Hunting & Fishing Day events part of Missouri’s winning hunter-recruitment strategy

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JEFFERSON CITY–When hundreds of Missourians flock to conservation areas for hunting and fishing workshops on Sept. 24, they will be doing more than having fun. They also will be part of the nation’s most successful effort to reintroduce people to traditional outdoor recreational activities.

Sept. 24 is National Hunting and Fishing Day (NHFD), and Missouri hunters and anglers will celebrate the occasion by doing more than merely savoring the traditional outdoor pursuits they treasure. They will join the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) to share their passion for outdoor recreation with others who want to hunt and fish but don’t know how.

The August A. Busch Memorial Shooting Range and Outdoor Education Center, 2360 Highway D, St. Charles, and the Jay Henges Shooting Range and Outdoor Education Center, 1100 Antire Road, High Ridge, each will honor NHFD by offering an hour of free shooting time on the rifle/pistol, archery, trap or shotgun patterning ranges between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Sept. 24.

The Parma Woods Shooting Range, 15900 N.W. River Road, near Parkville, will observe NHFD from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with an hour of free shooting. Shooters will have a chance to try out different firearms from the range’s selection of guns used in educational programs, including black-powder rifles.

The Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center, 2289 County Park Drive, Cape Girardeau, will sponsor “Connecting People With the Land” from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept 24, with opportunities for visitors to take part in archery, bow-making, laser-shot simulated shooting, casting, decoy carving, Dutch-oven cooking, and more.

James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area, Lees’ Summit, will invite visitors to shoot rifles, shotguns and bows and arrows and take in vendor booths and trapping demonstrations from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 24. Hunting and Fishing Day activities will be based at the old Reed Area headquarters building. However, attendees will enter through the gate at the new MDC Kansas City Regional Office, 12405 S.E. Ranson Road.

The Andy Dalton Range and Outdoors Education Center at Bois D’Arc Conservation Area will host a Hunting and Fishing Day event Sept. 24. Great Outdoors Day will run from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. and will feature a variety of outdoor activities, including rifle, trap and skeet, archery, fishing, canoeing, outdoor cooking, forestry, camping, fly-tying, hiking, even Boy Scout merit badge sessions. For details about Great Outdoors Day, call 417-895-6880 or 417-742-4361. Scout leaders can call 417-888-4237 for information about merit-badge opportunities.

All these events are free and open to the public. They are part of MDC’s overall strategy for keeping traditional outdoor activities from hunting and fishing to camping and Dutch-oven cookery vibrant in the 21st century.

You might wonder why MDC cares whether people hunt and fish. Mike Huffman, chief of MDC’s Outreach and Education Division, cites several reasons. He notes that carefully regulated hunting is an invaluable tool for wildlife-management agencies. It allows them to regulate populations of animals, minimizing undesirable human-wildlife interactions. An example is deer hunting, which reduces the frequency of deer-vehicle accidents and damage to crops, landscape plantings and other property.

Although economic development is not part of MDC’s mission, thriving fish and wildlife populations generate an enormous amount of economic activity. In Missouri, all types of hunting combined create more than $2 billion in economic activity, according to the 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Economic benefits include jobs in outdoors-equipment manufacturing, guiding and other services, plus spending on everything from firearms and ammunition to fuel, food and lodging. Deer and turkey hunting are Missouri’s two biggest wildlife-related economic engines, attracting out-of-state hunters who bring tens of millions of dollars into Missouri annually.

From hunters’ standpoint, the most obvious benefit of hunting is the value of food it provides. Deer hunters alone bring home more than 18 million pounds of venison annually. Multiply that by the cost of lean, organically grown meat, and you have a tidy sum.

Similarly, Missouri hunters take home approximately 60,000 turkeys each year, plus millions of rabbits, squirrels, quail, pheasant, doves, ducks, geese and frogs. This is all meat that Missourians otherwise would have to buy. Missouri hunters donated more than 160 tons of venison to the needy through the Share the Harvest program last year, cutting the cost of state and federal social welfare programs.

Less tangible but equally important are the social and spiritual benefits of time spent outdoors hunting, fishing and pursuing other outdoor activities.

“It’s impossible to put a dollar value on time spent hunting with family and friends,” said Huffman. “The experience of connecting with nature and our pioneer past are hard to quantify, too.”

Other benefits for Missourians include the increasing number of studies and surveys that show outdoor and nature-related activities, such as hunting and fishing, enhance physical and emotional well-being.

Huffman says outdoor-skills education has been a top priority for MDC for many years.

“Missouri has a long history of staying ahead of trends and setting the bar high when it comes to conservation programs,” said Huffman. “When participation in traditional outdoor activities began to decline nationwide 30 years ago, we took action to make sure those activities remained a vibrant part of Missouri’s recreational scene.”

The division that Huffman leads is in the forefront of the effort to promote participation in traditional outdoor activities. Components include hunter and bowhunter education, hunting and fishing workshops, workshops designed especially for women and families and Xplor, a children’s version of MDC’s popular Missouri Conservationist magazine that gives young readers information needed to start hunting and fishing.

Recruitment efforts don’t stop there, however. MDC also offers special youth seasons before the opening of quail, pheasant, waterfowl, deer and turkey seasons to allow adult mentors to focus exclusively on fostering the next generation of hunters.

Removing barriers to entry-level hunters also is part of MDC’s hunter-recruitment strategy. One of those barriers is the requirement that hunters over age 16 complete a hunter-education course in order to be eligible to buy hunting permits. The Conservation Commission lowered this barrier in 2008 by creating the Apprentice Hunter Authorization.

The authorization enables nonhunters 16 and older to purchase any firearms hunting permit without hunter-education certification. Hunting under the authorization and appropriate permits must be under the direct supervision of a licensed and hunter-education certified hunter at least 21 years old. The authorization costs $10 is available only for two consecutive permit years. They must complete hunter education if they decide to continue hunting.

To help aging hunters remain active, MDC offers medical exemptions to hunting regulations. One type of exemption permits hunters with mobility impairments to hunt from vehicles. Similarly, those who no longer are able to draw bows can get an exemption that allows the use of crossbows. MDC also provides lake and stream fishing accesses designed with the needs of mobility-impaired Missourians in mind.

Low permit fees compared to neighboring states, 70 public shooting ranges statewide and more than 900 conservation areas scattered across every county in the state are other ways MDC minimizes barriers to hunting, fishing and other outdoor pursuits.

A study commissioned by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the U.S. Sportsman’s Alliance and the National Wild Turkey Federation calculated each state’s hunter-replacement ratio, based on the percentage of residents age 15 and younger who hunt, divided by the percentage of those 16 and older who hunt. In Missouri, the ratio was 1.16. The national average was .69.

“A ratio of 1 means that hunter numbers are stable,” said Huffman. “If the ratio is less than 1, your hunting population is declining. Missouri’s hunter-replacement ratio is the highest in the nation. Only six other states had replacement ratios of 1.0 or greater. In the rest of the nation, hunting was declining as a percentage of the population under 16.”

Huffman said Missouri’s strong outdoor-skills education program is just one result of the unique support MDC receives through the voter-approved, one-eighth of one percent conservation sales tax.

“Surveys tell us that education is one of Missourians’ top conservation priorities,” said Huffman. “Resources spent helping people connect to nature is an investment in the future, just like the conservation sales tax itself.”

-Jim Low-