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January 11, 2016

The Need to Reel in 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 No. 5: The Need to Reel in New Hunters

What are some lures to bring in new hunters?

 By Glenn Sapir


Selling a hunting license is a challenge, but each license sold represents political strength for the hunting community, potential sales for the hunting industry and more dollars for conservation. We must follow every path that may lead to another hunting license sale, whether it be to a regular hunter who has purchased one the year before, to an intermittent hunter who did not buy a license the previous year but did so sometime in the previous five years or to a new hunter who has not purchased a license in any of the previous five years. This is especially true when data indicate that recruitment, retention and reactivation of hunters are all vital to the sport’s future.

Hunter’s growth rate over the last decade was only 5 percent while the general population grew by 26 percent. According to the data provided by fish and game departments in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Utah and Wisconsin, the challenge lies before the entire hunting industry to continually bring new blood into hunting while retaining those who have shown an interest by previously purchasing a license. This is true for every facet of the population, be they young or old, male or female, urban or rural. The data also gives hints on how to attempt to meet that challenge.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, funded by a Multi-State Conservation Grant, contracted Southwick Associates to pool and analyze data on license sales by 12 states over a 10-year period to see how the combined information could demonstrate national patterns. Resulting breakdowns of data indicated trends by gender, age, neighborhoods, lifestyles and more, all of which can help wildlife-management agencies, manufacturers, retailers and even tourism promotion agencies create new marketing strategies.

Results show that the typical hunter buys a license 4.2 out of every 10 years over his or her hunting lifetime. In other words, the hunter who bought a license this year is not likely to buy one next year. For women hunters, the churn rate was even more significant; women are more likely to lapse after purchasing a hunting license, to the tune of about 36-plus percent to men’s 24-plus percent rate. The challenge of retaining women from year to year has become evident.

Research has helped identify neighborhoods, lifestyles and other factors from where new hunters can most likely come. Furthermore, it has identified from where the least number of hunters are coming, giving marketers a glimpse at where the greatest number of potential “newbies” dwell. The greatest population centers—the urban areas, where also the greatest diversity of our society dwells—are yielding the proportionately smallest percentage of license buyers, and that percentage is decreasing.


Key Take-Aways
  • Hunter’s growth rate over the last decade was only 5 percent while the general population grew by 26 percent, threatening the relevancy of hunting.
  • Female recruitment in hunting has risen in recent years, and the trend promises to increase. However, their lack of commitment to repeat license buying presents challenges to the industry.
  • The fishing community provides a potential pool of future hunters.
  • The largest percentage of repeat license buyers is those who buy combination hunting-and-fishing licenses.
  • Wildlife agencies, manufacturers and retailers and tourism promotion agencies can channel this data into increased license, product and tourism revenue.

One strategy to increase hunter numbers might be to reel them in from the angling world. Two-thirds of hunters participate in fishing each year as well. A common interest in the two pastimes obviously exists among many sportsmen. Because of the significant overlap of hunters and anglers, combination hunting and fishing licenses attractively priced, as compared to full-price individual hunting and fishing licenses, could prove to be an enticement for those fishermen who are intermittent or potentially new hunters. Similarly, outdoor retailers who smartly couple the purchase of a new fly rod with a discount on a shotgun, or have a “cast and blast” special of other combined fishing and hunting products, could find their way to not only more sales but also new customers. Tourism agencies, instead of promoting hunting and fishing individually, might package the two in one advertisement or other campaign. Marketing strategies could appeal to the “year-round sportsman” in which the pleasure of combining hunting with fishing strikes a chord.

Add to the strategy an awareness of the trend of increasing female participation in recent years in both hunting and fishing, and you have yet another factor—and target—in combining your hunting and fishing promotions.

Typically people don’t simply decide to become hunters or anglers and go out and try it by themselves. The data provide another key factor: People who both hunt and fish are likely to live where they can get more support for their interests. That means they live in rural areas where a higher percentage of their friends and neighbors are also likely to hunt and fish. The people who would most likely be receptive to trying hunting live in more rural environs.

Though getting hunters to renew their license purchase is always a challenge, those who buy combination hunting-and-fishing licenses have the highest rate of license renewal.


Distribution of historical purchase behavior on current license type purchase (2013)

% of hunting population
 Types of License Buyers: All license holders Hunting license only Both hunting and fishing licenses Combination license
Regular 73% 64% 71% 77%
Intermittent 13% 16% 12% 11%
New 14% 20% 17%3 12%[1]
Total 100% 100% 100% 100%

The answer to who are buying licenses to hunt and what kind of licenses are they purchasing is broken down in the above chart by three kinds of “purchasers”: “Regular” hunters, who bought some sort of hunting license the previous year; “Intermittent” hunters, who have purchased a license at least once in the last five years but not in the previous year; and “New” hunters, that is that group that has not purchased a license in the last five years.


Taking the above information into account, you should ask yourself, What can I do to help increase license sales, and thus put more hunters afield? The answer is plenty. Here are some suggestions:


  1. Offer Outdoor Education Courses Together—Wildlife management agencies, outdoor retail stores and sportsmen’s clubs often already offer hunter education courses and angling seminars. Consider offering them together to help build new year-round sportsmen. Remember, sportsmen who purchase combination hunting and fishing licenses renew their license purchase at a higher rate than any other category of license buyer. Build two-pastime sportsmen from the get-go.
  2. Support Families Afield—A young angler may go fishing at any age, mostly because of the nature of the sport, as well as the very limited fishing license requirements. Hunting participation has historically been restricted by age and requirements to pass certification courses. The Families Afield program helps to increase opportunities for hunting mentorship and as a result has provided new hunting opportunities for hunters of all ages. The movement to offer apprentice licenses to closely supervised new hunters, without the immediate need to complete a hunter education course, and to consider adjusting minimum-age requirements can bring a new generation of hunters into our ranks, introduced with the support that could help assure a long-lasting commitment to the pastime.
  3. Promote Hunting and Fishing Together—Two out of three people who buy hunting licenses buy fishing licenses, too. Appeal to sportsmen’s fishing interests at the same time that you are promoting hunting. That means “two-pastime” messages, economical hunting and fishing combination licenses and “cast and blast” retail sales. When holding fishing promotions, bring in a hunting message, and vice versa when holding hunting promotions. Building a two-pastime sportsman is beneficial in the long run.
  4. Understand Your Audiences—The highest percentage of hunters come from rural areas where they have the social support to get into and continue hunting. The largest potential pool of hunters, though the highest fruit on the recruitment tree, are in urban areas. Knowing this information, a strategy might be to emphasize promotion—and support, ranging from hunter-education courses to how-to-get-started seminars and try-it-out events in the urban areas while promoting combination hunting and fishing opportunities in the rural areas.
  5. Retain Women Hunters—Female participation has increased in hunting in recent years, and the trend promises to continue. Women’s rate of churning, however, is high. Do your part to reverse this trend. Offer all of the support mentioned above specifically to women— tourism promotions with a feminine touch, manufactured products for women, special retail sales for women, with a discount for female shoppers who show a current hunting license, seminars and hunts for women…The possibilities are virtually endless.


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: Audience hunting hunting industry License Sales new hunters NSSF Outdoor Education Courses participation R3 Reactivation Recruitment Retention Southwick Associates Support Families Affield women hunters

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