We read a lot about the need to recruit young hunters to make up for the loss of the aging hunter population. Yet, I know of no state that recruits more young hunters then they lose via older hunter attrition each year. However, there is a new program that has the potential to blow the lid off of youth hunter recruitment. This could be the single most important happening in the future of hunting to date.
Two years ago Kentucky fish and wildlife partnered with the Kentucky Department of Education and the archery industry to start their "On Target For Life" archery in the public schools program. Years ago archery used to be a big physical education class, but safety concerns, lack of good equipment and good instruction, led to it's downfall. You rarely see an archery class taught in physical education programs anywhere. That has all changed.
The Kentucky folks came up with a way to teach physical education instructors the basics of archery. They got cooperation from Matthews Genesis bows to get a bow that has no draw length, and thus can be used by any students, regardless of their size. They secured funds to test the program in 22 public schools and the rest is history. Students loved it. On days when they teach this two-week course, school attendance is up and disciplinary problems are down. Teachers love it, not only because of the aforementioned benefits, but also because the archery course is tied into other courses such as history, physics, mathematics, etc. Archery makes learning fun.
A post-course survey showed that 48 percent of those who took an archery class, wanted to buy a bow (and last fall, before Christmas, you could not find a kids bow to buy in Kentucky. Stores were sold out!!!!). Not only that, but in many of the schools where archery was taught in phys ed, the students started archery clubs, so they could continue to shoot bows.But here is the major hunter recruitment statistic. Thirty-eight percent of all students taking the class, wanted to go bow hunting. OK, you say, big deal. How many students are we talking about? The second year of this program in Kentucky, they reached kids in 190 schools. Word I get is that they will reach 150,000 this year in Kentucky. And that will happen year after year, with 38% wanting to learn to bow hunt. That could mean the potential to have 57,000 new hunters every year in Kentucky. Might that turn things around?
Other states have figured this out, and as many as 16 are now testing the program. Every state in the country has asked Kentucky for information. So many states are starting this course that Kentucky changed the name of the program from "Kentucky Archery in the Schools Program," to the "National Archery in the Schools Program." As I write this, your state may well be testing this program, or planning to do so. You can help. Find out if your state is involved. Go to the web site ( www.kyafield.com, or call 800 858-6549, or email firstname.lastname@example.org), then get your hunting organization (whatever hunting organization you belong to in your state) to donate the needed $2500 or so to start the program in your local public school. If this program reached just 1/3 of all public school children, and if only ten percent of those ended up trying bow hunting, we'd see hunting grow by huge amounts in the United States. Pope and Young Club donated last year, and the National Wild Turkey Federation gave the program $100,000 (I believe it was that amount) at the Archery Trade Association show in Indianapolis in January. I've heard that other major hunting organizations are planning similar gifts. It's called get on the band wagon."
There it is then. A program that works. Kids love to shoot bows ... we all know that, we've been there. Teachers love it. There is a bow that all students can shoot. The program has a perfect safety record. (There has never been a shooting accident in any public school archery program). And, kids want to learn to bow hunt after they take the class. Time for us to do our part. We've found a model that works. Just need local money to jump start it. Once it is up and running, you cannot slow it down. Yes, it is that good.