Measuring the Efficacy of State R3 Efforts: A Quantitative Approach

Measuring the Efficacy of State R3 Efforts: A Quantitative Approach

The Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) recently conducted a study that developed a quantitative approach for evaluating the effectiveness of Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation (R3) programs and events, with the goal of helping state fish and wildlife agencies improve the way they recruit, retain, and reactivate hunters and anglers. This study was funded by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration (USFWS-WSFR) Program with Multi-State Conservation Grant funds administered by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA). The project was a collaborative effort between WMI, Chase & Chase Consulting, and eight test states.

A hunter education instructor teaches class.

The long-term decline in hunter and angler numbers has caused state fish and wildlife agencies to revisit, improve, and prioritize the programs and initiatives they use for the recruitment and retention of their customer base. With limited funding and the increasing demand for agency resources, an accurate and quantifiable method for R3 program evaluation that is both quick and cost-effective is critical. In earlier years, the outcomes of most R3 events were not evaluated, or were evaluated with poor methodologies that often lacked a control group. Further, previous studies indicate that R3 event attendees are typically more avid than the general hunting public prior to attending any event. However, absent a control group, it is impossible to determine if an attendees’ behavior is different because of the R3 event, or if that difference was already present before the event. To address this concern, we examined license purchasing behavior from R3 event attendees compared to the purchasing behavior of match-paired lookalikes who did not attend an event to determine the efficacy of R3 events.

For this study, we partnered with eight states who agreed to share the past decade of their license sales data and R3 event attendee data. We examined 60,000 event attendees and used Mahalanobis Distance Matching to find matched-pair lookalikes from nearly 13 million hunting and fishing customers. The attendees and lookalikes were compared in terms of their purchasing regularity across time, or lack of churn (Participation), and their annual license purchasing volume (Engagement).

In all states, attendees had significantly higher levels of participation than their lookalikes. This is convincing evidence that, in general, R3 events result in people hunting more consistently after attending the event. Additionally, because these data were analyzed with matched-pair lookalikes, this evidence is more compelling than previous evaluation techniques. In many states, the lookalikes participated and were engaged at significantly higher rates than the state’s overall hunting and fishing population. Evidence of this effect has been documented in other R3 studies, but since the event participants were match-paired with lookalikes in this study, the data infer that both event participants and lookalikes are significantly more avid than the average customer. The difference observed between the average customer and the lookalikes indicates that the people who attend R3 events were different even before attending an R3 event. The difference observed between the average customer and the attendees, and the magnitude of that difference being greater than that of the lookalikes, indicates the people who attend R3 events have higher participation because of the R3 events. Therefore, any lift in participation can be attributable to both being different before and because of the R3 event (Table 1).

Table 1. Participation rates of Attendees, Lookalikes, and All Customer populations for the eight sample states. The delta (Δ) column values indicate the percent change between the groups.
 State Attendees Lookalikes All Customers Δ Lookalikes - All Customers Δ Attendees - All Customers Δ Attendees - Lookalikes
 Georgia 64%  47%  39%  8%  25%  17% 
 North Dakota 82%  73%  50%  23%  32%  10% 
 Tennessee 75%  56%  47%  9%  28%  19% 
 Iowa 68%  49%  41%  8%  27%  19% 
 New Mexico 75%  56%  56%  0%  19%  19% 
 Missouri 78%  52%  45%  7%  32%  26% 
 Connecticut 88%  54%  39%  15%  50%  34% 
 Massachusetts 80%  57%  50%  7%  29%  23% 


In Table 1, the column “Δ Lookalikes – All Customers” indicates the lift due to the avidity of the Lookalikes samples and would reflect that same avidity lift in the R3 attendees. The column “Δ Attendees – All Customers” indicates the combined lift associated with the avidity of the participant coupled with the impacts of the R3 event. The column “Δ Attendees – Lookalikes” shows the difference between the two lifts and indicates the true impact of the R3 program while controlling for avidity.

As we anticipated, R3 events, in general, result in people hunting and fishing more regularly after attending an event. Event attendees also had higher annual license purchasing volume after attending an R3 event. However, this analysis also provides evidence that attendees were more avid than the average customer before attending the R3 event, but, also, they were different because of the R3 event. In general, the R3 events we examined focused on basic, introductory activities and tended to have better results in terms of Participation and Engagement. Events focused on advanced techniques, more difficult quarry, or using specialized equipment proved to be less effective for these factors. It has been previously documented that R3 events focused on youth recruitment are generally less effective. This study confirmed that participants under 18 produced the lowest lift in Participation and Engagement of all age groups, and adults 25-35 and 35-50 generally showed the most lift. There was also little evidence to suggest that attending more than one R3 event produces better Participation and Engagement than attending just one event. Finally, many attendees had previously purchased a license in at least one license year before attending the R3 event, suggesting they were already recruited to some extent before attending an R3 event, and some of the gains are compensatory recruitment, rather than additive recruitment. Thus, the events we examined often likely serve as a retention mechanism, although for newer participants, these are likely retention with support (compared to efforts directed at retention without support, which might be used to keep older veteran hunters in the field longer).

Our study also found that, in general, there is no additional marginal benefit in attending more than one R3 event. Any benefit or lift in Participation and Engagement was achieved through attending one R3 event. Any further R3 event attendance resulted in a diminished lift on the two outcome variables, or in a very minimal increase. This finding indicates that states should perhaps discontinue encouraging attendance at subsequent events, as the ROI on attending multiple events is not demonstrable. Further, agencies should strongly consider screening admittance to R3 events to only include people who have not attended an R3 event before. If screening is not possible, prior attendees should be deprioritized to make room for new customers.

