The Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) is working with Buckmasters on an outreach program to encourage hunting on social media platforms.
The Share the Hunt initiative, starting today, encourages deer hunters to introduce new people to hunting opportunities in Alabama’s great outdoors and to record the hunt to share on social media. Each participating Hunting Mentor will receive a Buckmasters subscription and discount codes for great hunting gear.
Don’t worry if you’re not a Buckmasters member. The Share the Hunt promotion is open to everyone!
All participants must be at least 19 years old, including new hunters. A new hunter or mentee is defined as any adult who has not acquired a hunting license in the last three years. Mentors must submit photos of their hunt along with a brief description of the experience to qualify for the rewards and be considered for Mentor of the Year. Bonus points are given to mentors who share their experiences on social media.
“I think everyone should know by now that hunters and license sales have been declining over the last few decades,” said Chuck Sykes, WFF director. “We (WFF) created the Adult Mentored Hunting Program, Go Fish, Alabama! and Shooting 101 to reach new audiences.”
Sykes said the Adult Mentored Hunting Program was started after realizing that even some WFF staff were not hunters. They wanted to learn to hunt but were reluctant to ask anyone to take them. He hopes partnering with Buckmasters will expand that reach exponentially.
“With Share the Hunt, we’re working with Buckmasters and trying to reach out to their members to emphasize the importance of sharing their experiences and teaching someone new to hunt,” he said. “Honestly, hunters I’ve seen over the years kind of live in an echo chamber. The people we interact with the most are fairly like-minded, and most of us hunt. If you ask most hunters how many people buy a license in Alabama, they’d think it’s 40 to 50% because that’s the group of people they hang out with. In reality, it’s 4% or less who buy a license.
“There are people we work with, go to church with, attend children’s events with, who would really like to learn to hunt and be more independent. You’re just a little reluctant to ask for that help. We have to get out of our comfort zone and ask people if they want to go and teach them what we know.”
Sykes warned that the expectations of new hunters can be vastly different than those of us who grew up hunting.
“Something we’ve found over the years is that the motivations for hunting these late-onset hunters, people who weren’t raised hunting, don’t align with our motivations,” he said. “They don’t have a hunting tradition. They didn’t learn it from their grandfather or their father. You can’t talk to them about the tradition of hunting, and most of the time you can’t talk to them about the thrill, the sportsmanship, the ability to hunt an animal in your own backyard, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with it. That doesn’t matter to them.
“They’re all about the food. Essen joins a group of people. That is fun. So we have to make that the focus, not the challenge of killing a big deer, not the thrill of the hunt, not the tradition. It’s about providing quality protein for the family and being independent. That’s what motivates most of the late onset hunters. Now they can finally get to the tradition part if they like it and pass it on to their kids. If they do it long enough, they can achieve the excitement and thrill of the hunt. For now, those messages are lost.”
Sykes said partnering with Buckmasters on Share the Hunt is a pilot program that will benefit from the deer hunting organization’s extensive membership.
“We don’t have the manpower to increase the effort,” he said. “We felt partnering with Buckmasters was a natural fit. You have the membership and you can potentially reach hundreds of thousands of experienced hunters who could easily take in one person a year and make a difference. Where we (WFF) can take maybe 100 people a year, they can take maybe 100,000 a year. We’re just trying to scale what we know works.”
Jackie Bushman, Buckmasters Founder and CEO, agreed that his organization and WFF share the same goals as Share the Hunt.
“Chris Blankenship (Conservation Commissioner) and Chuck are personal friends, and I think we all have the same goal — to increase the numbers in our sport,” Bushman said. “I’ve always made this comment, if the 11 to 12 million deer hunters in the US took one person, we would have 24 million hunters.”
Bushman said he understands the issue of access to hunting land and the aging of current hunters, but these hurdles need to be overcome.
“If we love the great outdoors and what we look forward to every fall, are we willing to share a hunting lease or private land?” he asked. “We don’t talk about family members. We’re talking about someone who might be with you at the ballpark, or someone at church, or someone in business, who has never experienced a hunt or perhaps never thought about it.
“Are we willing to take someone over 19 and teach them to shoot, teach them the sport of shooting, buy them a license and then take them out hunting to see if they can get their first deer? There are many landowners who have management programs to shoot them. It doesn’t have to be a dollar, although it can be. A lot of people are looking for people to come in and help shoot the females.”
Bushman agrees with Sykes that the best way to reach newcomers is through social media.
“We want you to take someone out hunting and take lots of pictures,” Bushman said. “We want you to share the experience online and give back to the sport you took away from. It’s all about this. We have sponsors who will provide digital coupons to the mentor and mentee. And someone will win a hunt with me just to say thank you. The question is how can we help our sport? How can we leave a legacy?”
Bushman, who founded Buckmasters in 1986, has hunted deer across North America and bagged some huge bucks. He said people have been asking him the same question for the last 30 years – what’s his favorite buck?
“People probably think it’s the Alberta (Canada) buck or the Montana buck,” he said. “No, it goes back to Myrtlewood, Alabama when I was 15 years old. We were doing a dog hunt, and this 6 inch spike came over the top of this comb. I shot him with a 12 and .00 buckshot. In my eyes it’s like it happened yesterday. This got me hooked on deer hunting.
“I hope that those mentees going out for the first time have the same feeling that you and I had with our first Hirsch. It’s a sense of accomplishment, a sense of being a part of the conservation movement. It’s a priceless feeling.”
David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has been covering the great outdoors in Alabama for 25 years. The former outdoor editor at the Mobile Press Register writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.