The Future of Hunting

Oh woe is us. Doom and Gloom. By all indications the future of hunting in the United States is in question. According to an article in Outdoor Life we are in trouble. And don’t seem to be handling it well. In 1982 there were about 17 million licensed hunters in the U.S. In the most recent survey from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 2016 that number was down to 11.5 million. That is a problem unto itself. It’s further complicated by the fact us Baby boomers comprise about one-third of that number. Thanks to the aging process (less physical strength, lack of mobility, etc.) we stop hunting at some point. So what to do?

That is a question faced by most state agencies and according to the Outdoor Life article they are doing it wrong. Just about all states, and a lot of non-government conservation groups, have an R3 program: Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation. We have one here in North Carolina. Recent evidence is the addition of an Apprentice hunting permit, and specific days and weeks set aside for youth deer, turkey, and waterfowl hunting. So why aren’t these programs being successful? I have my own theories which I’ll get to. But the article says we shouldn’t be targeting youth because it has a low return on investment. Most of the kids in the programs are in families that are already active hunters. You see, as they grow older they will simply be filling the shoes of an older family member who is aging out.

The key to the R3 program is young adult hunters. Now there is bright news on that front. According to a survey conducted by Southwick Associates, the number of women participating in hunting increased 10 percent in just four years. If you watch outdoor TV shows or thumb through your favorite hunting magazine you’ll see a larger number of women writers, columnists, and brand sponsors. That is good news.

But how do you attract young adult men? Let’s call them hipsters or millenials. They don’t fit the typical hunter mold. Yes, they may want to hunt but not for the same reasons that typical hunter does. The hipster deer hunter is doing it for organic meat, not the rack. They want to connect with a natural environment because we are increasingly urban and they may live in a large city. They may forsake the usual hunting traditions to pursue that path.

So how do we change our R3 model to both develop youth as long term hunters and recruit young adults? There is no simple answer but let me offer a couple of my thoughts. First, for both of those groups start out by connecting them with nature. Too often a first experience (particularly kids) is an ATV ride to a deer stand; sitting in the stand with dad or uncle; playing video games; shooting at a deer when dad says, “There’s one. Shoot it.” Sound familiar?

My old school solution to introduce someone to hunting is taking them out for small game. You’re moving around. You don’t have to be super quiet (with exceptions). It is natural that when you walk you observe your surroundings. When they see something that interests them it’s a chance to talk about wildlife movement and feeding habits, and what their habitat needs are. Can’t beat squirrel, rabbit, or bird hunting for that. Driving an eight year old to a tree stand, sitting with Dad while playing video games, and shooting a deer on command is not hunting.

Part of the R3 equation is access and opportunity. Access is about having places to hunt. Opportunity means having game in those places. This is another place we are failing. North Carolina is blessed with over 2 million acres of public access Game Lands. But is there game to pursue on those lands? At least in our region the answer is no; unless you are a squirrel hunter. Let me belabor the point: Our nearly one million acres of National Forests are nearly devoid of game animals. Just over 1,000 deer harvested last season. Grouse flush rates are at an historic low. It is difficult to recruit and retain hunters when there is no game to pursue. Then it becomes just a hike in the woods. To recruit new hunters there must be game to pursue on public land. That’s part of the equation.

Forest Management Isn’t Evil

from Forest History Society
Carl Schenck with Biltmore Boys

A columnist, and historian, for the local paper recently wrote an article with glowing remarks for a local environmental group and their impact on U.S. Forest Service management of the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests. In that piece he put the words Forest Management in quotes. I don’t know about you, but normally when you see something written in quotes it is meant as a bad thing. That got me thinking: since when was forest management considered evil?

So I had to respond. Here’s the text of my email to him: “In your January 8th column “Of bogs, beavers, red wolves” you put forest management in quotes as if it is a bad thing. OK, I know the paper is in the tank for the environmental movement. But as a historian you should remember that American forestry started here in western North Carolina through the efforts of Gifford Pinchot and Carl Schenck. That heritage is recognized at the Cradle of Forestry near Brevard.

The scientific research Schenck, a self-described lumberman, did over a century ago in the Biltmore School of Forestry became the foundational principles for the newly formed U.S. Forest Service. Those principles encompass what is multiple use forest management: timber harvest for the local economy; recreational use for people; a variety of habitat for wildlife.

