North Dakota, Minnesota share in national success of national Families Afield program

Story by Brad Dokken
Grand Forks Herald
April 2, 2011
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GRAND FORKS, N.D. — There’s been a national focus in recent years to recruit new adult hunters, and the effort seems to be paying off.

The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance sent out a news release highlighting that success recently, and it’s a story worth sharing.

It all started in 2004, when the Alliance, along with the National Wild Turkey Federation and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, launched a program called Families Afield.

The purpose of Families Afield was to encourage states to pass “apprentice hunter license” legislation, the Alliance said in a news release. The legislation would allow newcomers to go afield before completing a hunter education course if accompanied by an experienced adult hunter.

Apprentices then would have to pass hunter training before buying future licenses.

To date, the Alliance said, 31 states have passed Families Afield-style legislation — most recently Idaho, which approved a bill — and new data shows nearly 600,000 licenses have been sold since the program began.

North Dakota and Minnesota are among the states with apprentice programs, and their results have been equally encouraging.

In North Dakota, the state Legislature passed apprentice hunter legislation in 2009. According to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, 2,290 people — 768 residents and 1,522 nonresidents — received the apprentice validation that first year, and 929 residents and 398 nonresidents had gotten the validation as of Sept. 15, 2010. The tally for 2010 likely was considerably higher by year’s end, but the final numbers aren’t yet available.

In 2009, 294 of the residents receiving the valuation — 38 percent — went on to successfully complete hunter education courses in 2010. That first year, 30 percent of the apprentice hunters were women.

North Dakota requires hunter education certification for anyone born 1961.

“There were a surprising number of people who tried that out who wouldn’t have been able to hunt” otherwise, Roger Rostvet, deputy director of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said in a December interview. “It showed us there was a need to take a look at our hunter education, the way it’s delivered, that there is a demand from some older (hunters) out there.”

Minnesota, which requires anyone born after 1979 to have completed and passed a firearms safety course before buying a hunting license, also has a good story to tell. According to the Department of Natural Resources, 13,969 people have purchased the $3.50 Apprentice Hunter Validation to try hunting since 2007, the year the program was launched.

Of that total, 37 percent have gone on to complete mandatory firearms safety training, and more than 30 percent continue hunting, the DNR said.

“It’s really hard to know where that stands compared to other programs, but my gut feeling is that it’s pretty good,” said Jay Johnson, hunter recruitment and retention coordinator for the DNR in St. Paul. “There’s been very little evaluation of recruitment and retention programs for the most part.”

Based on results from a DNR survey, 70 percent of Minnesota’s apprentice hunters were older youths and young adults 16 to 27 years old, and 28 percent were female. Half of the apprentices said they wouldn’t have hunted without the program.

As the U.S. Sportsman’s Alliance said in its news release, the economic impact of attracting — and retaining — these new hunters can’t be overlooked, either. Considering the average hunter spends about $2,000 annually, retaining even half of the 600,000 apprentice hunters who’ve tried hunting since Families Afield was launched means an estimated economic impact of nearly $600 million.

Here’s hoping that success continues to build.

(c) 2011, Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.).

Visit the Herald on the World Wide Web at http://www.grandforks.com/.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Brad Dokken

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