Mark Nale | Game Commission begins hunter recruitment initiative

The Pennsylvania Game Commission recently provided outdoor writers with a sneak peak of their GoHuntPA hunter recruitment initiative. An explanation of the program was given to outdoor communicators at the May 17 conference of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association in Shippensburg. A similar presentation was given to the game commissioners at their work session on May 19.

GoHuntPA is a new addition to the commission’s larger hunter recruitment and retention strategy, which began in 2012. The agency’s goal is to bring hunting license sales back up to the 1 million mark by 2018. According to PGC Hunting Outreach Coordinator Samantha Pedder, license sales were up 1.5 percent in 2012-13, and so far this year, there seems to be another jump of at least one percent.

The PGC hired the Harrisburg-based ad agency Top Flight Media to help develop the GoHuntPA campaign. Work on the project began in the fall of 2013, and continues as the official September 24 unveiling approaches.

The explanation of the program’s purpose and strategy went smoothly and was well received by the group of outdoor communicators initially, until a member of Top Flight Media played a radio spot that is supposed to air in the fall. Hands flew up and a hot discussion ensued — more on that later. For the most part, TFM appears to be creating a sound, well thought out and expertly-produced campaign.

This is the first time that the commission has hired an agency to carry out a strategic communications campaign. The Game Commission seems to be happy with this choice.

“It is simple - we believe that a professional ad agency will give us the results that we are looking for,” noted Chief of Hunter Education and Outreach Keith Snyder.

As Snyder explained, Game Commission data shows that 1.5 million different people have purchased hunting licenses during the past five years. Several surveys, including a 2011 survey of 9,000 random residents, show that 18 to 25 percent of the state’s adult residents consider themselves hunters, but a much smaller fraction of that (about 800,000 or 8% of the state’s adult population) actually purchase a hunting license in any given year.

“This is the elephant in the room,” Snyder pointed out. “I mean, wow, there is a very large audience out there of people who hunt, but don’t buy a license every year. We want to engage that audience, and thus far, the rest of the nation has not tapped them.”

The centerpiece of this major initiative, which targets lapsed hunters, is the new GoHuntPA.org website, which is active now. However, the program also includes TV, radio, billboard and print advertisements, as well as trade show-type banners. Many elements of the campaign feature augmented reality (smart phone access) by using the free downloadable Junaio application. If you have this app, pointing your phone at a poster, billboard or print advertisement linked to this campaign will automatically take you to the GoHuntPA website.

The website is rich with video content containing information about a wide variety of topics, including how to be a safe hunter, what a choke on a shotgun does, how to purchase a license, cooking wild game and many other hunting-related topics. It also contains links to maps of state forests, state parks and state game lands.

“GoHuntPA will address the three main motivations for hunting - hunting for food, hunting with family and friends, and hunting in order to enjoy the peace and serenity that the outdoors provides,” shared Pedder. “These three reasons were originally identified in a 2011-2012 hunter survey conducted by lead deer biologist Chris Rosenberry.”

The exact breakdown of these motivations vary according to age group, but on average can be summarized as 25 percent food, 25 percent social and 50 percent nature (when combined with hunters who selected nature along with another option).

According to Pedder, agency research also uncovered many reasons why hunters lapse and do not purchase a license the following year.

“The main reasons include lack of free time, work and family obligations, and the perception that there isn’t enough open land to hunt on,” Pedder said. It is hoped that GoHuntPA will help to alleviate those concerns and put hunting back on the “to-do” list for a significant portion of Pennsylvanians.

Even the timing of the campaign — late September — is by design.

“We noticed several spikes in license sales, with the biggest one occurring before antlerless deer licenses need to be mailed in,” outlined Pedder. “Other smaller sales spikes occur just before archery, bear and rifle deer seasons. Our research shows that is when less-frequent license purchasers tend to buy their licenses.”

As one might imagine, hiring a professional advertising agency cost significant dollars.

“From the creative side, we paid Top Flight Media $250,000 to develop and test-market this campaign. About another $300,000 is earmarked for the media buy this fall,” explained Snyder.

