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November 6, 2015

Hints to Recruit and Retain New Hunters

Editor’s Note: Over a several-month period, NSSF has been presenting a series of articles to help manufacturers, retailers, wildlife management agencies, tourism departments and others in the hunting community better understand their hunting customers. We are sharing findings of a study commissioned by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, with funding from a Multi-State Conservation Grant, and conducted by Southwick Associates. Topics covered will include hunters’ commitment to participation, churn rates and turnover of new and existing hunters, and hunters’ lifestyles and motivations for hunting. By providing a clearer understanding of hunters, we believe the hunting community can do even better in recruiting and retaining customers, boosting sales revenue and increasing conservation funding through license sales and excise taxes.


Series Article #3: Hints to Recruit and Retain New Hunters

New research unveils facts on who’s trying the sport—and how long they’re staying

 By Glenn Sapir

You can categorize hunters as new, intermittent and regular. All are essential to sustaining hunting participation, which translates into conservation revenues, product sales and greater political strength. Creating new hunters is perhaps the greatest challenge to building participation, though keeping them active is no less important.

Let’s redefine these three major types of hunters examined in this series. People who have renewed their licenses are regular hunters.  Hunters who purchased a license at least once in the last five years but have lapsed before purchasing one in the current year are considered  intermittent hunters. Finally, hunters who purchased a license in the current year but have not purchased a license in any of the five preceeding years are new hunters.

A considerable loss of hunting license buyers occurs each year, but statistics indicate that the loss is made up to some degree by new or intermittent hunters. In fact, 21 percent of license buyers in any year are fairly evenly represented by both  new hunters and  intermittent hunters.

This is the third report in a series that examines 10 years of hunting license records from 12 states to better understand hunters, their participation rates and more. Collected by Southwick Associates along with insightful survey research by Responsive Management, these findings can play a key role in your strategy to increase hunting participation and sales.

Here are some highlights of this highly detailed research effort.


Facts about New Hunters

To help you plan a strategy for increasing hunting participation and sales, you’ll find it helpful to understand the variety of factors that influence a hunter’s decision to buy a license. In addition to the insights shared in the previous articles, here are additional important lessons:

  • Be sure your promotional messaging reflects the age of your targeted audience: More than one-half of new hunters are under age 35, compared to 28 percent of regular hunters. Conversely, only 11 percent of new hunters are between 55 and 64, compared to 21 percent of regular hunters.


Age distribution among new and regular hunters

Father-son_huntingCapitalize on the fact that younger people are trying out the pastime. Attracting and retaining them is complicated by the younger person’s lifestyle choices— heading off to college, starting careers and testing other leisure activities can all interfere with hunting. Use promotions, like spending time with family and friends as an appealing aspect of hunting in your recruitment strategy.

At the other end of the spectrum, bringing people back into the fold might be a campaign best directed at older hunters, using the messages and themes that better resonate with regular hunters, as described further in this report.

  • Consider positioning hunting as a way to escape the crowds and to get back to the way things used to be. The largest proportion of regular hunters is between 18 to 24 years old and resides in rural neighborhoods. As the age groups get older, a shift, however, goes toward suburban and urban areas as richer recruitment grounds. When people reach the 55-64 age group, where they may have returned to their country roots or retired to a home in the country, rural areas once again become the most fertile ground for recruitment. Furthermore, new female hunters are much more likely to live in rural neighborhoods than their male counterparts. It is noteworthy that the proportion of new hunters between the ages of 18-24 years is greatest in rural areas while the proportion of new hunters between the ages of 25-34 years is greatest in urban areas.


Age and neighborhood characteristic distribution of
new license holders, relative to regular hunters

New hunters Regular hunters
  Neighborhood characteristics Neighborhood characteristics
Year of age All new hunters Rural Suburban Urban All regular hunters Rural Suburban Urban
18-24 yrs. 33% 35% 32% 29% 9% 9% 9% 10%
25-34 yrs. 22% 19% 23% 28% 19% 19% 19% 21%
35-44 yrs. 18% 17% 19% 18% 23% 23% 24% 23%
45-54 yrs. 17% 17% 17% 15% 28% 27% 28% 26%
55-64 yrs. 11% 12% 10% 10% 21% 22% 21% 20%
Total 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%


The Survey Says…

To learn the reasons behind the numbers found in state license databases, a survey was conducted by Responsive Management. Nearly 1,000  new  and  regular hunters were contacted to detect differences in motivation, interest and other factors influencing the decision to hunt.  The results are noteworthy:

  • Hunting has multiple appeals. For new hunters, spending time with family and friends is key. However, regular hunters are more interested in securing meat. New hunters are less likely than regular hunters to be influenced by the excitement of the sport and the chance to be close to nature. Your marketing and promotions should reflect these facts.


What was your most important reason for hunting in 2013?

Key Take-Aways
  • The largest proportion of new hunters age 18 to 24 resides in rural neighborhoods. As the age groups get older, a shift goes toward suburban and urban areas as richer recruitment grounds.
  • Spending time with family and friends was cited as the most important reason for going hunting in 2013 among new hunters. Regular hunters rated getting meat as the No. 1 motivation.
  • 80 percent of new hunters think they will go hunting each year for the next five years. However, state license records show one-third of new hunters purchase a license in only one of the next five years. We need to better engage them to keep them coming back.
  • Both new and regular hunters turn to friends and family who are experienced hunters as their No. 1 source of hunting information.
  • Many “new” hunters really aren’t new. Fifty-eight percent of new hunters reported they actually hunted in the past. Teenage hunters often stop hunting as they move on to college and/or military service and start families and new careers. Many will return as hunters later in life and show up in this study as a new hunter when actually they were just reactivated. Efforts to recruit new hunters from older audiences should be sensitive to this point.
  • More than half of hunters who hunt year after year say they first started hunting when they were 12 years old or younger. Only 9 percent of regular hunters began hunting when they were older than 20 years of age.  This suggests that the age of introduction may play a factor in a person’s continued participation in the sport.
  • Where do they get their hunting information? They can choose a multitude of avenues to obtain information about the best places and techniques for hunting. Yet both new and  regular hunters mostly turn to friends and family who are experienced hunters for information and guidance. They also visit state fish and wildlife agency and other websites.  Communication with others outside of the family and other traditional means of communication (i.e., brochures, magazines, TV shows) are not as heavily relied upon.
  • Hunters’ best intentions don’t always materialize: 80 percent of new hunters think they will hunt in each of the next five years. Actual license buying and participation habits, however, fall short of their intentions. One-third of new hunters make a license purchase in only one of the next five years—and only one-fifth purchase in each of the five years.  In essence, more than half of new hunters disappear the next year. Efforts must be made to keep them engaged.

View the full report providing more details of this study.

The challenge is to improve your reactivation, recruitment and retention efforts. This series of articles can help.

To read other articles on the subject of hunter participation, visit

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Tags: conservation Economy hunting hunting participation new hunters NSSF R3 Recruit research Retain Retention sales

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