With all the work to get kids involved in the great outdoors, we must ask ourselves two questions: "Is it worth it?" and "Is it working?"
Organizations and companies have developed numerous programs over the last two decades to turn the tide of the decline in hunter numbers, but most have a few things in common that leave us scratching our heads and wondering if it's working.
What Has Been Tried?
Most programs have been focused on youth recruitment efforts. Youth, youth, youth. "We must get the youth involved" is the battle cry. We ride the wave of good feelings in the short period following a kid's outdoor day, kids fishing day or the like.
Most programs are single-contact and untargeted. They are heavy on recruitment instead of retention, and they have virtually no reactivation of older hunter efforts.
We don't like to think about our hard work putting together these program as useless. Nor should we. After all, most of the volunteers and staff members that work at camps and day programs hope their efforts will rescue at least one kid from the asphalt and electronic jungles.
There is a story about a man walking along a beach picking up sand dollars and throwing them into the ocean. Another man comes up and asks him what he's doing. The first man explains that he is rescuing the sand dollars. His comrade looks at the beach and sees hundreds of other sand dollars. He says, "Why waste your time? There are too many. You'll never make a difference." The first man picks up another and as he throws it into the depths says, "I made a difference to that one."
While this is an admirable sentiment, does it really make a difference in the grand scheme of things?
What Has Worked?
Not much. However, that doesn't mean we can't learn from our efforts and develop more intensive and active programs. So, what should we look at?
Studies conducted by Southwick Associates, show that we need to focus more on continual contact programs. We need to cast a broader net than just kids. Why? Kids can't take themselves hunting. Yes, we may make a difference in the life of one kid, but wouldn't it be great if we could save them all?
Image courtesy NRAH
If we focus on getting families in the field, we can change entire generations and influence the tide of the future for the better. When we invite kids to hunt, fish, etc, we need to be sure to invite their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, big brothers and sisters.
Hunting and fishing no longer become a one-time event, they become a way of life.
Now we need to take the passion that burns in the hearts of everyone involved in hunter and angler recruitment efforts and harness it to the battle train that continues on into retention and reactivation of older hunters. We need to open our thinking to non-traditional audiences such as the locavore movement and adults in general.
Image courtesy Pinterest
We can also develop true mentoring programs similar to those in business. Mentoring requires numerous contacts and regular association in order to develop the deep seated interest in hunting and fishing. Additionally, ensuring there is a social network of support for the families, adults and kids who decide to move forward into a lifestyle of outdoor fun.
No, you shouldn't stop picking up sand dollars. You may and WILL make a difference in one person's life. That's what happened to me. By doing so, you may be able to change the world. However, don't limit yourself to the single change.
Are kids really the future? In a sense, yes. In another sense, no. They are always the future, but what direction will that future take if they aren't mentored and coached into the right path.