Urbanization, an aging population of hunters, changing demographics — including a growing population of minorities, who often don’t have hunting traditions — all are impacting hunter numbers, Johnson said.
Said Grace’s grandfather: “All the competition with other activities — that’s a huge impediment.’’
The ‘churn factor’
Unlike other states, Minnesota’s overall hunter numbers have remained fairly stable at around 600,000. But waterfowl hunter numbers, in particular, have fallen from about 140,000 in the 1960s to 73,000 in 2010 before rebounding to 90,000 last year. Youth Waterfowl Day was launched nationally in hopes of changing that trend.
“People incorrectly expect this is the answer to youth waterfowl hunter recruitment,’’ Johnson said. “It’s not a silver bullet. It’s just a single activity to be used by parents or guardians in a process to recruit a hunter.’’
And, even after 18 years, Johnson said the DNR doesn’t know what effect, if any, the youth hunt has had on recruiting hunters. Looking at hunting license or duck stamp sales over that period doesn’t help, partly because hunters routinely drop in and out of the sport.
For example, 1,307 16-year-olds bought state duck stamps in 2000. But over the next 12 years, that age group showed wild fluctuations in the purchase of duck stamps. As 19-year-olds, they bought 2,839, and last year, as 28-year-olds, and they bought 2,160. Officials call it the “churn rate,’’ and it’s dramatic. Very few hunters buy licenses every year. From 2007 to 2011, only about 28 percent of waterfowl hunters bought duck stamps every year, and nearly one-third bought duck stamps just one of those years.
The numbers are similar for hunters of other species. Which makes hunter recruitment a moving target.
Did Saturday’s morning hunt strike a chord with Grace, and will she grow up to be a hunter and conservationist? “Yes, definitely,’’ she predicted. “I think it’s a great sport.’’
Meanwhile, Grace — who wore extra padding to cushion her shoulder from the shotgun recoil — said she wants to try bow hunting for whitetails.
“I’ve always wanted to go deer hunting,’’ she said. “[A bow] has no kick, and you don’t need ear plugs.’’