Until the environmental movement involvement in the 1990s you mentioned in that column those principles held true. Instead of conservation of resources, wise use, it became a model of preservation for human use. Forest management is a science, not an emotion which is what environmentalists bring to the table. Thanks to their efforts the forest no longer provides the economic benefit of timber harvest or habitat for survival of wildlife.

If you haven’t already, as a historian you should spend an hour viewing the documentary “America’s First Forest: Carl Schenck and the Asheville Experiment” to truly understand that forest management is not evil. It is about conservation, not preservation.

Timber harvest at the Biltmore School of Forestry

Western North Carolina is proud of its heritage but seems to have forgotten this part of it. Scientific forest management in the United States started here. Carl Schenck came from Germany as a trained forester but had to re-learn his science because of the variety of trees and terrain differences he was trained for in Germany. George Vanderbilt brought him here to manage his Biltmore Estate forest, a working/self-sustaining estate, with three purposes in mind: produce timber for income, recreational opportunities for Vanderbilt and his guests, and wildlife habitat associated with that recreation.

In doing so Schenck took local young men under his wing and trained them in his new forestry techniques. That became the Biltmore School of Forestry, first in the nation, and many of his students went to work for the newly formed U.S. Forest Service. The same principles he taught at that school also became the guiding principles for the Forest Service for following decades, that of multiple use.

Then arrived the environmental movement and everything changed. Management of the forest wasn’t about science but emotion. Thus the name “tree hugger” (and yes that’s meant in bad terms). In the 1990’s the model started turning from conservation with multiple uses to preservation only considering the recreational and emotional benefit of an undisturbed forest. Using regulations and litigation, along with an emotionally sympathetic and uninformed populous, environmentalists all but shut down timber harvests and thus wildlife habitat on the National Forests in our southern mountains.

Evidence? Year after year the Forest Service has failed to meet timber harvest goals for both economic benefit and wildlife habitat. This has resulted in the Pisgah/Nantahala National Forests being only 1% young forest growth when the goal is 10 percent. And wildlife has suffered.

During the most recent North Carolina deer harvest recorded year, 2016-2017, there were more deer harvested in one county in Western NC than on ALL of the Pisgah/Nantahala;  nearly 1 million acres. As reported by the NC Wildlife Commission avid grouse hunter survey data, grouse numbers continue to decline to the point that a hunter will have no flushes on one of three trips taken on Forest Service land. Non-game species like Golden-Winged Warblers are also in decline.

Schenck Instructing Students in Forestry

It is time to put the science back into forest management, not associate it with something evil. The research and teaching Carl Schenck did a century ago is still true today. Forestry management truly is a science, not an emotion. Wildlife habitat is also a science. No matter how many times environmentalists say they support wildlife habitat, their words ring hollow. They ignore the science in favor of an emotional response. A cautionary note to hunters: If you want to continuing pursuing game on federal forests you’d better stand tall, learn the science, and speak up. We need to spread the message: Forestry is a science, not an emotion. Forestry and Wildlife Management is not evil.

Photos courtesy Forest History Society –

Outdoor New Year Resolutions

Have you made your New Year resolutions? So, how many have you broken just two weeks in? I’m afraid to look at those from last year, knowing most of them probably fell by the wayside. It’s amazing how life interferes with those things we really enjoy doing, isn’t it? As I enter my home stretch in life my hope is to spend more time doing enjoyable things. I’m semi-retired so time should not be an issue. Conflicting priorities, i.e. my wife’s gardening, will present a challenge. So here goes with some things I want to accomplish this year as an outdoorsman in no particular order.

First, shoot more registered targets at sporting clays. The National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA) hosts events at local clubs where you record your score and they are reported to national. NSCA has different skill levels starting at E Class and working up to Master shooter. Needless to say, since I’ve not been to many registered shoots I’m currently stuck in E Class. One of the challenges to accomplishing this goal is the lack of registered shoots in our local area. The closest I’m aware of is in Spartanburg. That means travel which also means additional expenses.

