Author: Jackie Holbrook
Hunting’s landscape is changing. Hunting participation is declining nationwide, but the public continues to support hunting for meat. Acquiring meat is the most popular reason hunters cite for motivation, and people are OK with that. In fact, 85% of Americans approve of hunting for meat.
“People who care where their food (comes) from are on the rise,” said Jamie Cook, Iowa’s state coordinator at Pheasants Forever. “Finding these people and introducing them to hunting is a way to help curb hunter declines.”
The hunting community creates programs to support this new audience. “Field to Fork” and similar efforts are food-focused hunter-recruitment programs for adults with nonhunting backgrounds.
“These programs connect an audience who doesn’t currently hunt, but cares where their food comes from,” Cook said. “It hooks them up with places to go and teaches them the necessary skills.”
In partnership with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Cook helped create a “Field to Fork” mentorship program this year. Ten adults received bows on loan from the Iowa DNR, and Fin & Feather, a retail shop and ATA member in Iowa City, set up and tuned their bows.
“This program is great,” said Brian Mildenstein, Fin & Feather’s owner. “Most participants belong to what I would call underrepresented groups of hunters, and they’re the ones with the most potential for (business) growth.”
The program teaches interested participants how to source their own meat. Photo Credit: QMDA
Iowa’s program culminates in a mentored hunt in October. Participants put their learned skills to the test during a deer hunt. Fin & Feather donates weekly range time so participants can prepare for the hunt by practicing with their mentors. Shop employees also help, and answer questions about shooting and equipment.
“Fin & Feather was excited to help,” Cook said. “They saw the big picture of what this can do for hunter recruitment.”
Retail partnerships are critical to hunter-recruitment programs. Range time at Fin & Feather helped participants build the skills and confidence to bowhunt. It also provided fun, social opportunities so participants could build friendships that might lead to hunting partnerships. These new hunters can also become Fin & Feather customers.
Sponsoring a Field to Fork event could generate interest in your shop. Photo Credit: Fin & Feather
“Here are a bunch of people interested in learning to shoot a bow, who don’t currently own them,” Mildenstein said. “We have a pretty good shot at being the place where they want to buy their bow.”
Their shopping lists also include gear, accessories and hunting licenses. Because of their positive experiences and established relationships at Fin & Feather, the participants will likely make that shop their first stop. “When they think about camouflage, hiking gear or archery next season, these people have a great relationship with the store,” Cook said. “Hopefully they go in and make a purchase out of loyalty.”
These new hunters are also prime candidates for archery lessons or other programs. They’ve spent weeks practicing with a mentor, but lessons with a certified instructor further improve their skills. Leagues also offer great opportunities. When the program’s weekly practices end, leagues help them polish their skills while continuing their social fun.
From two-hour demonstrations to long-term mentoring, food-focused programs help hunting and archery commerce in many ways. As interest and acceptance grow in sourcing food through hunting, agencies and archery shops can partner through established programs or classes to create more hunters and customers.
If you have questions about getting involved with local programs or partnering with your state wildlife agency, contact Josh Gold, ATA’s senior manager of R3 and state regulations, at (866) 266-2776, ext. 107; or firstname.lastname@example.org.