Once hailed as hunting’s savior, mandatory hunter education is now suspected to be a factor in the sport’s decline. Since 1980, the number of hunters in the United States has decreased by 23 percent (a loss of almost 4.5 million), and a new study says that big reasons for the drop are hunter-education and minimum-age restrictions that prevent kids from trying hunting. Even in hunting households, only 25 percent of youths hunt because of these regulatory barriers.

The study, which was commissioned by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Federation, and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, found that for every 100 hunters lost, only 69 new hunters take their place, yielding a national hunter replacement ratio (HRR) of 0.69. Based on whether they have mandatory hunter-education or minimum-age restrictions, or both, the 50 states were grouped into three categories. The “least restrictive” states had the best HRRs, while “very restrictive” states had the poorest. And contrary to decades-old assumptions that young hunters are inherently unsafe, supervised youngsters had the best safety record of any age group.

In response, the NSSF, NWTF, and USSA have created a program called Families Afield, which encourages states to drop mandatory hunter-education requirements and age restrictions for young hunters who are supervised by an adult. Furthering the trend, bills have been introduced in Ohio and Wisconsin that would relax restrictions in those states. And the idea is even gaining support among hunter-education officials.

“We need to reach kids while we still can,” says International Hunter Education Association director Eric Nuse. “Accompanied youths have a great safety record, so why not give it a try?” –LAWRENCE PYNE


[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

||| |—|—| | LEAST RESTRICTIVE STATES| HRR| | Missouri| 1.16| | Oklahoma| 1.10| | New Hampshire| 1.09| | VERY RESTRICTIVE STATES| HRR| | Michigan| 0.26| | Nevada| 0.30| | Oregon| 0.35| THE NEXT GENERATION: Marc Pierce and son Bridger in southwestern Montana.