NEWTOWN, Conn. — The future of hunting is brighter today than it was nearly a decade ago thanks to the extraordinary success of Families Afield, an innovative program that has introduced 1 million newcomers to hunting.
This impressive number demonstrates that interest in hunting remains high and that what’s needed to spark a lifelong passion for hunting is a proper introduction enabled by state regulations. With success in hand, Families Afield’s call to action is this: If your state offers an apprentice hunting license, make it a point to bring a newcomer along this hunting season; or if you’ve never gone hunting before, seek out a mentor and give it a try.
Launched in 2004, Families Afield was developed to increase the number of hunters to ensure a promising future for the tradition of hunting and conservation. Hunters provide the lion’s share of support for conservation through the purchases of hunting licenses and excise taxes paid on sales of firearms and ammunition.
“I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to be a hunter, so my dad told me we can get this apprentice hunting license and we can see if you like it,” said youth apprentice hunter Seth Wasilewski in a newFamilies Afield video that features youth and parents who have taken advantage of the program. Seth, who took his first deer that day, went on to complete his hunter education course and continues to hunt—a progression followed by so many other mentored hunters.
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.
To achieve its mission, Families Afield focused on removing barriers such as age restrictions that were preventing sportsmen and women from passing hunting on to the next generation. Families Afield also encouraged states to establish an apprentice hunting license—a “try before you buy” concept that allowed newcomers to go afield with an experienced mentor before completing a hunter education course. Cumulative sales of apprentice hunting licenses have surpassed 1 million.
Today, 35 states have approved legislation making it easier for newcomers to try hunting with an experienced mentor.
“I don’t know that sitting in a classroom for two or three days would have sparked the same interest [in my son] as getting out in the woods and getting experience deer hunting,” said Greg Wasilewski, Seth’s father and mentor.
Added parent Andrew Wecker, who mentored his daughter and son, “If you have a parent out with a child, something good is going to happen from that, and for this family hunting has been a good thing for us.”
Program organizers say adding 1 million new hunters has had a ripple effect on overall participation because having a new hunter in a family often means other family members and friends become more active hunters or are reactivated.
Nearly 200,000 apprentice licenses were sold in 2012, according to a survey of state fish and wildlife agencies commissioned by the Families Afield partners. That brings the total since 2006 to 1,006,269 apprentice hunting licenses, making Families Afield one of the most successful hunter-recruitment programs.
Most apprentices are youth, but increasingly adults have taken advantage of apprentice licenses to determine if they enjoy the activity enough to complete the hunter education course required to purchase a hunting license on their own.
The Families Afield partners will be celebrating this “1 million milestone” in the coming weeks by releasing key findings regarding the effectiveness of the program. As noted by the latest Families Afield video, “It took five years to reach 1 million new hunters, but with your help we can reach 2 million a whole lot faster.”
Experienced hunters and those who want to try hunting should check their state’s hunting regulations for information about apprentice hunting licenses. More information about Families Afield can be found at www.FamiliesAfield.org.