I’ve shot a couple of events over the past few years and they are always fun. Great group of folks and there’s a social element to the shoots. Why do this? To improve my shooting. The challenge of competition forces me to “up my game”. I tend to focus more on breaking targets, not so much competing with other folks as with myself. Going to competitive shoots also means more practice. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. My goal is to attend 5 – 6 registered shoots in 2018 to the point that I can consistently shoot 80 targets in a practice round.

This next one is a bucket list item. As you well know, I’m a lifelong bird hunter. One of the things I’ve never done is hunt wild pheasant in one of the western states. My only wild pheasant hunting experience was nearly thirty years ago at an Army Recreation Center in Korea. The hunting was fantastic but I’ve still not hunted them here in the states. The closest I came was three years ago when my son was at an Army school in Kansas. It never materialized as his school schedule and mine never worked out.

So Kansas or Iowa provide the closest opportunities but they’re still a full day’s drive away. But hey, I’ve driven that far for grouse so why not. I’m drawn further west for one reason. A twofer. Along with hunting pheasant another bucket list item is to hunt pronghorn antelope. Not sure what my attraction is to pronghorns. I’ve just always been fascinated by them and what it would take to shoot one. It’s typically long range shooting on the plains. So going out to South Dakota or western North Dakota looks like the best option. It’s time to start planning.

My third resolution is more local. Something forsaken to meet work obligations. I really want to spend more time trout fishing our mountain streams. I’ve already got the gear although my skills are lacking. My method is more akin to flailing the water than artful presentation. But it’s fun and can be done with a little travel and minimum financial investment. Or so I think. We are truly blessed with ample trout fishing opportunities here in the mountains. Nearly a thousand miles of streams and a very active stocking program by the WRC.

To be an angler in Western North Carolina and not take advantage of the resource is insane. And I’m not there yet. There are waters for every angler: Hatchery Supported, Delayed Harvest, Wild Trout, and even some of the local lakes and ponds are stocked by the WRC like Max Patch and Lake Powhatan. This also has me thinking that maybe it’s time to buy a canoe to do some drift fishing for smallmouth bass on the French Broad River, another overlooked opportunity in our area.

So there you have it, my short list of three resolutions for the next year. Maybe if I keep the list short there is a greater chance of getting them done. Hope you make plans to spend time in the outdoors this coming year. Happy New Year.

The Invisible Bird Hunter

Earlier this year I posted a blog  “We’ve Met the Enemy . . .” talking about hunter apathy in supporting conservation efforts. When we owned a gun shop I’d get into over the counter conversations with hunters about anti-hunting groups trying to stop legal hunting and environmentalists thwarting wildlife habitat efforts. The typical response was a shoulder shrug and something along the lines of, “Aw, that can’t happen here.”

For too long sportsmen have put their trust in government agencies to protect the land and their hunting privileges. We’ve lapsed into a false sense of security by letting those agencies be our voice and do the right thing for us. In many cases they still do. It still amazes me that hunters still don’t get it when it comes to active participation in conservation efforts, especially with certain upland game birds in decline (grouse, woodcock, quail). Now we have more information to support the concept that yes, bird hunters are invisible in supporting their sport.

Ultimate Upland recently released a report on upland hunter participation in conservation organizations for the bird they hunt. Results are both disappointing and appalling. Based on a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 2011 survey on hunter participation there are nearly 1.5 million pheasant hunters in the country. That’s the good news. The bad? Only 8.5 percent of them belong to Pheasants Forever or like-minded groups. Grouse hunters? Of the over 800,000 who said they hunt grouse only 1% belongs to Ruffed Grouse Society. Quail hunters are just a little above grouse with 2.5% supporting conservation groups.

Courtesy Ultimate Upland

Conversely, Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl boast nearly 50 percent of waterfowlers among their ranks. So does that higher membership percentage make a difference? Numbers indicate it does. While wetland habitat needed by waterfowl has increased by nearly 35% over the last forty years, habitat for upland species has significantly declined between 20 and 40 percent (chart below).

Let me say this: there is no panacea or silver bullet solution. The decline in game bird populations and habitat has been a long-term trend and can’t be corrected overnight. But there are steps we can take as individual upland hunters to reverse the trend. One of the ideas being floated is an Upland Stamp similar to the Federal Waterfowl Stamp where funds are used for wetlands habitat. I’m OK with that as a partial measure. The problem for me is it’s a continuation of an existing problem: we put our reliance on government agencies. For a nation build on individual rights and responsibilities we must take action at the grass roots level.