Finally, R3 events in the states analyzed in this study did not attract as many new customers as may be expected because 27.3% to 93.3% (depending on the state) of R3 event participants had purchased a license in at least one license year prior to attending an R3 event (Table 2). States such as New Mexico (27.3%) and North Dakota (31.2%) are likely making meaningful progress in recruiting new customers, but other states may want to screen for attendance at R3 events to only include those new to hunting and/or fishing, to avoid spending R3 resources on those who are already customers. As currently constituted, the effectiveness of R3 events is hindered in that there is little room for new customers to attend so they can be recruited, and many of these events are not designed or are not well-suited to retain or reactivate.

Table 2. Many attendees have hunted or fished in the license years prior to attending an R3 event.
 State Years Hunted/Fished Prior to Attending R3 Event
 Georgia 2011-2020  86.1% 
 North Dakota 2009-2021  31.2% 
 Tennessee 2009-2021  93.3% 
 Iowa 2009-2020  83.0% 
 New Mexico 2013-2020  27.3% 
 Missouri 2011-2021  41.6% 
 Connecticut 2013-2020  47.0% 
 Massachusetts 2011-2021  85.3% 


In summary, R3 events can be effective at increasing purchasing regularity and license purchasing volume. However, to increase an agency’s expected return on investment, events focusing on youth should be reduced, or even discontinued. Agencies can also increase their return on investment by screening their events for attendees who have never attended another event and who are new to hunting and fishing. Additionally, we found that avidity levels for both the R3 event participants (prior to the event) and the “lookalike” control group (selected for demographically and geographically similar attributes as the R3 participant) were higher than the states’ license-buying population. This suggests that marketing and recruitment efforts that target people with the attributes that lend themselves to recruitment may provide a lift in license sales in the absence of R3 program(s), and undoubtedly assist with the additional license sales associated with an agency’s R3 program(s).


The following recommendations are proffered to assist state agencies that wish to maximize their return on investment as they conduct, fund, and sponsor R3 events:

  1. Screen R3 events. A customer who attends two (or more) events does not show greater engagement or participation than a customer who attends one event. Therefore, given the limited R3 resources available, state agencies should strongly consider screening attendees for those who have attended another event, keeping as many spots open for those who have not had the opportunity to attend any R3 event.
  2. Screen R3 events again. Many attendees had hunted or fished in the license years prior to attending an R3 event. This finding indicates that many attendees were highly likely to have already been recruited to some extent before attending an R3 event. State agencies should consider explicitly stating that R3 events are for those new to hunting and fishing and/or screening for participants that have not purchased a license previously (or who only purchased a limited license).
  3. Focus on the family. Fairly consistently, the greatest lift in Participation and Engagement was for adults aged 25 to 50. Also consistently, the least lift was for youth under the age of 18. Adults 25-50 are more likely to have children of their own who could be indirectly recruited if the parent is recruited. State agencies should strongly consider reallocating resources from youth R3 programs to adult-oriented events to improve ROI. The authors recognize that eliminating youth R3 programs all at once may not be politically feasible, since commissions and decision-makers are often influenced by forces outside of science. Therefore, a secondary recommendation is that parents or guardians must be required to attend and participate in any youth R3 event.
  4. Keep R3 events scalable. In a best-case scenario, event attendees provide less than a 1% lift to customer volume. Therefore, events run by agency personnel are not sustainable on longer time scales. It would be more efficient to delegate R3 activities to NGOs and other interest groups, so long as each group is operating under best business practices. Agencies should strongly consider reviewing any R3 event that is not immediately scalable.
  5. Keep R3 events scientific. All R3 events funded by state agency monies should be run using best business practices and require, at a minimum, a pre- and post-event evaluation to be completed as a condition of being funded.
  6. Keep R3 events simple. Events focused on basic, introductory activities tended to be more effective at lifting Participation and Engagement. Small-game hunting, simple fishing techniques, and introductory skills should be the focus of an R3 event if the intent is to recruit those new to outdoor recreation.
  7. Keep R3 events simple by simplifying regulations. Complex regulations often benefit the oldest, and historically most avid, customers, who often hunt and/or fish at a deep discount and have short lifetime ROI expectancies. Those same complex regulations preclude the recruitment of younger, newer hunters who have the highest and longest lifetime ROI expectancies. Agencies should strongly consider simplifying regulations such that a non-biologist, non-hunter could understand them.
  8. Keep R3 events sustainable. The quarry targeted at an R3 event should be relatively easy to hunt and plentiful to find, to encourage successful participation autonomously after the event. If a state has a draw or lottery for a specific species, that is an indication there is not enough biomass in the system to meet the customer demand for hunting opportunities. Recruiting a person to a species that has limited hunting opportunities results in newly recruited customers, or current customers, being unable to hunt. State agencies should strongly consider discontinuing R3 events that recruit to species, weapon-classes, or seasons that already have a draw/lottery and reallocating those efforts to hunting and fishing opportunities where the state has a surplus.
  9. Keep R3 event evaluations easy. From a data analysis perspective, there was a marked difference between states who had a customer management system and states who did not. R3 evaluation is easier, and faster, when utilizing a CMS system.
Photo Credit
Outdoor Alabama, Flickr
June 15, 2022