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NETWORKING BIG AT HUNTING HERITAGE CONFERENCE

March 15, 2011

Second annual event delivers optimism about future, cultural insights

ROTHSCHILD, Wis. - While attendees of this year's Hunting Heritage Conference learned how to organize a local educational outing, others say the most valuable benefit of the two-day session was meeting others dedicated to recruiting hunters of all ages and ethnicities.

"My sense is that others at the conference found it helpful, and like me, enjoyed meeting others fighting the same fight," Jim Shurts of Madison said. "The primary highlight was the opportunity to meet with others who are active with hunter recruitment and share common goals."

Shurts, chair of the John M. Keener Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society, was among the roughly 110 who gathered here for the second annual conference for Learn to Hunt organizers.

Sponsored by the state Department of Natural Resources, the heritage conference began in 2010 as a combination brainstorming and information-sharing event for hunting mentors, organizations and volunteer instructors interested in solidifying Wisconsin's hunting future.

Mike Skaife of Prairie du Chien, whose local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation hosted the state's first Learn to Hunt event 13 years ago, especially enjoyed his conversations with Sheboygan-based Hmong American Sportsmen Club members.

"We talked with them a lot, about their background and it was very interesting to hear their stories," Skaife said. The Hmong initially were unaware of Wisconsin property laws which caused unintentional frictions, and prompted the creation of outreach and education programs to rectify the situation - including the DNR's Harmony in the Woods.

Hmong club president Addison Lee agreed these conference conversations are valuable and enjoyable, and suggested "a more diverse selection of guest speakers to consider the wide array of perspectives of hunters throughout Wisconsin" for future hunting conferences.

DNR Hunting and Shooting Sport Coordinator Keith Warnke says Wisconsin, like other states, has lost active hunters which affects conservation activities that benefit everyone. DNR records show gun-deer hunting licenses sold to Wisconsin residents declined 6.5 percent between 2000 and 2010. The decrease occurred even though 10- and 11-year-old hunters were added for the first time in 2009.

"This means there is less funding for conservation efforts, and less conservation being practiced," Warnke said. "Fewer hunters participating in legal hunting means fewer resources for, and less focus on, conservation. Everything from game management to wetland restoration will be impacted."

The DNR started the Learn to Hunt Program in 1998 to provide youth and adults opportunities to experience an actual hunt with an experienced hunter. The program involves classroom and field instruction in addition to the hunt. Warnke says the program in 2010 saw a 10 percent increase in participation. "This increase was, in large part, due to last year's first Hunting Heritage Conference," Warnke said. "We expect this conference to have a similar impact."

The Learn to Hunt program has reached more than 3,000 novice participants in the last two years through the cooperation and funding of the National Shooting Sports Foundation's Hunting Heritage Partnership Grant Program and the Wisconsin DNR. The foundation's grant program has funded the Wisconsin conference both years.

Lil Pipping of Elkhart Lake, past president of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, says the first great hunt provided by Learn to Hunt programs needs to be followed by another to keep the interest going. Rich Kirchmeyer, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, agreed and suggested borrowing from other children's programs. "If we could adopt-a-kid not only to take them turkey hunting, but also grouse and more...so they get the full experience of all the outdoors has to offer," he said.

Warnke says the conference attendees were united on one goal. "They clearly understand their role in recruiting the next generation of hunters in Wisconsin."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: : Keith Warnke, Hunting and Shooting Sport Coordinator, 608-576-5243; Todd Schaller, Administrator, Recreation Enforcement and Education, 608-267-2774 or Joanne M. Haas, Bureau of Law Enforcement, 608-267-0798

Last Revised: Tuesday, March 15, 2011




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