Repairing the Mentor Link

Hunter recruitment efforts are bridging a generation gap.

Mentored youth hunts are an important tool to boost waterfowler numbers in Canada.

Delta Waterfowl president Rob Olson vividly remembers the day he realized Canada's waterfowl hunting heritage was in trouble.

"We were having a meeting to look at declines in scaup and pintail numbers, and a press release happened to come across the fax machine," he recalled. The information, sent by the Canadian Wildlife Service, detailed a steep decline in the number of waterfowl hunters.


"We were aware of a decline in hunter numbers, but it hit us like a ton of bricks," Olson said. "We had lost 75 percent of our duck hunters."



In 1978, CWS sold 505,681 waterfowl hunting permits to Canadians. By 1984, the number had fallen back to about 350,000, similar to late 1960s levels. But then, the number of Canadian duck and goose hunters tumbled steadily, slumping all the way to 136,000 in 2005.

Searching for Answers
Unlike hunters in some areas of the United States, Canada's waterfowlers have an abundance of excellent opportunities to hunt ducks and geese.


"In Canada, we live at the source," Olson said. "There's no lack of birds. The decreasing number of hunters has never been linked to a lack of birds. In America, hunters seem to be limited by access. Canadian hunters have good access."


So why then, have so many Canadians given up the sport?

More complex hunting regulations, lower bag limits and gun control certainly deterred some Canadian waterfowlers. Increased costs of licenses and hunting supplies might have weeded out a few more.

Another possible cause is a shift in hunting tastes -- in the field and at the table.

"Some people have said the family just didn't want to eat ducks and geese anymore," Olson said, pointing out that big-game hunter numbers have remained relative stable in Canada. "Some people prefer venison."

But the overriding reason for the decline in waterfowl hunters might have been peer pressure.

"I think it's a lack of social acceptance of hunting," Olson said. "We are becoming more urbanized, and when you move to the city, there's a disconnect."

Regardless of the causes, as the Baby Boomer generation aged, the number of waterfowl hunters in Canada sagged.

According to the CWS, more than 78,000 Canadian males age 15 to 24 bought waterfowl permits in 1986. By 1996, only 35,700 males of the same age purchased a waterfowl permit.

Working on the Problem
Research -- and logic -- has shown that most kids are introduced to hunting by a parent, grandparent or other family member. So, as fewer fathers, grandfathers, brothers and uncles across Canada hunted waterfowl, fewer youngsters were exposed to it.

"The mentorship link is broken," Olson said.

Recognizing the importance of introducing youngsters to waterfowling, Delta Waterfowl partnered with Manitoba Conservation and the Manitoba Wildlife Federation in 2000 to launch the first-ever National Canadian Hunter Recruitment Program.

"We spent a lot of time on how to create a duck, but we didn't know how to create a duck hunter," Olson said.

One mentored youth waterfowl hunt introduced 13 kids to the sport the first year. Since its meager beginning, the program has grown dramatically.

Olson expects more than 100 mentored waterfowl hunts to take place across Canada this fall. Delta enlisted the help of its individual chapter membership, and many of them have enthusiastically embraced the cause of hunter recruitment.

"The kids love the hunts, and the response of the parents has been very positive," Olson said.

As wonderful as youth hunting programs can be, simply taking a teenager to a marsh once is not enough to guarantee they will become a waterfowler. Young people often lack the transportation required to get to the field, money to purchase hunting gear and the skills to be successful.

"We're tracking people to try to figure out, how many times does it take to create a duck hunter?" Olson said. "We're looking at ongoing mentorship."

In recent years, Delta and other outdoor groups have expanded recruitment efforts by including adults. Delta has hosted a womens' duck hunt since 2007.

"Adults are really keen on going out," Olson said. "We never have enough spots for all of the adults."

Unlike kids, adults who are introduced to waterfowling often have the means and ability to take up the sport on their own.

