On April 8, Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus (GSC) Co-Chair, Governor Terry Branstad signed SB 392, creating Iowa’s first apprentice hunting program, which allows interested hunters 16 years old or older to hunt with a mentor for two seasons before having to complete a hunter safety course. This “try before you buy” approach has been adopted in 36 states throughout the nation as result of the ‘Families Afield’ program, allowing outdoor mentors to instill safety, ethics, and their passion for hunting in new hunters. This allows prospective hunters to try hunting before requiring them to spend significant time in a hunter education course.
Families Afield is a model of cooperative effort by several major organizations. The program was founded in 2004 by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance. The National Rifle Association and Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation are also coalition partners in the Families Afield program.
Although Iowa currently has top-ranked hunter education and recruitment programs, participation in the sport has gradually declined over the last several decades. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, there are 30,000 fewer Iowans participating in the sport now than there were in 1991 despite the state’s increased population by over a quarter million residents during this same period. The apprentice hunting program enabled by SB 392 aims to help reverse this trend, and in turn strengthen the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Division’s operations budget, which is partially funded by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses.
“Iowans who want to expand their outdoor activities to include hunting will see a real benefit from this legislation,” said state Senator David Johnson, Co-Chair of the Iowa Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus and member of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee. “Similar legislation in other states has proved successful. It’s vital that we introduce a new generation to the many benefits of managing wildlife through hunting and fishing.”
This new apprentice hunting program expands the opportunity for prospective sportsmen and women to get outdoors and experience the thrill of the hunt, a sensation that over 200,000 Iowans know well. These sportsmen and women spend $449 million per year pursuing their outdoor passions, and it is the hope that apprentice hunters will go on to become lifelong contributors to the American System of Conservation Funding, the “user pays – public benefits” system that is the primary financial supporter of fish and wildlife conservation efforts in this country.
“Apprentice hunting has been proven time-and-time again to be a safe and exciting way to introduce new hunters,” said Evan Heusinkveld, Vice President of Government Affairs at the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Families Afield continues to break down the barriers to recruiting the next generation of hunters. We’re excited to see Iowa opening up new opportunities for first-time hunters.”
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?