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Off of the Couch and into the Wild!

Off of the Couch and into the Wild!

By Jon Zinnel

Have you ever heard someone say “Po∙ta∙to, Po∙ta∙to?” If so, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?  For me it is, couch potato, defined in the Encarta Dictionary as an inactive person who spends too much time sitting watching television, also known as a lazy television viewer. Today’s young person knows more about how to plug and play a video game than they do about their own backyard. The increase of television programs and video games aimed at the younger generation creates an almost “perfect storm” for losing our next generation from the hunting heritage.

The Future of Hunting and the Shooting Sports research project done by Responsive Management and the National Shooting Sports Foundation says, “Declining participation in hunting and sport shooting can be reversed, given adequate financial resources, development of recruitment and retention programs based on a solid foundation of research, training for professionals in the best methods, programs and facilities and enhanced partnerships among agencies, industry and sportsmen’s organizations.” The approach is similar to that of organizations and agencies turning declined wildlife populations into thriving populations in many areas over the last 100 years.

MDF has addressed several of the items mentioned in the research project with our M.U.L.E.Y. Program. The program encourages local MDF Chapters to partner with other groups, organizations and agencies to host youth shooting and wildlife conservation programs. Thanks to MidwayUSA Foundation and others such as Federal Premium Ammunition, Birchwood-Casey, Crosman, Caldwell and Battenfeld Technologies MDF can provide opportunities for youth who would otherwise not be engaged in these types of activities. These M.U.L.E.Y. Programs will increase the number of youth participating in shooting sports and hunting for future generations. To learn more about the M.U.L.E.Y. Program contact Jon Zinnel at or (801) 973-3940.


One recent example of this was having youth pull the trigger at the Big Sky Youth Event. The stage was set in Billings, Montana by like-minded organizations working together, including the Mule Deer Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Safari Club International and the Blue Creek Sports Complex.

While most of the organizations usually focus on one wildlife species, we all came together for this event with one goal in mind-- introduce the next generation of outdoors men and women to hunting, shooting and wildlife conservation.  Our common goal was reached for over 150 youth and 25 adults that took part in this extremely successful first annual Big Sky Youth Event.

The event followed MDF’s M.U.L.E.Y. event structure and included many different shooting sports and wildlife conservation activities. Each group was responsible for an activity, and the youth and adults rotated through each one throughout the day. The Big Sky MDF Chapter ran the rifle station where they were shooting .22 and .243 caliber rifles that were supplied through MDF’s partnership with the Youth Shooting Sports Alliance. YSSA was organized by our friends in the shooting sports industry to address two important challenges regarding the recruitment and retention of new shooters:

  1. Identifying and supporting the needs of successful and safe youth programs, and;
  2. Providing leadership in the development and promotion of family-friendly shooting ranges to encourage continued participation in shooting sports.

With their objectives so closely correlated to the M.U.L.E.Y. program it was natural to cultivate a partnership and work together.

Aside from the subject of recruitment of new shooters and hunters is the issue of retention of those that are introduced.

The Future of Hunting and the Shooting Sports report states that it is important to encourage continued participation with family members and friends. Although the research found that those who participated with family members have higher retention rates, it still made note of the importance of participating with friends.  By holding introductory programs on local levels helps to address the constraints to hunting and shooting participation such as family obligations, amount of free time, work obligation are as or more important than are resource-based constraints such as land availability.

North Dakota is a state in close relation to Montana with their long history of passing on the tradition of hunting and shooting sports to the next generation. The Northern Badlands Chapter of MDF hosted its 5th annual M.U.L.E.Y. Day Camp in Bismarck, reaching 105 youth and 50 adults.  With five years of experience facilitating this event, the Chapter has developed many lasting relationships, built a great sponsorship base from their local community and continues to offer an opportunity for youth to participate in shooting sports and wildlife conservation year after year. The event offers youth of all ages the opportunity to take part in rimfire and centerfire rifle shooting, archery, handgun shooting, cowboy action shooting and wildlife conservation activities relating to big game species in North Dakota. The participants end the day with lunch, and every participant leaves with a door prize.

These two events, along with many other M.U.L.E.Y. events put on by the Mule Deer Foundation, like-minded organizations, state and federal agencies and others are good examples of a few “tools in the tool box” to pass on the hunting and outdoor heritage to youngsters that might not otherwise be able to have the experience.  MDF has the tools and can effectively get youngsters off the couch and into the wild, or at least to the shooting range where they can safely pull the trigger. For more information about how we can help you with programs in your community contact Jon Zinnel at or (801) 973-3940.