University of Illinois Learn to Hunt Deer Course on Target

April 9, 2019 | by Nick Pinizzotto

Not a day goes by that I don’t browse the national deer news that’s sent to my email thanks to convenient services provided by Google, Bing, and several others. Most of the time the stories follow a predictable script with few surprises, but one story caught my eye this week. The title simply read, “Learn to Hunt: Deer.”

The University of Illinois through their Public Engagement Portal is offering a beginner’s course on deer hunting, and the announcement takes a simple and mainstream approach similar to what you’d expect for courses on pottery making, creating a website, and how to do your own taxes. It’s so painfully simple that it turned into an “ah ha” moment for me. I could easily see a curious non-hunter checking it out, reviewing the workshop schedule, and deciding to register.

Here’s a look at the topics that will be covered:

  • How are deer hunters conservationists?
  • Deer scouting
  • Deer hunting techniques
  • Firearm safety
  • Equipment overview
  • Target shooting
  • Cleanng and processing harvested game

While that’s a lot to cover in a day’s time, I’m willing to bet that it’s plenty to keep some of the students intrigued enough to take the next step to either learn more, or just get after it. Imagine if this same program was going to be conducted by those of us who are die hard and experienced deer hunters. My guess is the topics would be a little different and would likely include things like how to use trail cameras, using scents and calls, reading the wind, stand placement, best camo patterns, etc. Not that any of those aren’t worthy topics, but they’re probably not where you want to start the conversation with beginners.

What impresses me the most about the workshop is that it starts out with a discussion about how deer hunters are conservationists. Bingo! In my opinion, that’s how every conversation about giving hunting a try should start. While there are many reasons we’ve been losing hunters at an alarming rate over the last couple of decades, I believe that a key culprit is that we haven’t done a good job of marketing hunting simply for the purpose of marketing hunting and promoting its role in conservation. I think in many cases we’re so eager to get a gun or bow into someone’s hands and get them into the woods that we lose the importance of the fundamentals, and that’s not a recipe for success for any endeavor.

I like the approach being taken by the University of Illinois, and I wonder if there are other educational institutions ranging from colleges to elementary schools that are either already teaching similar courses, or would be willing to give one a try. Our society is already conditioned to trust learning opportunities offered by formal institutions, and that might be the most effective way to reach the masses. Students have to be at school, so the barrier of getting them to a class is solved. I can still remember becoming interested in fly tying thanks to an elective course that I took in high school that I probably wouldn’t have taken if it wasn’t so easily available to me.

There are far more qualified people than me when it comes to talking about the recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters, but I’ve always felt strongly that messaging and how we start the relationship with newcomers has been overlooked. Even if we don’t spawn a new license buyer through education and teaching the fundamentals, it stands to reason that we’ll at least gain someone who will be more educated about why hunting is important and who will be more likely to support it.

Do you have a story to share about how you successfully introduced someone new to hunting? What worked well for you, and what didn’t? What suggestions do you have that might help start troubling hunter participation numbers trending in the right direction? Be sure to take this week’s survey and let us know.