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They don’t do it for the mounted heads, they do it to spend time in nature.

That’s the verdict of a survey asking more than 340 Wisconsin hunters why they pursue their sport. The survey was conducted by CALS life sciences communication professor Bret Shaw and doctoral student Beth Ryan as part of a research initiative aimed at informing hunter recruitment and retention efforts. The initiative, called the Hunters Network of Wisconsin, is a partnership between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, UW-Extension and UW-Madison.

Although hunters in Wisconsin are some 700,000 strong, their numbers are declining (the number of gun deer hunting licenses sold decreased by 6.5 percent over the last 10 years, for example). The drop is raising concerns about long-term consequences both for the economy—hunters spend nearly $1.4 billion in the state and contribute more than $197 million in state and local taxes—and for natural resource management, since hunters help keep wildlife populations in check. Hunting is also responsible for more than 25,000 jobs.

Although hunters in Wisconsin are some 700,000 strong, their numbers are declining.

Survey findings can be key in recruiting new-comers to the sport, notes Shaw—a necessary step for hunting to expand its reach beyond current hunters and their children. “Spending time outdoors and connecting with nature are major motivators for Wisconsin hunters,” says Shaw. “This finding is important because it demonstrates that, in Wisconsin, hunting seems to be an important way to connect our increasingly urban society to the natural world. It also highlights the potential mental and physical benefits of hunting, including being outside, exercise, and stress reduction.”

That’s certainly been the experience of Madison resident Mike Carlson, a lifelong outdoor enthusiast who only recently took to hunting when a friend pulled him into it. “I can’t think of another sport that requires you to be out in nature and be so quiet and still and in tune with things around you,” he says. “It’s opened my eyes to a lot of new experiences out there.”

Carlson doesn’t have kids yet, but he can easily picture teaching them to hunt when he does. And spreading out to new adopters and their kids is exactly the kind of expansion Wisconsin hunting will need.

Survey results are available at www.huntersnetwork.org

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