Courtesy Ultimate Upland

Here’s some ideas we can ALL do:

  1. Step one: Join up! If you hunt an upland species join the conservation group that supports habitat work for that bird. That is what all of them are about. Yeah, membership is primarily hunters but the work they do is to improve habitat. While you’re at it, encourage your hunting buddies to join also. We’re talking annual membership of $30-40 a year. It’s not going to break the bank.
  2. Once you’ve joined, get active. All the conservation groups host fundraising events one or two times a year, usually anchored by a Sportsman’s banquet. Don’t just go to the banquet, buy raffle tickets and bid on auction items. Much of that money goes to habitat work at both the local and national level. A lot of local chapter do muddy boot habitat projects where members can get involved.
  3. The other part of getting active is answering Call-for-Action notices from the group. If they need you to go to a Forest Service meeting to support a planned habitat project, show up with some of your friends. Out west attend public meeting hosted by BLM to support grasslands management. It’s true: 80 percent of life is just showing up.

For nearly 100 years sportsmen have been willing to sacrifice to make sure wildlife species thrive. We have paid license fees, self-imposed bag limits, and paid Pittman-Robertson excise taxes all in the name of wildlife conservation. But those are all government driven. It will require support at the grassroots level if we want to continue our upland hunting traditions. We all need to be involved.

5 Social Media Tips for Firearms Retailers


I’ve been at this copywriting game for several months and am starting to get a little frustrated. My niche market is the hunting and firearms retail industry. When I talk with owners about using social media for their business I get a knowing “uh huh”. But I still don’t think they get the importance of inbound marketing, which social media is, in the new normal firearms business. You have to be where your customers are, and increasingly that’s where consumers go to get information leading to a buying decision.

I owned a retail firearms business for eight years and used social media (Facebook, Twitter). I also published a monthly newsletter. Yea I made some mistakes along the way for sure and learned from them. I saw it’s effectiveness in engaging customers and kept at it. So how does a small business get 5,600 Facebook likes  and 2,400 Twitter Followers? Here are some things I have learned in my journey both as a retailer and now in my copywriting business.

  • KEEP POSTING – If you are not posting something relevant every day you will be ignored. People will forget about you. And if you don’t post, it won’t get shared or retweeted. That’s how you expand your base. Yeah, it’s work. As my Dad said, “If you are doing it, do it right.” But it’s not just about posting, it’s about posting relevant content. There’s that word relevant again. Which leads me to point two.


  • DON’T JUST SELL YOUR BUSINESS – This one really frustrates me. Yep, people know you are a business page. But too many companies use social media to only sell their product or service. And it’s not just local businesses that make this mistake. I follow a high quality shotgun manufacturer on Facebook and all they post are pictures of their guns and the owners shooting them. I sold their guns and they don’t have much name recognition. Hmmmmm. wonder why? If this is all you do, soon people will ignore you because you are in a rut & predictable. Which leads to the next point.

  • OFFER VARIETY – To engage people you must have VARIETY. Look for relevant business articles or videos and share them. Lead off with a comment. An article on overcoming wingshooting mistakes? Comment on how many you are guilty of and ask people which one they do the most! An instructional video about handgun concealed carry methods? Share it with a comment and oh by the way mention we provide concealed carry instruction. Don’t go off the edge though. Know your followers/customers and chose posts that you think they will find interesting. Our primary retail market was shotguns shooting sports. Our monthly newsletter only had 1- 2 items about what we had at the store. The other 4- 6 included shooting tips, conservation news, local events. We also had a > 50% open rate which is pretty good.


  • USE IMAGES & VIDEO – Yes the message is important. But to get them to read the message you first have to get their attention. For written word photos do that. Video is becoming more important to relaying a message. If you go the video route keep it short, 3-5 minutes. A short two minute video we did in-house about a Turkey Pattern pack (long story) got nearly 500 views and had the highest click rate on our e-newsletter. We also made up an initial run of 20 pattern packs, sold out, and had to restock.


