Last November, I experienced a memorable afternoon in a deer stand with my son, Jay. The temperature was comfortable, the deer were active, and we each passed up shots at several deer. There were plenty of hunting days left, so we just enjoyed the time together.
Listening to us describe our day caused Jay’s wife, Kim, to express regret that she wasn’t along. That was nice to hear. Kim did not grow up in a Missouri hunting family, so she is warming to our traditions at her own pace. I can see, however, a shift in her perceptions about what hunting means and a growing interest in hunting seasons.
Kim is one prime example of the audience the Department is trying to reach through the new Missouri Apprentice Hunting Authorization. The authorization allows Missouri residents 16 years of age and older to purchase two years of firearms hunting permits without obtaining hunter education certification. The “apprentice,” however, is required to hunt in the immediate presence of a hunter education-certified adult age 21 or older, thus underscoring the importance of completing a hunter’s true education.
We’ve learned that many people develop their outdoor interests because someone else shares the outdoors with them. The mentoring component of the youth seasons was established with this in mind and participation is steadily increasing, especially for deer and turkey. So what will it take to attract the participation of older Missourians who have more competition for their time?
Most of us hunters remain convinced that people will join our ranks if we can just get them to experience safe hunting first hand. Take Kim, she is a young mother and a professional engineer—her time is precious. Carving out time for a hunter education class seems difficult, but necessary if she wants to hunt. The same is true of some of my son’s business colleagues. Jay would love to share the fun of the hunt, but will a person commit to a class before knowing they will actively participate in the future? Giving these adults a chance to try the sport under appropriate supervision may motivate them to continue on. Even if they don’t, the mentoring experience will foster a better understanding of the role of hunting and its continued importance.
Our population is becoming more diverse and mobile than ever before. Understanding different motivations for engaging nature is critical to reducing barriers that keep many from getting outside. Putting theories like the apprentice authorization into action can expand the number who carry a passion for the natural world. And those who mentor an apprentice can instill an understanding of the ethics and biology that make hunting a core part of conservation philosophies.
Managing future wildlife populations, implementing productive habit measures and protecting healthy watersheds requires action from more than just current hunters and anglers. The Department is exploring several creative methods for engaging more citizens into a lifetime love of nature. I, for one, believe it will be an easy sell!
John Hoskins, director
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