A state known for its hunting is losing hunters every day, and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission employees worry that a further decrease could prevent them from taking care of our environment the way that they should.

“I could see us struggling to do that if this trend continues to go that direction,” Spencer Griffith said.

AGFC has launched the Hunt Natural campaign to try to reverse the decline in participation. “In the state of Arkansas, we’ve lost about 18,000 hunters in the last five years,” Griffith explained, “and that represents about seven percent of our hunters throughout the state.”

Griffith, a marketing coordinator for AGFC, said the sale of hunting and fishing licenses is a key component of the agency’s overall budget, along with state sales tax receipts and federal allocations. License sales allow it to buy and preserve land, run education programs, or manage wildlife populations (e.g. preventing chronic wasting disease in deer).

The decrease in hunting participation started much earlier in many parts of the country. Griffith said Arkansas held out longer than most states because it is so rural and has such a long hunting heritage.

“The national research,” Griffith stated, “really shows us that the decrease in hunters really is correlated to three different things: time, access, and money. And so, a lot of our programs that we’re really focusing on today have to do with providing more access, trying to promote more time being spent outdoors, and to, kind of work on ways that we can help people spend money on those products.”

While AGFC tries to help cover the cost of equipment for some people, it often takes an old hand to instill the love of the hunt.

“We’ve got, you know, 13-year-old kids that are out there that are looking to hunt that have never hunted before,” Griffith mentioned. “We’ve got women, who are the highest growth category in the hunting industry right now. We’ve got males who, maybe, never have hunted in their life, but want an experience where they don’t have to be insecure about what they don’t know.

“You don’t have to be the best hunter in the world. You don’t have to know all of the different techniques to be able to get out and share the knowledge and experience you do have.”

Griffith said Hunt Natural would include instruction about processing and cooking, duck calling classes, as well as group hunting outings around the state. The hunting trips would focus on squirrel, dove, quail, and other animals that could create a more social atmosphere.

“The goal there is that we create some small-game hunting opportunities that lets people have some high-energy and fun encounters with hunting that can get them back outdoors, again, experiencing that over and over and over again.”

Griffith said Hunt Natural program will include community partners such as Ducks Unlimited and the National Wild Turkey Federation, and utilize some of the engagement programs they have already started. But it will be unique in its scale, and its attempt to create more uniform experiences for hunters in all 75 counties. It will also rely on the people most passionate about their hobby.

“The leaders in each county are going to be avid hunters that live in those counties,” Griffith said, “trying to carry on their tradition in those counties of hunting.”

Potential mentors can learn more and sign up at www.HuntNatural.com. Events will start in the fall and run all the way through the end of squirrel and rabbit seasons in February.