  • IF IT WORKS IT’S NOT STUPID – All that said, don’t be afraid to experiment. I like humor so one Friday we posted a joke on our Facebook page. Boom! Over 700 viewed it, liked it, and some even commented. So we did it again and again until Friday humor became part of our page. In fact, we forgot to do it one week and several people messaged asking where it was! Were we selling a product? No. Was it always relevant to guns? No. But people enjoyed it, it increased our interaction with customers, so we used it.


So there you have my thoughts. I didn’t attend any classes. I did some online research and then got my boots dirty. The firearms industry typically lags behind others in change and innovation. Let’s face it, we are conservative and don’t like change. But adapting to a changing market is required and part of that change means going to where your customers are . . .and they ARE on social media. Get started because “you can’t steal 2nd base with your foot still on 1st.”

Segmenting Firearms Buyers – Abandon One Size Marketing

OK class, raise your hand if you’ve heard about the “new normal” in the firearms market. After the surprise election of Donald Trump many manufacturers and retailers are sitting on inventory they expected to fly out the door with the election of Hillary Clinton. Big box retailers like Gander Mountain are closing their doors. Even small retailers are struggling in the market against internet retailers. That said, NICS background checks remain constant or are trending higher. What’s happening? To meet these challenges, small business firearms retailers MUST relook how they do business, particularly in attracting customers. The days are gone where you sell it and they will come. The first lesson: there is no average customer.

The Changing Market

Let’s face it, the firearms industry is slow to change and follow market trends. Some estimate ten years behind other markets. It’s understandable and some say predictable. The industry is pretty conservative and traditional. Which means we don’t like change. But change we must. (See above Einstein quote.) And this is particularly true for the small business faced with competition from large and internet retailers. Enter market segmentation. So what is that? It’s defined as, “the process of dividing a market of potential customers into groups, or segments, based on different characteristics.” Recently the National Shooting Sports Foundation had Southwick Associates and The Brand Depot conduct a firearms consumer survey to develop a Needs-Based Market Segmentation.  They came up with eight different market segments based on their needs. You can see the report HERE (you must provide email to download the summary & infographic).


Firearms Market Segmentation

I’ll spare you the details of each segment and simply provide their names: Hunter, Collector, Social Shooter, Skills Builder, Urban Recruits, Protector, Guardian Gary, and Debbie Defense. Even at first glance you can guess that each one of those market segments has different needs and expectations. The buyer could also be segmented by their knowledge of features and price (above infographic). For instance, the largest market segment is the Protector (top center), a family oriented professional of above average income. They know what they want when visiting a retailer. Meanwhile the Social Shooter (bottom left) is more likely a long gun shooter who wants versatility to enjoy shooting with friends. As you can see from the infographic, each of the eight segments has different needs and expectations. There is no “average” customer!

.What This Means for the Small Business

Let me answer that with a question. As a small retailer do you think you can appeal to ALL eight firearms market segments? You’ll probably answer with a resounding NO! You don’t have either the retail space or capital to invest in inventory to do that. Neither your sales area nor marketing efforts can fit all eight segments of the market. You are not alone. Look at small businesses in other retail markets and you will see something they learned long ago: You must develop a niche in the market. As the old saying goes, “Being a Jack-of-All-Trades means you are the Master-of-None.”

Developing a Niche

You are probably already headed this way but don’t know it. Think first about who your customers are. Ask them questions to determine their interest. What do you estimate is their typical age? Why are they interested in a firearm? What is their experience to date? Now think about your local area. Are you primarily an urban, suburban, or rural area? How many shooting ranges are there? What types of shooting do they offer? Is hunting popular? What types of game do most hunters pursue? This is just a sampling, but the types of questions you and your staff should be considering. Answering these questions will lead you to identifying your primary market segments, thus leading to inventory choices and methods to attract customers.

Marketing to Your Segment

This topic lends itself to a whole new blog. Suffice it to say each of the eight market segments may drive you to differing marketing techniques. Again, one size does not fit all! I will say this: within the general retail business the move is toward inbound/social media content marketing (website blogs, Facebook, Twitter) and away from outbound marketing (newspaper, magazine, TV, radio). Have you looked at the classified section of your local newspaper? That’s if they even have one anymore. There may be a place for outbound marketing, but it should be based on the market segment you are trying to appeal to. Inbound content marketing is also more effective, costing 62% less and generating three times the leads.


