Retention and recruitment of hunters is of increasing concern to wildlife management agencies nationwide. A lack of access to quality hunting opportunities is often deemed as the primary reason why people quit hunting. In an effort to provide hunting opportunities for their constituency, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) invests considerable time and resources into the development and management of public Wildlife Management Areas and private lands open to public access through the Open Fields and Waters Program. Although investment in access programs is assumed to fulfill the needs of the hunting community, evaluating the use of public or private land by hunters, and their overall satisfaction with the hunting experience is challenging. Currently, the majority of hunter participation, satisfaction, and harvest data are collected at coarse spatial and temporal scales, through post-season surveys. Unfortunately, traditional data sources do not provide the preferred resolution needed to appropriately manage individual Wildlife Management Areas or Open Fields and Waters sites. Moreover, it does not allow managers to assess the value of their investment in particular lands. The effect of hunting and hunter participation on wildlife populations, hunter recruitment and retention, and local economies is likely acting at multiple scales that are currently not considered when managing wildlife resources. Given the limited resources available for wildlife management, managers need a better understanding of hunter participation at the scales for which management actions occur if they are expected to manage lands appropriately.
From 2014 to 2017 we worked on more than 500 individual properties from eight focal areas spread across Nebraska. In total, we conducted more than 110,000 point-surveys that identified in excess of 11,000 cars. We also interviewed more than 7,000 users of publically accessible lands in Nebraska.
Users represented an array of outdoor enthusiasts from 44 different states, with upwards of 80% of the fall users being hunters. Indeed, public-access hunters represented a range of typologies, ages, and residency, but lacked diversity in gender. Hunters perceived opportunities largely positively across a diverse landscape of public access. By surveying multiple hunter typologies across sites that encompass a range of social and ecological conditions, we gained a broader understanding of how hunters perceive public access in real-time and help to inform future management decisions to foster and improve public access programs.