Delta Waterfowl Initiative Fosters Hunting’s Future

Delta Waterfowl Initiative Fosters Hunting’s Future

With hunter numbers in decline, state wildlife agencies and hunter-backed conservation groups are working hard to bring new people into hunting as part of the national R3 (recruitment, retention, reactivation) movement. The NRA, for example, provides hunter services and programs such as its free NRA online hunter education course, the NRA Youth Hunter Education Challenge and the NRA Mentor program. Another such effort is being led by the good people at Delta Waterfowl through its cleverly-named “HunteR3” initiative aimed to bring new hunters into the fold while reactivating those who haven’t been afield in a while. The group says the name HunteR3 combines its position in the waterfowl world as “the duck hunters’ organization” with the national R3 initiative and is having some positive effects.

Peter Churchbourne, a director with the NRA Hunters' Leadership Forum, noted, “Delta has done an excellent job of building a comprehensive program to tackle the problem of the declining waterfowl hunter. With waterfowl being my hunting passion, it’s refreshing to see the group's leadership and contributions in this space.” Churchbourne says the group, which has U.S. headquarters in Bismarck, N.D., remains focused on promoting science-based solutions to conserve ducks and their breeding habitat while working alongside like-minded hunter-backed groups like the NRA to bring in more hunters.

Ducks in flight

Historically, noted Joel Brice, Delta Waterfowl’s vice president overseeing the group’s Waterfowl and Hunter Recruitment Programs, the number of waterfowl hunters fluctuated with waterfowl populations. Lots of ducks and geese meant many hunters, while dry years producing relatively few birds invariably led to fewer hunters afield. “But, around 2000, we started to notice that even as waterfowl numbers were high and climbing, the number of hunters kept dropping,” Brice said. “It was especially noticeable in Canada, and that’s where we put our first hunter recruitment efforts.”

But as U.S. hunter numbers kept dropping, Delta Waterfowl put more time and money into hunter recruitment here.

At the same time, the resulting HunteR3 initiative was launched consisting of the following components:

  • First Hunt: As the largest waterfowl hunter recruitment program in North America, the program’s volunteer chapter leaders have introduced more than 80,000 people to the ways of duck and goose hunting. In 2018 alone, chapters across the United States and Canada hosted 263 First Hunt events drawing 12,367 participants.
  • University Hunting Program: Launched in 2017, the program arose from the recognition that wildlife management students increasingly are coming from non-hunting backgrounds. These future wildlife professionals, who will use hunting license and permit revenues to manage waterfowl populations, need to understand the critical role hunting plays in waterfowl and wildlife conservation.
  • Defend the Hunt: As the NRA works to combat the threats to the Second Amendment, hunting and the shooting sports, Delta Waterfowl specifically works to defend threats to duck hunting, thanks to members, volunteers and staff who remain focused on the issues.
  • Mentor Recognition: Amid the push by American sportsmen and women to thank and acknowledge shooting sports and hunting mentors, in 2017 Delta Waterfowl launched its own program to recognize the efforts of mentors who take new hunters afield, with certificates and prizes presented to the mentors. “First Duck” pins, a companion program sponsored by Realtree, awards a special pin and certificate to hunters who shoot their first duck or goose.
  • R3 Demonstration Facilities: Delta Waterfowl is ramping up R3 programming at the Hunting Heritage and Conservation Center in Turkey Point, Ontario, and the Delta Waterfowl Research Station in Manitoba. These stations will become a hub for innovative programs supporting R3 efforts.

“The First Hunt program has been especially effective,” added Brice. “Our chapter volunteers are passionate, dedicated waterfowl hunters. They’re also members of their local communities, and having these people offering First Hunt seminars and classes really draws in new people from their respective areas.”