Go through a process of defining which of the above eight are your market segment(s) based on your own research. That will lead you to the inventory you primarily carry and also drive marketing efforts to attract those customers.

Two Jakes

My son Bob and I both harvested jake turkeys Easter weekend. Nothing unusual there, right? Young toms are easy to call in, especially early season. What made this hunt special? The first turkey either of us ever killed. I’m 63 and he’s 37. It was a special hunt for another reason.

I’ve watched too many turkey hunting TV shows. You know the ones. The host locates a roosted tom, yelps, the tom gobbles. That sequence repeats itself for what seems an eternity while the old boy slowly works toward the seductive hen. When he’s in range the hunter smacks him with a 3” load of #4s. A huge bird! Eleven inch beard with 1 1/2” spurs. That was how I envisioned our hunt going. As we said in the Army, no plan survives contact with the enemy.

We parked the truck by the farmer’s house in the pre-dawn darkness and began to unload. As the first glimmer of light peeked over the adjacent mountain, with our gear and guns in hand, I shut the tailgate of the truck. A shock gobble echoed from the ridge near my planned setup. Yes! So far everything is going to plans. We moved quickly to our ambush point.

We set our decoys about 20 yards into the field, hid inside the nearby trees, loaded our shotguns, and I sent out a quick yelp from the box call. A throaty gobble came back from the same ridgeline. I waited a couple of minutes and called again. The old tom answered back. Then he went quiet. I whispered to my son, “He’s off the roost now. Watch for him to come around the tree line to our left in the field.”

My occasional call over the next thirty minutes went unanswered. I had read it is not uncommon for an old bird to approach quietly. I mixed up my calls, sometimes using the box, then a slate, and maybe a push button call. I thought maybe three different hen sounds might just bring him in a little faster. But patience was the name of the game. Anyway, isn’t that how it happened on TV?

We noticed a lone hen cross in the field headed to our left. While watching the hen peck her way across the field Bob suddenly whispered, “Two birds to the right!” I slowly turned my head and barely made out the birds through some nearby trees about twenty-five yards away. One of them was strutting. As they moved forward I could see that both of them were jakes with 3” beards.

I said quietly, “Get your gun up.” We had agreed beforehand that if two birds came in we would shoot both on a three count. After a couple more steps I still couldn’t see the trail bird. Suddenly they stopped and turned. I told Bob, “Take your bird.” Boom! The lead bird went down. The trail bird, mine, ran up the field ridge away from us. Instinctively I hit the yelper. He turned, ran back down the hill, and stood over his buddy. Now it was my turn and the second jake went down. The amazing thing: the entire sequence from seeing the birds to both on the ground was maybe three minutes. We looked at each other and Bob said, “That’s not how I thought it would happen but we’ll take it!”

The farmer was smiling as we approached the truck and told us he saw the whole thing unfold. He said, “Look over there.” Two old toms were strutting in an adjacent field, each with five or six hens. We each killed birds, but most importantly have a father and son memory. I just wanted Bob to kill a turkey. You see, he is about to leave on his sixth military deployment. Our hunting opportunities are limited. We will cherish that hunt for more reasons than just a bird.

Why Do We Hunt?

We all start hunting for different reasons. For some of us it is part of a family tradition. We grew up in small towns or in rural areas where it was just part of life. I’m dating myself, but who else carried their gun to school in their truck or car and went hunting after the final bell rang? Well, that trend is changing in a big way. And there is data to back it up.

Responsive Management, the leading outdoor recreation survey firm, recently released survey results showing more hunters are doing so mostly for the meat. Now I’m a grouse hunter so believe me that’s not my reason. More on that later. The survey is conducted by Responsive Management every four years and asks hunters to give the primary reason they hunt. In 2008 the largest percentage said they hunt primarily for the sport and recreation. Then it started changing.

In 2013 and then again in 2017 the trend changed and more people said it was for the meat. Responsive Management attributes part of the 2013 thirty-five percent response to most likely the recession we had just gone through. Hunting was a great way to put venison in the freezer at a considerable cost savings compared to buying beef at a supermarket. That upward trend continued in 2017 at 39% with a new causal effect.

