higher rates than males, likely due to factors like bearing and raising children.

The MDC will use these trends to craft an R3 plan that addresses problems and keeps hunters engaged.

What’s the Next Step?

Because state wildlife agencies rely on license sales and federal excise taxes as their primary funding sources, it’s important to increase or at least stabilize hunter numbers. State recruitment, retention and reactivation plans play a critical role in this process. Photo Credit: John Hafner

Dan Forster, ATA’s director of government relations, said most states are aware of the need and are moving toward development of more robust licensing systems to help recruit hunters and track customers throughout life.

Forster said tracking customers improves the science of “generating” hunters. He encourages states to more actively mine existing licensing and participation data to better inform and tailor R3 plans for prospective hunters while working to develop more robust systems.

Forster said the ATA is eager to help state agencies analyze their license-sales data to develop an R3 plan that specifically targets archery and bowhunting participants. To learn more, contact Forster at (770) 601-5038 or

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