The National Deer Association released a video documentary of a groundbreaking Field to Fork hunter-recruitment event held last year aimed at diversifying deer hunting, providing equitable access to underrepresented communities, and shoring up conservation funding. The video, embedded above, is now available on NDA’s YouTube channel.
According to a national survey that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducts every five years, the number of people who participate in hunting has been declining since the 1980s, even as the human population continues to rise. The same data show that of the approximately 11.5 million licensed hunters in the United States, 90% are male and 97% are Caucasian.
This trajectory and imbalance are problematic because the country’s entire wildlife conservation system is heavily dependent on sportsmen and women for funding. Money generated from license fees and excise taxes provides more than 60% of the funding for state wildlife agencies like the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, which manage most of the wildlife in the United States. Thus, losing hunters equates to a crisis for all wildlife.
To reverse this trend and help save conservation-funding, there is a growing movement in the outdoor industry to provide equitable access to underrepresented communities and diversify hunting. In November 2021, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), New York Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Hunters of Color, New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the National Deer Association came together to host a Field to Fork mentored hunting event for aspiring hunters from the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) community.
“We wanted to make sure this program was specific, and having groups that target and work with [underrepresented] communities was critical,” said Paul Gallery, TNC Steward Coordinator.
The event was hosted on TNC’s Hannacroix Preserve, roughly 30 minutes outside Albany, and financial support was provided by the NSSF Hunting Heritage Trust grant program. Participants ranged in age from 34-62 and were given the opportunity to go through New York Hunter Education, learn about deer biology and behavior through NDA’s Deer Hunting 101 online course, gain experience shooting, go on multiple hunts with an experienced mentor by their side, and enjoy the fellowship and camaraderie found in many New York deer camps each fall under a safe and welcoming environment.
“I estimated that it would have been at least two years before I would even venture out to go hunting,” said Avery Toledo, one of the hunt participants who is featured in the new video. “On the route that I was going before, studying and reading, you have all these questions, but you’re confined to what you’re reading and don’t have someone to ask. I was able to ask those questions, get immediate feedback and not only that, after I leave here, we’re going to stay connected.”
“Our ultimate goal is that [Field to Fork hunt participants] self-identify as a hunter, to say ‘I am a hunter, this is something can do and I’m gonna do it’,” said Hank Forester, NDA Director of Hunting. “But what creates that is the community, camaraderie and the social support that pushes them along in their journey as a hunter.”
“It’s totally possible to teach yourself how to hunt, but these programs are so important because you’re learning from experts, you’re learning from people who want you to be there as well,” said Lydia Parker, Executive Director and co-founder of Hunters of Color. “So, we call it creating a surrogate family at Hunters of Color.”
Plans are underway for more events that will help lower barriers to women and minorities and increase deer hunting participation through representation.