This article first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Backcountry Journal. Join BHA to receive the quarterly Backcountry Journal, in print, direct to your mailbox.
Editor's Note: The original version of this article contained a graphic that incorrectly showed Minnesota as not offering student licenses at resident rates. This graphic has now been corrected. You can read more about Minnesota's R3 efforts and student licensing in this guest blog post, "Students: Set Your Sights on Minnesota."
By Sawyer Connelly
One of my fondest memories from college involved waking up in a wall tent on a late November morning. The wood stove had gone out sometime during the night, and in the flickering light of a propane lamp, I could see the shimmering ice crystals blanketing our sleeping bags. It was negative double-digits that morning. I lay in my sleeping bag an extra few minutes, planning the fastest possible way to dress myself and make it to the truck and out of the cold for the ride to the trailhead.
Cody and I started elk hunting sophomore year of college because we wanted to source our own meat. I grew up in rural northern New England, and while people hunted all around me, I never hunted as a kid because my family didn’t hunt. Cody grew up in the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina. He, too, hadn’t hunted much as a kid. Our foray into chasing big game started on the public lands of Colorado.
This was our fourth year chasing elk. We had yet to see an elk in the four years of hunting, but every minute of looking for elk deepened our relationship with the animals and landscape. That morning, after a 30-minute hike to a saddle, we finally found elk. Right where we thought they’d be. Damn, it felt good.
If you were to ask the two of us about our most vivid memories from college, the majority of them would be time off-campus hunting and fishing. Those experiences helped shape my academic focus in college and professional focus as a post graduate. While there were many factors at play, the single most important was being able to buy resident priced hunting and fishing licenses as a non-resident student in the state of Colorado. Without that, I couldn’t have afforded to hunt. I wouldn’t have had the rich experiences on public lands, I wouldn’t have pursued studying conservation and I wouldn’t be on the career path I am now. The above may be an extreme example, but I use it to illustrate the impact that non-resident student licenses can have.
In their late teens and early to mid 20s, young adults are making important life choices that will influence their time, energy and professional focus in adulthood. College age students, in particular, are having the first opportunity to make the choice to hunt on their own, by either continuing a tradition they grew up with or, for those like me, to develop a new passion through new experiences. Recent research by Brett Stayton and Lincoln Larson from North Carolina State University has shown that college students are a prime demographic for both hunter recruitment and retention. This research is currently being expanded to 10 universities across the U.S. in collaboration with each school’s respective fish and game agency.
Currently the Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation (R3) movement is growing rapidly across North America, with conservation organizations and fish and game agencies hiring R3 coordinators to develop strategies that will bolster hunter numbers. A low-hanging fruit for recruitment and retention is to implement policies that offer full-time out of state/province students the opportunity to purchase hunting and fishing licenses at resident prices. Countless surveys show that many of our youth recruitment efforts around hunting and fishing can be for nothing if youth give-up their tradition when they leave home. According to the Council to Advance Hunting and Shooting Sports, data shows a significant drop in participants among college age students. Implementing a non-resident student policy across North America is a great way to combat participation decline.
At the present time, zero Canadian provinces explicitly allow university students to purchase hunting and fishing licenses at resident prices. Twenty-nine states allow non-resident college students to purchase licenses at resident prices, 20 do not, and Montana offers a discount. The latter, however, still has been identified as cost prohibitive for many non-resident students in Montana, and the data supports that.
So, what can you do as a BHA member? Check out the diagram and see if your state or province currently offers college and university student tags. If not, work with your chapter board to engage your fish and game department. BHA is also partnered with the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and the Council to Advance Hunting and Shooting Sports to push this issue. CSF has a great brief on their website with a few examples how states have done this in the recent past.
This past year, the University of Montana BHA club worked with the Wildlife Society and the generosity of a few individuals to offer financial assistance for non-resident club members hoping to hunt but who couldn’t otherwise afford to do so. All the applicants cited the formative time of college as having an impact on hobbies as a post grad. If you can’t afford to hunt in college, students unanimously said, it’s unlikely you’ll start after college.
Back to the long-term investment; those formative experiences Cody and I had in college chasing elk on Colorado’s public lands left a lasting impact. We continue to hunt in our respective states, and as we begin to save money, we plan to go back to where our elk hunting pursuits began – this time as non-residents, making a much bigger financial investment and hopefully with a little more success.
Sawyer Connelly serves as BHA’s campus outreach coordinator. When not in the office, he can be found upland hunting with his two German shorthairs or exploring a new body of water with fishing pole or spear gun in hand.