Recruitment, retention and re-engagement – the so-called “R3” – are buzzwords in hunting and shooting sports conversations. That’s because industry leaders have collaborated to create an R3 plan that ATA CEO/President Jay McAninch calls the most exciting thing ever to happen in hunting and the shooting sports.
That’s a bold statement. By its nature, planning is far less exciting than action. So, how can a plan be that exciting? One word: unity.
The plan already has united the outdoors community in new and, yes, exciting ways. It formally began in 2010 by chartering the Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports (CAHSS). The Council is led by a 32-member board of directors composed of industry representatives, state agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs). It’s charged with one goal: increasing participation in shooting sports and hunting.
An Outdoor Community
The Council represents the outdoors community’s three sectors:
1. Industry: These manufacturers and retailers make and/or sell products to archers, shooters and hunters. They pay federal excise taxes (FET) based on equipment sales.
2. Non-government organizations: These groups operate on grants, membership dues, and donations from members and partners. Many NGOs have vast memberships, partnerships and volunteer networks that skillfully engage and retain new archers, shooters and hunters.
3. State agencies: Each state’s wildlife agency receives FET money to support wildlife-management goals. These agencies teach programs about hunting, conservation and recreational shooting.
The Council’s long-term goal to increase participation has been constant since its formation. It has already achieved its short-term goals, namely, developing an infrastructure for the national Council and finding its leaders and representatives.
“The hunting and shooting-sports community has never before united in an effort this big,” McAninch said. “Getting all these representatives on board and moving in the same direction was a monumental effort. After all the meetings and collaboration, the R3 plan expresses how we’ll increase participation – together. I’m confident the plan will be ready to release later in 2015. It must be solid to stand the tests of time.”
A Long-term Goal
In a presentation at the Archery and Bowhunting Summit in December 2014, CAHSS president and CEO John Frampton reported that hunting and shooting sports annually generate $110 billion in economic output, support 866,339 jobs, and contribute almost $16 billion in state, local and federal taxes.
“Around 2010 there was an increase in federal excise taxes being paid, and we saw opportunities for state fish and wildlife agencies to use some of those funds to support the Council,” Frampton said. “We sought five-year commitments from each state. Now, all 50 states have signed or are in the process of signing agreements to support the Council, which strives to preserve hunting and the shooting sports.”
The equation for increasing participation in hunting and the shooting sports is easy:
More hunting and shooting = more money and advocates for conservation projects.
If hunting and shooting sports disappear, national pastimes and traditions will cease to exist, as will funding to improve wildlife habitat. Although most NGOs, state agencies and industry representatives agree that increasing participation is vital, they’ve lacked the coordination, communication and cooperation to accomplish the goals.
When the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) surveyed recruitment-and-retention programs in the United States, it found about 420 separate programs. This redundant, disjointed effort led to entities spending tens of millions on recruitment-and-retention plans that did little to add new hunters and shooters. The effort also didn’t stop hunter numbers from declining the past 10 years.
Before the WMI survey revealed the many recruitment and retention programs, NGOs and state agencies were duplicating each other’s efforts. Worse, their repetitive, fragmented efforts made little difference in the big picture.
“After years of discussing R3 issues, it’s astonishing there was no national plan to address them,” McAninch said. “We had all sorts of individual efforts tackling these problems, but because no one worked together, we went nowhere fast.”
A Call for Unity
Here we go again talking about unity. If separate organizations work toward the same goal, is it so bad they aren’t working together? In short, yes.
We have many ways to say teamwork trumps individual effort. Likewise, a crew rowing in unison for the finish line travels faster and more efficiently than a crew rowing out of sync.
In its early days, Council leaders were adamant about engaging representatives from NGOs, state agencies, and the firearms and archery industry. Frampton credits McAninch for encouraging leaders from Cabela’s, Bohning, Easton, Primos, Bass Pro Shops, USA Archery and National Field Archery Association to join the Council’s board of directors.
“ATA wanted archery and bowhunting to be a large part of the Council’s agenda,” McAninch said. “We also needed a broad spectrum of companies to offer specific insights in their area of expertise. We all share constituents, so it makes sense to collaborate and combine resources to strengthen our sports as a whole.”
There’s long been a need and a time for a national plan, but as McAninch notes, there has never been a venue for industry leaders to gather, compare notes, share successes and failures, and move forward. The Council and the national R3 plan fill those needs.
A Clear Path
McAninch also said it’s vital that people understand the link between conservation, hunting and the shooting sports. It’s also necessary to provide clear pathways between introductory shooting and hunting programs to their next steps. That’s one of the Council’s main goals. But linking those programs will require – you guessed it – unity!
Unfortunately, progressing to the next level in many shooting sports isn’t always easy. People often attend an introductory class, but when that event ends, they find no next step to learn more skills or seek new opportunities.
Because events aren’t routinely linked, a kid who tries target archery at an outdoor show might never hear about 3-D archery or realize they could shoot archery in the Olympics one day. The Council intends to link programs and opportunities so when youths or adults try archery at a workshop through their state wildlife agency, the path clearly leads to 3-D archery, bowhunting, target archery and competitive archery. The idea is to instill and sustain interest and participation in these sports.
A Definition of Success
With so many goals and individual steps to achieve, how will the Council define success?
McAninch says the Council recognizes two levels of success. The first is determining growth in hunting and shooting participation. Most archers participate in additional types of shooting, such as bowhunting, shooting handguns or gun hunting. Growing one recreational shooting sport typically boosts participation in other shooting sports.
The second level of success is how well the Council cooperates, collaborates and communicates with its partner organizations. The Council requires its member organizations to be national (not regional). Also, it doesn’t have individual members.
“We have interest in the shooting sports, and we have representatives on the Council who are enthusiastic and passionate about our sports,” Frampton said. “I’ve been pleased by the commitment and the number of people who want to come on board as partners. The Board has 32 members, and we could increase that number to 50 tomorrow. The excitement is unreal.”
No matter how exciting a goal, uniting a large group to tackle a task inevitably generates disagreements. Could the Council and the R3 plan fail because the representatives can’t agree on outcomes? That doesn’t worry McAninch.
“We’re in a unique and incredible situation with the Council,” McAninch said. “Sure, everyone has components of the R3 plan that are self-serving for their organization, but our top-line goal remains the same and unites us. We’ll succeed as long as we work together toward the same goal.”