"We've found out that taking an adult hunting is like planting a 5-pound trout in a pond -- they're ready to go," Olson said. "For many of them, it only takes one hunt and they become a waterfowler."

Olson suggests hunting in Canada is enjoying a renaissance as more people move to cities.

"People are looking for something real," he said. "They're feeling disconnected. I feel it's a reflection that society is changing. A lot of social trends are coming our way. I feel like I've gone from being the barbarian at the cocktail party to now I'm a curio."

Reversing the Trend
The renewed focus on hunter recruitment seems to be working. In 2008, 151,815 Canadians purchased waterfowl stamps, an increase of 5,000 from 2007. It marked the third year in a row more resident hunters scanned the skies for ducks and geese.

"In Canada, we just have to give people a taste of waterfowl hunting and show them how incredible it is," Olson said.

Recommended for You

Take it from a pro: Less is more. For Dogs

Dog Discipline Tips & Gear

Joe Genzel - June 20, 2019

Take it from a pro: Less is more.

Here's how to cash in on the spreading numbers of white-fronts. Hunting Tactics

Take Advantage of the Specklebelly Surge

John Gordon

Here's how to cash in on the spreading numbers of white-fronts.

A dainty English setter suited for the uplands has the drive for waterfowl. Stories

The Accidental Duck Dog

Jack Ballard

A dainty English setter suited for the uplands has the drive for waterfowl.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Women

Women's Waterfowl Lineup

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the company's full line-up of women's waterfowl hunting gear for 2019. From warm and moisture-wicking base layers to water and windproof outer layers, this is a complete system for women who love to chase fall and wintertime ducks and geese across the four flyways!

Picking a Puppy

Picking a Puppy

Wildfowl contributor Mark Romanack shares advice about choosing your next retriever.

Arkansas Snow Geese

Arkansas Snow Geese

Wildfowl Editor Skip Knowles took this short video showing all the Snow Geese flying. Let's just say, he had a very good hunt!

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Author John M. Taylor has broken down the top waterfowl shotguns for the 2018 season. Shotguns

Best Waterfowl Shotguns of 2018

John Taylor - September 25, 2018

Author John M. Taylor has broken down the top waterfowl shotguns for the 2018 season.

As Groves, Texas duck call maker Sure-Shot Game Calls celebrates their 60th anniversary during 2019, company CEO Charlie Holder shows off the limited edition Yentzen Classic aimed at commemorating the life and times of company founder Jim 'Cowboy' Fernandez. With a special autographed box and a laser engraved call body, the Cowboy Classic is a perfect way to honor the legacy of the 1959 world duck calling champ and inventor of the double-reed duck call. Calls

Cowboy Fernandez Commemorative Yentzen Classic Duck Call

Lynn Burkhead - January 28, 2019

As Groves, Texas duck call maker Sure-Shot Game Calls celebrates their 60th anniversary during...

Consistency is what pushes today's shotshell makers to constantly improve new waterfowl loads Ammo

11 Best New Shotshell Loads For Waterfowl

Wildfowl Online Staff - August 17, 2017

Consistency is what pushes today's shotshell makers to constantly improve new waterfowl loads

See More Stories

More Conservation

When Jon Hart heads to one of his favorite lakes for a morning hunt, he knows exactly where to toss Conservation

Alien Invasion: Is the Eradication of Certain Non-Native Plants Hurting Duck Populations?

David Hart - March 09, 2015

When Jon Hart heads to one of his favorite lakes for a morning hunt, he knows exactly where to...

 Canadian Geese are one of the few bird species that are able to digest grass, so they do well on Conservation

Resident Geese: Are There Too Many?

David Hart - December 01, 2015

Canadian Geese are one of the few bird species that are able to digest grass, so they do well...

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reported a breeding drop of nearly six percent from 2018. Conservation

2019 Duck Numbers Still Healthy, But Fall Again

Lynn Burkhead - August 20, 2019

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reported a breeding drop of nearly six percent from...

See More Conservation

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.