30% fewer hunters over next 12 years. Re-establish our numbers. Preserve our traditions.
by David Strandberg
I was catching up on posts from companies I follow on social media and saw one from Alps Outdoors. Alps posted a piece about how the United States is losing hunters. The information got their followers talking.
First, the issue. Flat out, the number of hunters in the U.S. is declining. As many of you know, they’ve been declining for years. Peak numbers go back to 1982 when 17 million hunters purchased licenses. In 2016, 11.5 million purchased hunting licenses. A decline of 5.5-million.
A closer look at who isn't hunting anymore
A closer look at data from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reveals the biggest decline in hunters is among the 16-44 age group (71% to 44% between 1982 and 2016). Hunters 45+ make up the other 56%. And it’s among this group, particularly Baby Boomers, is where the future of hunting is most challenged. Our way of life, and our traditions, could be in jeopardy. According to research and license purchase data, Baby Boomers stop buying licenses around age 70. They simply “age out” of the hunting (and fishing) population.
What the research and reality of the aging population suggests is over the next 8-12 years the number of hunters in the U.S. will decrease by 30%.
Why declining numbers hurt all hunters
Reaction to the Facebook post, typical of most non-cat videos, ranged from smart to, well, not so smart. One guy wrote “Well, that leaves more land for me to hunt by myself!” No, it doesn’t mean that. When the hunting population decreases so could support for retention of public hunting lands. As older hunters “age out” the time and effort they give to conservation organizations, along with important cash contributions, may drop. The result? The voice of hunters could be heard less and less. Politicians may be less supportive of maintaining public hunting land because the constituency of hunters will be smaller and smaller. Unless you have access to private land? There may not be many places to left to hunt.
Another response: “There are more hunters than ever applying for out-of-state tags in my state so that means there are more hunters!” Pump the brakes on that logic. Frequently, those with more time to hunt and money to spend on licenses, preference points, and hunting gear – the older population – are making those applications and looking for hunting adventures out of state while they’re of the mindset (and financially and physically able) to do so.
How to increase our numbers now - not a generation from now
So, is it all doom and gloom for the hunting population? No. But there isn’t time to waste and it’s going to require effort. And the effort means a lot more than posting “Raise ‘em right” or “Passing along the tradition to the next generation” photos of young children, alone or with parents, shooting a bow or rifle, carrying a dead rabbit, etc. Don’t get us wrong, we firmly believe in passing along the sport we love to our children and generations beyond. But, as hunters, if we don’t do something right now – this season and the ones that follow – the next generation might not be able to carry on the tradition. Or, at a minimum, it’s going to be tougher for them to carry on.
The many state and local programs introducing youngsters to hunting are well intended. The problem is attendance is almost always by children who are members of hunting families. These children were (probably) going to learn to hunt one way or the other. These programs gave them an accelerated push in the right direction. Dad, and frequently, mom or another family member takes over from where the state program left off. Programs that introduce hunting to children of non-hunting families have been far less successful. Why? Non-hunting parents don’t know what gear to buy, where to hunt, how to hunt, etc. These kids are least likely to be retained.
To solve the long-term problem of our decreasing ranks, should we be focusing on mentoring young people? It sounds harsh and goes against the grain of traditional thinking but, no, we should not. There needs to be a new, immediate focus – one that focuses on creating gear and license purchasing hunters as early as this season.
Many of the most successful mentorship programs focus on recruiting and teaching those at college age and much older. The impact on this age group on the hunting population is almost immediate. Numbers of hunters can start to rise in comparatively short order.
Organizations such as WDMA are recruiting at farmer’s markets by offering free samples of venison. There are weekend and week-long “camps” adults can go to in order to learn to hunt. States are looking at programs to introduce hunting to adults. But, as experienced hunters know, it’s after these valuable introductions is when the real work of becoming a hunter begins. And mentors are needed to help new recruits continue to learn and grow as hunters.
Start recruiting hunters this season!
So, if the situation is concerning to you, recruit someone. Someone younger. Someone older. It doesn’t matter as long as you want to teach and someone is willing to learn. Share your love of hunting, your experience, your stories, and even your old gear with someone who wants to be part of the life you love and experience success in the field. If that is done now, there will be ample hunting opportunities for the next generation and generations to come.
What are your thoughts? Let us know. firstname.lastname@example.org.