I’d really like to thank genuinely busy guy and old friend Doug Burt from the Arizona Game and Fish Department for taking some time to answer questions about HAHWG. This is the Hunter Angler Heritage Working Group – a collaborative effort of Game and Fish along with sportsmen’s groups, gun clubs and conservation organizations focused on recruitment and retention of new hunters, anglers, etc. ! DesertRat

1. It seems like HAHWG is purring along pretty nicely now, but it’s taken awhile to get here. Can you tell us about where you started versus where you are now?

Wow, that’s a big one Marshall. Funny, I’ve been using the boiling frog analogy a lot lately. HAHWG started internally around 2006, the partnership model kicked off in 2009 and I started my position related to HAHWG in 2011. And you’re right – we have come a very long way, thanks to our dedicated partners, when you look back at where we started. Back at the onset, the Department was hosting about 6-7 learn how to hunt events. Today, we have well over 40 events that are provided by an extensive network of partners and are collecting data from participants to help improve how we approach recruitment, retention and reactivation. Further, we are highly engaged at the national level and many of our sister state wildlife agencies know about “HAHWG.”

2. What’s next? Where do you want the program to be?

Well, there is still lots to do. Declines in hunting and fishing participation are a result of a generation (or more) of cultural shifts in our society from the “olden days.” However, with those changes are opportunities. Our focus right not is “retaining” customers and providing a good customer journey and experience. And in today’s society, you need direct contact to do that, and it needs to be done timely, mobile, and social. Right now Arizona Game and Fish does not have a Point of Sale system, or an all-in-one Customer Management System (CRM), which makes doing that very hard – especially, timely and consistently. That’s out of my control, so we take the steps we can to get us as close as possible. The other is having the “right customer” at the “right event” – and this might be even more important. Connecting with the right folks that haven’t hunted, but have an interest, giving them some information and then putting them on a path – much like a college degree program (concept / not formally) and moving them through the skill development to become an active hunter and wildlife conservationists – and being able to track and measure that! (easy, right ?!)

3. What have been some of the biggest challenges along the way?

At the start it was hosting infrequent meetings, stakeholder gatherings, and revisiting the same concerns, conversations, ideas, questions, each time – so we weren’t getting any movement. So we created a Steering Committee, which was one of the greatest things we did, developed an Action Plan, found some structure, and that got us all on the same page (right or wrong) and that has helped tremendously. Poor customer tracking is huge, and continues to be a challenge for us. Arizona is not alone in this, but the states that have it, are able to evaluate, improve and measure much better. Last is probably data collection, technology and constantly improving (changing) – I don’t think we’ve done anything twice. Each year we are adjusting, adding something new, tweaking and then reviewing with the HAHWG to get feedback. Hunter Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation are certainly one of the most challenging “problems” I’ve ever encountered.

4. Just how important is recruitment/retention to hunting and fishing in Arizona?

I think it’s huge. What most people, including hunters and anglers, don’t know, is wildlife management is not funded through any of the state’s general funds or tax revenues. Arizona Game and Fish, and the majority of all state wildlife agencies are funded by the sale of the products and services they offer: licenses, tags, permits, registration, range fees, etc. Along with federal excise tax funding on guns, ammo, hunting equipment, and likewise with angling and boating through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Act. Then there’s a handful of other sources that have restrictions, well they all have restrictions, like heritage (lottery), wildlife conservation (Indian gaming). All that means is we are like a business, and customers pay the bills, not taxes. As we have fewer customers, and great conservation needs, inflation – then we don’t have the money for critical conservation work of nearly 800 species in Arizona. Further, the bulk of our customer base is generationally – the baby boomers, who as we know are getting up there in age. As one of the largest populations there will be a dramatic decline of those still participating in 15, 20 25 years. So until there is a new means of funding conservation, we need to recruit and RETAIN the next generation of hunter / angler conservationists.

5. Talk about the Conservation Groups in Arizona and how they contribute to the Department’s efforts and HAHWG…

That’s simple – Arizona’s conservation organizations are the backbone to recruitment, retention and reactivation efforts in our state. I think that is what sets us apart from other states. I won’t start listing names, because I’m bound to miss one, but to say it is extensive is an understatement. They are invaluable, no doubt. There are more than 56 events taking place this season (2017-18). I think we are unmatched in the number of opportunities they provide to the people of Arizona interested in learning about hunting, fishing, shooting, wildlife, the outdoors and conservation. It’s an impressive network and an honor to be a part of it. I did a little bit of organizing, coordinating, funding and supporting – but for the most part, they are doing most of the hands on instruction and heavy lifting of sharing the great outdoors, wildlife and our heritage with the next generation of conservationists.

6. What have been some of your biggest victories/satisfactions?

If I had to pick one thing, it would be longevity and the fact that we have continually evolved, adapted and improved as a collective. You have to remember, HAHWG is not an official organization, entity or body – no one is required to do anything. It’s a volunteer gathering – so the fact that we have been at this for 8-9 years, is amazing. And we keep getting better and have begun to really use data and science to hone what we do, and why. It’s really cool. Some smaller milestones are: online event registration and management system (new 2016); Steering Committee (really helps keep us focused); 5 years of survey collection; focus group study of participants; amazing support from leadership – executive and Commission level.

You didn’t ask, but I’ll share some of our challenges to maybe get your readership from the sidelines to the front.

1. Mass exodus pending – the threat is real, in about 20 years, when the Baby Boomers age out, there is going to be a dramatic decline in participation rates. And I’ll paraphrase from a documentary, why that matters – participation is value, value of wildlife, nature, and traditions – what you don’t value, you won’t protect, what you don’t protect – you will lose. (Play Again Film, narrator)
2. As populations increase, and participation rates stagnate to decrease, the voice for wildlife and conservation diminishes.
3. AZ R3 (Recruitment, Retention, Reactivation)specifically:
a. we are still lacking good social awareness of what the HAHWG and Outdoor Skills Network is
b. we are still trying to find the “right” audience – we could do better finding those with no past hunting, but with the DNA and desire to do it as a lifestyle
c. AZGFD needs a point of sale system, so we can better connect with past participants and trail hunters (coming soon – fingers crossed)
d. we could use a good digital resource “a force” that provides all the information past participants could use, website, app, newsletter – NETWORK
e. mentors, mentors, mentors, mentors and mentors – there’s never enough.

DesertRat note: I got involved with HAHWG through my work with the Mule Deer Foundation but there are a ton of great conservation organizations in Arizona. Find one (or two!) and get involved! Thanks again Doug for your time, and all of your hard work with HAHWG.