Over the decades, hunting became a sport for recreation rather than a necessity. As older hunters quit the sport, and young hunters failed to replace them at the same rate there has been a sharp decline in the activity. The number of hunters steadily increased from 1960, attaining a peak of 16.7 million in 1982. Thereafter, it started to decline, from 13.6 million in 2011 to 11.5 million in 2016. There have been many reasons for this downtrend namely rapid urbanization in the US, a lack of interest among the younger generations, and the development of farmland. Some experts also suggest a demand-supply imbalance, where sporting communities don’t have access to hunting grounds, even with huge acres of countryside underused, and under-visited.
However, the pandemic led to a resurgence in hunting activities in the US. It comes as no surprise as many outdoor recreation activities increased with the closure of restaurants, sports centers, and gyms. Hunting license sales increased 12% nationwide, leading to 1 million new hunters in 2020. More than 53K new licenses were given in Pennsylvania alone consisting of new hunters, and those who had not hunted in the previous 5 years. In Indiana, there was a 28% rise in sales of turkey licenses in May 2020, in the first weeks of the season. Michigan saw similar trends too in 2020, with a 95% increase in new hunter licenses, with a 25% increased participation from female hunters since 2019.
This renewed interest in hunting is a welcome one, and states must sustain this momentum for the long term.
Hunting Licenses Fund Conservation Efforts and More
It’s ironic to say that it’s hunting that is a serious contributor towards funds needed for wildlife conservation. Years of decline in hunting activity has had an impact on state wildlife agencies, leaving them in need of money to staff themselves inadequately, to protect critical habitat and implement management programs for animals. They are also responsible for tracking wildlife diseases, managing invasive species, and recovering endangered species.
As per the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act, there is an 11% excise tax placed on the sale of firearms and angling equipment, which goes towards wildlife conservation projects, access to outdoor recreation, and hunter education. Since 1937, more than $14 billion has been contributed to conservation under this Act. Apart from that, the profits from hunting licenses are also used to fund conservation. In 2021, money generated from license sales and federal excise tax still accounted for 60-80% of the funding for state wildlife agencies.
Hunting helps control wildlife populations at a healthy level. In November 2020, Mississippi asked hunters to bring the deer population under control, as the habitat was unable to support their huge numbers leading to diseases.
Will This Trend Last?
Some industry stalwarts like Brian Murphy, CEO of American Outdoor Brands, think that this trend is likely to continue. As per him, young hunters will continue to drive the sport forward with increased vaccination rates, as many of them liked this newfound hobby that they previously never tried. Hunting is a solitary sport, which means fewer chances of virus transmission. In the event of further closures due to the pandemic, youngsters could return to nature.
Many millennials are interested in sustainable and ethically harvested, local meat. Given the high cost of organic meats at boutique butchers, it’s a possibility that they could return to the sport for local sourcing of meat. In 2020, when US meat processors halted their operations due to Covid-19, a large number of people resorted to hunting to avoid shortages, and also because they had more time on hand.
A lot will depend on how actively old hunters are willing to train the younger lot. Hunting has to be made accessible for the broader population and culturally relevant too.
Focus Need to Be on Access to Hunting Permissions
Another factor that will help encourage hunting is access to proper hunting permissions. Landowners should be able to find hunters to lease out their land, and similarly, hunters should be able to find private land lying unused. In a country, where huge acres of land are privately owned, this is necessary. There is a need for an online marketplace where hunting grounds and fishing spots can be conveniently leased out to hunters with proper insurance.
The pandemic-led revival is an opportunity for hunters and wildlife departments to revive this sport. This can create additional income for rural communities, and resources to manage wildlife populations and state lands.