And that effect is the locavore movement primarily among millenials. Many young people in their 20’s are concerned about their health and leading a natural lifestyle. They see harvesting local venison as a healthy alternative if they eat meat. Think about it. For the cost of a hunting license ($30 annually in NC) and a rifle (less than $500 for a lifetime) you can eat truly organic, free-range meat for the year by harvesting one or two deer. Compared to organic meat in the store that’s a bargain.

No doubt hunting for sport and recreation is still in second place but it is trending downward. What is seeing an upward trend is being close to nature; consistent with the locavore movement. Millenials do feel a need to connect with nature. He’s not a millenial, but who remembers Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg taking up hunting because he wants to kill what he eats? He wants to be part of the natural process.

And it is a natural process. It has been since time began. Recorded history is full of examples of people hunting. Being part of the natural process is in our DNA. One of my favorite verses from the Old Testament is Genesis 27: 3. Jacob tells his son Esau, “Now then, get your weapons – your quiver and bow- and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me.” It is marked in my Bible. I show it to my wife every now and then to remind her of why I hunt.

As I said before, my reason for hunting tends to be for the recreation and part of nature. Since I’m a bird hunter, we would starve if we only ate meat I harvested. But I am of a different generation and older. I do believe our reasons for hunting do change over time. In fact we teach that in Hunter Education, the four stages of hunter development. In my latter stage it is for enjoyment, time with friends, and passing along the traditions.

Personally I’m glad to see more young people getting into hunting no matter their primary reason. We need to reverse a negative participation trend. Here’s my thought although it’s too early to verify with data. No matter the reason for starting, young people who seek organic meat and time in nature will become lifelong hunters. We have many experiences in life and once we experience the thrill of the hunt, putting all of the factors together to harvest game, it becomes part of our character.

Let me leave with a quote that sums up the hunting experience. From Tom Kelly, considered the Dean of Turkey Hunting: “The first turkey that ever came to me on the ground did it a long time ago. I sat there with my hands shaking and my breath short and my heart hammering so hard I could not understand why he could not hear it. The last turkey that came to me last spring had exactly the same effect, and the day that this does not happen to me is the day that I quit.”


Hitting the Target with Inbound Content

What would you think if I said there is a similarity between sporting clays shooting and inbound content? Do what? At least in my mind there is. Guess I’m a special kind of crazy. You see, I’m both a copywriter in the outdoor industry and a certified sporting clays instructor. There is a natural fit and it all has to do with the fundamentals.

You may know what sporting clays is. Let me provide a definition for inbound content. According to HubSpot it is, “an approach focused on attracting customers through interactions that are relevant and helpful — not interruptive. With inbound marketing, potential customers find you through channels like blogs, search engines, and social media.”

Did you play any sports in high school or college? If you did there was one thing the coach pounded into your head. You probably are thinking of it right now. FOCUS ON THE FUNDAMENTALS! How many times did we hear that? There are three fundamentals (not including safety) we focus on with sporting clays clients that are consistent with inbound content.

Body Position – In sporting clays you must stand and position your body to have a full range of motion: Feet shoulder width apart, square up facing your break point, and weight slightly forward. With targets coming from multiple directions across the course you must move to the target with your shotgun. Restrict your body movement and you miss targets. Marketing content is the same. You don’t write or share what you are interested in, but you must move your content to meet the needs of your target audience. Notice how I used that word target multiple times?

Sharing posts on Facebook that informs the audience about something of interest will engage them. Simply posting your latest sale items or promoting your business is a turn off. Does your business have a blog? When was the last time you wrote an interesting post totally unrelated to your business? Most of my blogs have nothing to do with copywriting but about other topics interesting to the hunting and shooting community. That is my target audience. Position your social media content to move to the target.

Gun Alignment – There are three points of gun contact with your body: hands, shoulder, and cheek. If any one of these three is off then you will not have proper gun alignment with the flight of the target and shoot above or below the clay. Likewise, trying to cover all methods of inbound marketing will also cause you to waste effort and possibly miss the target. Find those media your target audience uses the most. Those are your points of contact that align your content with your audience.

Facebook is the most used social medium so you HAVE to be there. What next? Are you trying to appeal to a younger market? Video on You Tube is a fast emerging market. As we’ve seen with President Trump, Twitter is a great way to instantly contact thousands of people. Find those 2 – 3 key points of contact and use them aggressively. Don’t spread yourself thin. That said, don’t be afraid to adjust those points of contact to align with the audience.

