ESCANABA - Several years ago, the DNR established a task force to address the problem of declining numbers of hunters in Michigan. Here we've seen the total amount of hunters remain flat lined for over a decade, with a more recent downtrend which was cause for alarm.
What was found in researching the issue, was that age had a lot to do with retention and recruitment. There is a definitive window of opportunity when youngsters decide which direction they want to go in regards to extra curricular (recreational) interests.
In 2006, the DNR promoted a change in state law that adjusted the age limits at which kids can begin hunting by firearm and archery, with small game starting at age 10 instead of 12, and big game (deer bear and elk) at age 12 instead of 14 where it had been.
Archery mentor Jerome Bowden helps a young girl get the sighting alignment on her bow.
NRA shooting instructor Matt Gay reflects on the success of first-time shooter Max Speiland on the trap shooting range.
The Michigan Legislature also adopted an Apprentice Hunter Program for individuals who never had participated before that provided the opportunity to hunt private land with a mentor to see if they wanted to continue or even expand their interest in the sport.
The concept was developed through cooperation from outside sources with an interest in helping that included the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), U.S. Sportmen's Alliance (USSA) and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).
Since adopting the changes, Michigan has seen a turnaround in the numbers of youth and first time adults buying licenses with virtually no complications.
The shooting sports had been doing better as far as long term trends.
Here numbers of participants had climbed to an all time high in the late 1980's with a decline in the next decade and increase from the year 2000 through 2004.
However, research now indicates that like hunting, the shooting sports are again on the decline.
Information provided through the fact finding organization Responsible Management (RM), indicates that there are almost 19 million U.S. residents currently participating in shooting sports in any given year.
The "Superstudy of Sports Participation" estimated that, in total, 18.8 million people (7 percent of the U.S. population age six and older) participated in sport shooting in 2005, excluding (firearm) hunting, bow hunting and archery (shooting).
This includes 13.8 million people who participated in target shooting with a rifle, 10.7 million who participated in target shooting with a handgun, 4.0 million who participated in trap/skeet (shotgun) shooting, and 3.0 million who participated in sporting clays.
When all numbers are considered, those who continue to shoot trap/skeet and sporting clays remain most stable even though they are of the smaller percentage of participants.
According to the study, as it is for hunting, urban sprawl and access are the leading causes for the declining interest in the shooting sports among adults.
In many cases, a maturing population has changed recreational focus in having less time available for target shooting, with many parents having more than one job or additional responsibility added within their respective workplace. That dilemma has overlapped to our kids and mentoring is a key to resolve.
In keeping with the information available and need for mentoring sponsors, a local effort to introduce area youth to the shooting sports has seen success.
Over the last three years, the Great Lakes Sports and Recreation Club (GLSRC) of Delta County has added a youth shotgun league to their list of functions.
Several GLSRC members received certification as range instructors with strong emphasis on safety. Trap/skeet and sporting clays have been their staple and like the national average have kept the interest of those youngsters that have joined up.
According to GLSRC and project committee member Ken Buchholtz, the numbers of participants has also steadily increased to a point where now archery shooting is part of the weekly curriculum.
The program and essential equipment was acquired and is supplied to those who participate, and all free of charge thanks to the additional sponsorship of other area conservation organizations and businesses as well.
This year, the NWTF, Delta Waterfowl, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, UP Whitetails Association, Wildlife Unlimited, Sackerson Foundation, the Dagenais Foundation, the Ford River Lions Club and the "Jug Bourdeau" Fishing Tournament all represented fraternal sponsorship.
Those businesses making the program successful with sponsorship this year are Family Eye Care, Mr. Clean, Marble's Outlet Store, Marble Arms, M&C Gun Shop, Mr. Rental, Dunham Sports, Fiochi Ammunition, and Superior Outdoors.
The attention and focus of the GLSRC is part of what needs to take place on a national level to resolve declining number.
It is also proof positive that all a youngster needs to find a constructive and safe recreational activity, is an adult to show them the way.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet Saturday mornings.