How Illinois is tackling hunter recruitment.
To start, I really love doing these R3 interview articles. Why? Besides getting to meet new people, I get to hear first-hand how different states and agencies are addressing the R3 (Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation) movement and inviting new hunters into the fields or woods. It’s exciting to see the innovative approaches being adopted by so many groups.
In this case, I asked Dan Stephens (from the Illinois Natural History Survey [INHS]) to provide a few of his thoughts. Dan is the R3 Coordinator for INHS, and he had some exciting things to share about the Illinois Learn to Hunt program, which is grant-funded from the Illinois DNR. Whether you’re a new hunter or first-time mentor, I think you’ll find something interesting below.
How is the R3 effort going in Illinois?
Dan mentioned there have been lots of different hunting recruitment efforts (e.g., youth programs) undertaken by the state in the past 10 to 15 years, but it just recently started doing so in a more official capacity. In fact, Illinois’ hunting heritage group and several partnering organizations recently held their first-ever “R3 Conclave”.
The goal of the meeting was to formalize a strategic plan to address the issue of hunter recruitment, and set specific task groups to pursue various items. Overall, Dan said the meeting went over very well and they are well-positioned for further hunter recruitment efforts. So if you’re interested in learning to hunt in Illinois, some great things are coming your way!
How is Illinois tackling the hunting mentor aspect?
When I was at Pheasant Fest in Chicago this February, I caught up with Dan on this subject. He had mentioned that many people stopped by their booth, interested in becoming a mentor. For a trade show on the outskirts of a major city, that’s pretty amazing.
Right now, the program attempts to connect would-be hunters with mentors any way they can. They realize that Illinois has a lottery system for most types of hunting, which can be a major hurdle for new hunters to understand or navigate. Having a mentor makes that process much easier.
Additionally, they are trying to promote small game hunts (e.g., squirrels, rabbits, etc.) because the license options, seasons, and accessibility are so much simpler. Plus, the state may be able to help provide the minimal gear required for these hunts. If you’re interested in becoming a mentor in Illinois, reach out to Dan to get signed up!
What’s the best way for new hunters to get paired with a mentor?
The Learn to Hunt program currently tries to pair new hunters with mentors by connecting them with conservation groups, such as Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, etc. As I’ve said before, these groups and their members are a great resource for new hunters to get involved. By joining and attending different chapter events, new hunters can quickly learn the specific hunting techniques needed, possibly loan gear from other members, and even get invited on a hunt. Dan mentioned that several hunting relationships have formed through these pathways. The program also runs a private Facebook group, where new hunters can ask each other questions or have a mentor answer them.
Do you have any upcoming workshops/ seminars you’d like to mention?
Dan said they have several different workshops going on this spring. Given the various hunting season lotteries that take place in late spring or early summer, they plan these workshops now so new hunters can learn about it before the lottery applications are due. They’re also free, so don’t miss an opportunity!
Additionally, they have launched several free e-learning courses on their website (check them out here). These courses can be taken at your own pace and include a lot of great information to get started.
What’s the best way for new hunters to find a place to hunt in Illinois?
Dan explained that nearly 97% of Illinois consists of privately owned land. Obviously, that can make it very hard for a new hunter to get started if they don’t have access to private land. Although IDNR has a website listing public lands alphabetically, they recognize that their website can be a little confusing to new hunters.
To that end, the program has partnered with a group called Engineered Pursuit. Developed within Google Maps or Google Earth, this program shows all the public lands in Illinois in a map format that corresponds with the Illinois hunting regions. That way, new hunters can quickly scan a given location and see what options they have available. It’s very easy to use and you should definitely bookmark the site to help you in the future.
How does H.R. 877 impact you?
For those who aren’t familiar, H.R. 877 is a piece of legislation currently in review that would modernize the Pittman-Robertson fund and how it is used. Many R3 and hunting recruitment efforts across the nation are already funded by it (including the Illinois Learn to Hunt program), but it would be expanded under the new legislation. That would likely mean additional opportunities for new hunters to get involved in various programs, which would be a win in my book.
Get Started Now
If you’re a new hunter in Illinois or interested in serving as a hunting mentor, reach out to their team directly (here) to see how you might get involved.