By Jim Curcuruto, Outdoor Industry Consultant
It is rare when a topic, any topic, can capture an audience’s attention for more than 48 hours in today’s non-stop news media overload world. When a storyline makes it past a week, you know it has hit a nerve, and that’s the case with the subject of this article. Below is a synapsis for reference that leads up to this point.
On March 24, 2021, MeatEater.com posted an article written by Matt Rinella entitled; The Case Against Hunter Recruitment. The article seemed to negatively portray the movement to increase hunter participation with the author noting that R3 is a “widespread and well-funded” effort full of “slick marketing campaigns” that are a coordinated effort to increase hunter numbers by recruiting new, reactivating lapsed, and retaining current hunters. The author pointed out that the basis of R3 was flawed in that it was created as a response to large declines in hunter numbers when in fact, according to his analysis, the declines are not as bad as many may think due to inaccuracies in available data such as statistics in USFWS National Survey reports. What seemed to strike a nerve with many was the authors notion that current hunters, like him, do not want more hunters in the woods as these newbies will end up taking all “their” favorite hunting spots.
Response to the article was swift and came with a heavy hand from sources new and old. On March 26th, both Outdoor Life and Hunters of Color posted rebuttals.
Founded less than a year ago, in August of 2020, Hunters of Color has a mission to share the founders love of the outdoors with everyone. Their response was well thought out and their disappointment with the MeatEater article was apparent. They pointed out that simply posting such an article from a leading organization in the hunting world gives some current hunters justification to oppose recruitment of new hunters, especially black and indigenous people of color (BIPOC) that are interested in learning to hunt. They noted that, “Matt’s ignorance of barriers for BIPOC is especially evident in his call for people to just learn how to hunt from their friends and family” and that “many people of color do not have families that hunt and rely solely on mentorships”. Their article concluded with suggested responses for MeatEater along with an invitation for MeatEater to take a seat at the table they are building and reminded them that “the outdoors are for everyone.”
Outdoor Life’s response was a coordinated effort from four of their top editors, each taking issue with Matt’s criticism of R3. Andrew McKean led the article by noting that he had personally noticed more hunters this past season in “his” prairie but, rather than get annoyed, it pushed him to hike further and find new places he hadn’t been inspired to hunt previously. The result was tagging a nice mule deer and locating a new hunting spot for future seasons. Alex Robinson noted that the R3 movement is attempting to open hunting to more diverse groups in ways that have not been tried before and that he views other hunters not as competition but as kindred spirits. John Snow recalled as he has gotten older, he has realized that the future of outdoor sports that he loves hinges on having lots of other people participating in them and Gerry Bethge admitted that the decline in hunters where he goes afield has yielded better hunting for him but even so he ended the article with a reminder to take someone new outdoors as it could change both their life, and yours, for the better.
A few years ago, the Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports created an online community with the hope of having a few hundred professionals create accounts and share ideas on everything R3 related. Today there are nearly 3,000 members of that community and interest continues to grow. Typical posts within the community may garner a few likes and reply’s but on March 29th a community member mentioned his disappointment with the initial MeatEater article. This prompted several other community members to chime in and a cordial discussion ensured that represented both sides of the topic. Hearing different points of view allowed other members, like myself, to think about potential pitfalls of R3 that hadn’t previously been discussed.
On March 31st, in what I can imagine was an “Oh Shit” moment, Steven Rinella penned a response to help clarify a few points in his brother’s initial post. Steven made reference to all the positive recruitment work done by himself and many of MeatEater staff. It is undeniably true that they have done a lot of good work promoting hunting to new audiences which I believe is what made so many R3 folks scratch their heads at the original post. Steven closed the article noting that “he’ll continue to share challenging opinions that inspire tough conversations – all for the betterment of the outdoors and the people who go there to work and play.”
The saga continued on April 14th when the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum posted an article that summed up most of the above but added that NRA has been a staunch supporter of R3 and has led the way promoting cultural acceptance of hunting for the past 150 years.
The Hunting Wire’s Voice of Leadership Panel (VoLP) is tasked with including an article in each edition of the Hunting Wire newsletter. Over the past year, VoLP authors have written articles on everything from cyber bullying to conservation and usually topic discussions take no more than a few minutes to approve. When we last met, the discussion around Matt’s article and the corresponding responses took us 45 minutes to discuss. Even within our small group, we had differing opinions on everything from; should we respond, to, if we do respond, how should we do it.
With the posting of this article, it is obvious that we felt a response was warranted. We understand Matt is not alone with his opinion but, as many of us have dedicated a good percentage of our time over the past few years to R3, we wanted to add a few perspectives to what has already been covered:
We look forward to further discussions on this topic to ensure current R3 efforts are working to suit the needs of current and future participants.
2020-2021 The Hunting Wire Voice of Leadership Panel
The Voice of Leadership Panel is an appointed five-person group of outdoor industry leaders who have volunteered to contribute their voices on key hunting and outdoor recreation issues to inform, inspire, and educate participants within our community.