The funding for this program came entirely from Federal Pittman-Robertson moneys dedicated to hunter education and hunter outreach. The volunteer hours put in by hunter education instructors were counted for the matching funds. Almost no out-of-pocked money was used to fund the program.

Commissioner Ralph Martone (New Castle) is excited about the program. He commented, “The effort is based on solid information gathered from the PALS system and the agency’s human dimensions research. It is not based on anecdotal information or someone’s best guess at how to reach the right audience.”

According to Snyder, “This type of effort has never been tried before, and one thing for sure, we will be able to measure the program’s success by the end of the year.”

Martone added, “I believe, once again, that the Game Commission will be a national leader in developing tools to retain, recruit and reactivate hunters.”

Check out the content on GoHuntPA.org and see what you think.

I hope that Martone is right, but let us get back to what caused the controversy. In the 30-second radio commercial, a hip-sounding young man declares, “Play your ‘man-card’ — buy a hunting license,” or something to that effect.

Hands flew up, and numerous writers in the room expressed their displeasure for the use of that phrase to advertise hunting. Some thought that it excluded women from the hunting equation, while others found it offensive.

Top Flight creative director Frank Arendt defended the phrase and said that it played well to some of their test audiences, but that did not quell the wave of criticism.

The phrase, “Play your man-card,” burned my ears, too. Nonetheless, it took me awhile to decide exactly why it bothered me. Finally it hit me. The ad is essentially saying, “Be a man — go out and shoot stuff.”

The shooting and killing of game animals is part of hunting — no doubt about that. However, it is not the main reason why anyone that I respect participates in the sport. If we as sportsmen and sportswomen have to stoop to that level of advertising — to attract that crowd (people who just want to shoot stuff) — then hunters have problems.

We have exactly four months until the GoHuntPA campaign is completely unveiled. I sincerely hope that the “powers-that-be” decide to pull or alter this ad. One writer suggested a simple one-word fix - “Play your wild card.” No one offended, hunting not demeaned - problem solved.

Changes to Pine Creek management

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission will host a public meeting in Waterville on June 5, to discuss potential regulatory changes on a section of Pine Creek in Lycoming County. The change would add 1.6 miles of stream near Slate Run to the Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only category.

The meeting will be held from 6 to 8 p.m., at the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Tiadaghton Resource Management Center, 10 Lower Pine Bottom Road, Waterville, PA 17776-9678. Interested anglers are welcome.

Fish-for-Free Days

Families and friends visiting PA’s popular outdoor spots over the Memorial Day holiday weekend can enjoy a day of free fishing. Memorial Day marks the first of PA’s two free fishing days. Fish-for-Free Days allow anyone — residents and non-residents — to legally fish in PA without a fishing license.

“Fish-for-Free days are an easy way to introduce friends and family to the sport of fishing,” said PFBC Executive Director John Arway. “Many families spend the day at lakes and parks throughout the state. Now they can try fishing at no cost. We know that once people try it, particularly kids, they will see that fishing is a great recreational activity and they will want to do it more.”

The second Fish-for-Free Day is July 4.

Sporting Clay Classic

The Wildlife For Everyone Endowment Foundation’s Third Annual Sporting Clay Classic will be held on May 30. The one-day event at the Seven Springs Sporting Clay Facility in Seven Springs, attracts some of Pennsylvania’s sharpest marksmen. Nearly $10,000 worth of prizes and raffle items will be awarded to participants.

Shooters are grouped into personally-selected and randomized teams of four people to tackle two challenging courses, testing patience and precision. Each shooter receives 100 rounds with awards given based on Lewis Class Scoring. Prizes are awarded to the top overall shooters, top shooters in each class and best team. Registration begins at 9 a.m., with competition beginning at 11 a.m. Pre-event registration is available through the Wildlife For Everyone Endowment Foundation, and walk-up participants are welcome. The cost is $125 per shooter.

“This is our third annual shoot and it continues to grow,” said the foundation’s Executive Director, Vern Ross. “There is great support for wildlife here in Pennsylvania.” Go to www.WildlifeforEveryone.org for more information.

Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association. He can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com