New Study Touts Impact of Hunting and Shooting Access on National R3 Movement

New Study Touts Impact of Hunting and Shooting Access on National R3 Movement

Responsive Management recently completed a national study in partnership with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) to assess the quality and availability of hunting and shooting access in the United States. The project was funded through a Multistate Conservation Grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and included trend comparisons with data from a previous access study conducted by the partners in 2010.

Access is essential to hunting and shooting participation, being more important than mentors, knowledge of regulations and licensing requirements, and numerous other considerations. Without adequate access to places for hunters and shooters to participate, even the most intensive recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3) efforts are destined to fall short. In fact, access programs and communications about access should be thought of as legitimate R3 endeavors.

Access has historically been a problem for many hunters. For example, research conducted by Responsive Management more than a decade ago identified access as a top constraint to participation among both active and inactive hunters. Fortunately, unlike time, age and other social factors, access is one of the key issues over which agencies and organizations have some influence.

signage indicates a waterfowl production area

The study entailed a nationwide scientific, probability-based multi-modal survey of 3,265 hunters and 2,511 sport shooters to determine ratings of access for the two activities and to identify the range of issues currently affecting access. As part of this, the survey evaluated specific access programs in 19 states. Using results from the 2010 study, Responsive Management conducted a trends analysis to examine how perceptions of access have changed over the past decade. In addition to national and regional results, the new survey data for hunters were presented by primary species hunted (deer, elk, waterfowl, turkey, etc.).

Among the notable findings and implications from the study:

  • Agencies and organizations must think about access as a multifaceted issue. The new project built on a typology of factors established by Responsive Management that encompasses both the physical and social/psychological aspects of access. 

Physical Aspects of Access

  • Availability pertains to the actual land available for hunting and shooting.
  • Accessibility pertains to the ability to get to the land.
  • Accommodation pertains to the ease of mobility and the experience once recreationists are on the land. 

Social/Psychological Aspects of Access

  • Awareness pertains to information and knowledge—to hunters’ and shooters’ awareness of the access options open to them.
  • Assumptions pertain to hunters’ and shooters’ perceptions about opportunities.
  • Access is getting somewhat worse. Excellent or good ratings for access (as opposed to fair or poor ratings) dropped a combined 9 percentage points between 2010 and 2021, going from 56 percent to 47 percent.
  • Nearly half of hunters agree that lack of access has caused them to not hunt as much as they would have liked. In assessing whether 25 potential access issues have been a problem, the percentages increased for nearly every issue between 2010 and 2021.
  • Despite these access problems, hunters are generally not blaming the agencies themselves. Ratings of the agencies’ management of access are better than ratings of access itself.
  • The top problems affecting access include not having land to hunt on, crowding, land being leased to others, posted land, the cost of access, and travel distance.
  • In terms of how hunters choose where to hunt, one factor stands above all others: that the land is not crowded. One potential communications challenge for agencies concerns how hunters get their information on where to hunt: word-of-mouth is by far the most important source.
  • Among national access programs and resources, the onX Maps GPS hunting app was rated as the most effective for making hunting access easier.

as the study investigated access it indicated the top hunting and shooting sports programs

Numerous other access programs were evaluated on a statewide basis with results as follows:

The study’s final report includes the full survey results as well as 99 recommendations for agencies and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to use as they move forward with access programs and efforts. Among these recommendations are the following key takeaways:

  • Recognize the importance of access—especially among women, urban and suburban people, younger people and people of color. These are the groups most likely to have problems with access, and they are the very people R3 specialists are trying to recruit into hunting and shooting.
  • Work through the Responsive Management model of access when planning access programs to ensure that the full range of issues are addressed. Consider both the physical and social/psychological aspects of access to guide efforts.
  • R3 specialists should work closely with agency access specialists. Access is directly related to the ability of agencies to sustain participation in hunting and sport shooting.
  • Incorporate access information and access-related resources into R3 events, hunter education courses and other agency communications.

The final report for the hunting and shooting access study—“Assessing the Quality and Availability of Hunting and Shooting Access in the United States”—can be downloaded by clicking here.

Responsive Management is an internationally recognized survey research firm specializing in natural resource and outdoor recreation issues. Our mission is to help natural resource and outdoor recreation agencies and organizations better understand and work with their constituents, customers, and the public.