DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Hunters are disappearing in the United States. And for conservationists, that may be bad news because fewer hunters means less money for wildlife conservation. Stephan Bisaha of the Kansas News Service reports on the effort to attract younger people to hunting.
(SOUNDBITE OF CRICKETS CHIRPING)
STEPHAN BISAHA, BYLINE: Justin Saathoff is crouching below the line of sunflowers behind him and scans the tree line a few hundred feet past a flattened field. He's spotting doves for the young would-be hunters sitting quietly on orange buckets. Saathoff knows not everyone has a positive image of hunters.
JUSTIN SAATHOFF: Hunting gets portrayed as bunch of bloodthirsty people out chasing down poor, innocent animals. But I wouldn't be here today if all I was in it for was the thrill of the kill.
BISAHA: Saathoff says he hunts for the connection to the land and to fellow hunters, plus an escape from a busy, screen-filled world. He's hoping to show that to a new generation of hunters here in northern Kansas.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)
BISAHA: Fourteen-year-old Robert Goodall was brought on this dove hunt by his grandfather, Richard Funk.
RICHARD FUNK: So don't shoot at the bird. Never shoot at the bird, always in front of it.
ROBERT: Yeah. Well, I have been.
FUNK: You've been shooting behind them.
BISAHA: Dove hunts are supposed to be the exciting option for kids. Birds fly through quickly and often. But today Goodall seems more interested in picking seeds from a drooping sunflower.
How are you liking it so far?
ROBERT: Pretty boring.
BISAHA: For decades, youth hunts have been the main way Kansas has tried to recruit new hunters. But that hasn't increased their numbers. Across the country, as older hunters are putting down their rifles, younger hunters aren't picking them up. And that's threatening conservation efforts because it's the sale of hunting and fishing licenses that provide most of the money for conservation efforts.
Hoping to keep that money flowing, Kansas's wildlife department has hired 23-year-old Tanna Fanshier last year to create a plan for recruiting new millennial, Gen Z and women hunters.
TANNA FANSHIER: My dad and brothers hunted, and I didn't necessarily feel welcome to go out with them even though they invited me. And that's such a weird aspect of this is that many women do get invited, they get asked at some point in their lives, and we say no.
BISAHA: She's putting together women-only hunting events that are run by women instructors. The other problem was the reason to go hunting. The traditional pitch emphasized the state's grand hunting heritage first and conservation second. But Fanshier is flipping that. She now stresses conservation because millennials want to spend time and money on the causes they value, like protecting the environment.
FANSHIER: We're kind of the Go Fund Me Generation. We want to give our money to something that's important to us. And when we invest in a business, for example, we want to know that their values align with ours.
BISAHA: Kansas is also taking inspiration from other movements, like farm-to-table. Field-to-fork encourages Kansans to get some of their food from hunting. Tim Donges leads a Kansas hunting group called Quality Deer Management. He says those field-to-fork efforts help them recruit nontraditional hunters.
TIM DONGES: When we look back at hunting, where we've come from, it has generally been a white male-dominated kind of sport. And so we're trying to change all that. And with this field-to-fork program, we're finding that we get a much more diverse group.
BISAHA: The eat-local message is meant to appeal to the growing number of Kansans living in cities. And along with keeping tradition alive and conservation coffers filled, the state wants urban dwellers to spend a little less time in the city and more time connecting with the Kansas prairie. For NPR News, I'm Stephan Bisaha in Wichita.
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