Focus – Even if you do the first two right, but don’t focus your eyes on the target you will miss the mark. We train and encourage clients to “focus small” or on the leading edge of the target as it flies. Here’s an analogy that most can connect with. If you have ever played a sport like baseball, tennis, or soccer do you focus on the ball when you hit it or the bat, racquet, or your foot? Of course the answer is the ball. So why would you look at the gun barrel when shooting a moving clay target? The answer is clear. It should also be clear that with inbound content you have to focus small on a specific audience.

And believe me, they are moving just as fast as a clay target. You can’t appeal to everyone out there. When we had a gun store we did not try to appeal to the “value” shopper. Someone looking for the lowest price will not be a loyal customer. Think about the ideal customer you want to appeal to and then develop your content to engage them. Guess what? They typically socialize with like-minded people and will share that content with them which expands your customer base. That’s how social media works.

So there you have it: Position, Alignment, and Focus. Didn’t think I could pull it off connecting sporting clays with inbound content did you? Many of the fundamentals in life are the same.

Building Lifelong Hunters

I recently read an article lamenting the impact that a loss of hunters will have on wildlife habitat and wildlife numbers in general. It is true in that we owe what we have in wildlife populations to hunter’s contributions through Pittman-Robertson Act funds, license sales, and conservation groups. And if hunter numbers decline so will the revenue from all of those sources. So the obvious answer is: we need to recruit more hunters!

The NSSF released a report in 2012, Hunting in America: An Economic Force for Conservation. The report is based on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data from a survey they collect every five years about hunter activity. When you look at the data hunter numbers have actually remained stable just under 16 million over the reporting years. The number of youth under 16 hunting has also remained fairly stable. The problem is: How do we retain those young hunters?

It’s not just a matter of getting them in the woods and fields. It’s about getting them out there under the right circumstances. In my previous life owning a small gun store, many parents came in wanting to get their kid a first gun. You would think they would be looking for a .22 rifle or small gauge shotgun. Nope, they were looking for a centerfire rifle to take the kid deer hunting. I even had one father want to buy a .270 for his eleven year old son. What is wrong with this picture?

You don’t continue the hunting tradition and build lifelong hunters by waking a kid up at 4 a.m., riding him or her to a tree stand on an ATV, and then having them sit there playing games on an iPad waiting for deer to walk in to a bait site. You build future hunters by starting them out in the woods hunting squirrels, field edges for rabbits, or sitting in a duck blind. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying taking a kid deer hunting is wrong. In my opinion it’s not the best experience in building a hunting tradition.

I know it’s “old school”, but it’s time to return to the old days. It all has to do with activity and the inquisitive nature of youth. Anyone who has children knows they can’t be still. Why not take advantage of that? A slow walk through the woods keeps them moving. It also gives an adult the chance to explain things they see. What kind of animal track is that? More importantly, which kind of trees attract squirrels? Why are ducks attracted to flooded timber? Not only that, there is more action. Action, whether it is in an oak/hickory stand or mallards gliding through flooded timber is the answer. Tell me this: Which is better to develop a future hunter, a kid shooting one deer sitting in a tree stand or three squirrels walking through the woods? To me the answer is obvious.

I place part of the blame for this culture to “kill a deer” on state game management agencies. As it is with most things you have to follow the money. In a state with large deer populations which attract non-resident hunters, there is more revenue from license fees for large game than small game. When is the last time you saw a state game agency promote its squirrel or upland bird hunting opportunities? I didn’t think so.

Large outdoor retailers and TV shows are also culprits. Look through any retailer catalog and there is an abundance of camo youth deer hunting clothing and gear. Try to find a pair of brush pants for a 10 year old. Have you ever watched a TV show with a kid on his or her first rabbit hunt? Neither have I.

Delta Waterfowl also had a recent article about the impact of the decline in duck hunters, even while duck populations increase. To build a lifelong hunter, and prevent a decline in hunter numbers, we have to start promoting the hunting experience that gives youth plenty of action and appeals to their inquisitive nature. That is the challenge because it takes a greater investment in time by the hunting mentor. It is not a “one and done” that a lot of parents look for in a deer hunting experience. It requires many days in the field to build a hunter.