Continuing Misinformation About Declining Hunter Numbers

December 4, 2007

By Tom Remington
Tom Remington

Sample GraphBack in June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released preliminary data from their 2006 survey of hunting and fishing. Topping the headline was a statement that the number of hunting and fishing licenses bought in 2006 had dropped significantly. While that statement could be true it’s not accurate nor is it a reasonable conclusion to make based on the data collected, yet media outlets continue to tell the story that the number of hunters is shrinking.

While it would be easy to assume the numbers are shrinking based on license sales, it needs to be clarified what the information they are getting is and media refuses to do so. It guess it doesn’t make for as good a headline. Let me take a stab at it as it is quite simple yet some may have difficulty understanding.

Every five years, the USFWS conducts a survey. Included in that survey is the collection of information to record how many licenses for hunting and fishing were sold the given year of the survey. In 1996 approximately 14 million hunting licenses were sold. In 2006 12.5 million were sold. So, does that mean there are 1.5 million fewer hunters today than in 1996? Not exactly. It means exactly what the data tells – that there were 1.5 million fewer licenses sold in 2006 than in 1996.

It may be accurate to state the number of licenses sold is declining but it may be highly inaccurate to state that the numbers have dropped by 1.5 million. I’m not a scientific poll taker but I think I’m intelligent enough to understand that more has to be collected for information to boldly state that the number of hunters declined 1.5 million in ten years. One thing I learned many years ago about science is that in order to determine any trends, there has to be constants. I’ve also seen enough polls and surveys also that can render desired results by manipulating the questions.

Let me give you some examples of how this information can be skewed. I talk to hunters everyday. Some tell me they haven’t bought a hunting license in several years but still consider themselves to be a hunter. They share that they intend to take it up again as conditions in their lives permit it.

In any given year, circumstances could warrant a significant reduction in license sales regionally or nationwide. One example would be the extent of chronic wasting disease. This has been known to influence decisions to hunt or not. Weather is always a contributing factor. In Maine where I grew up, many hunters wait until the last minute to buy their license. When you have a hunting season with persistent rains, often times bona fide hunters opt out of purchasing a license. Their time afield is limited and if they can’t get out when the weather is good, they might not go.

Calculating license sales also involves non-resident licenses. Obviously those who choose to hunt in other states can afford to do so. What if circumstances dictated whether or not someone bought several out-of-state licenses?

(You can get more exact information on this survey by clicking this link, which is a pdf file.)

I have a good friend with whom I spent many hours as a teenager and young adult hunting with. Everyday after school it seemed we were on the river looking for ducks. When that season was winding down, we were hunting ruffed grouse and then on to the deer season. When we wasn’t hunting, we were fishing. He was and still is an avid hunter and fisherman, yet there was a time of about 10 years in his life when he never bought a hunting or a fishing license because of family economics.

Is the number of hunters in this country decreasing? Probably, but don’t get suckered into the emotionalism and start believing that 1.5 million fewer people hunt today than 10 years ago. The dynamics are changing and hunting groups are modifying things in order to recruit and retain more new hunters.

Associated PressJeff Soyer of Alphecca weighs in on this topic today but from a bit of different perspective. Jeff comments on an article today that came from the Associated Press claiming that hunting numbers are seriously on the decline. Jeff describes the family makeup these days which is not conducive to “the hunting family”.

Soyer also takes issue with the fact that the AP story decided to haul the NRA into the discussion blaming them for creating an atmosphere against hunting because of their “extreme” positions on guns and hunting. He also lays into the American Hunters and Shooters Association for spreading lies about guns and hunting. He refers specifically to one of the founders, Ray Schoenke.

If “Soccer Moms now believe hunters have made things more dangerous,” it’s because of the lies and distortions of garbage can rats like Schoenke.

It’s easy to point fingers at all the reasons why hunting numbers are decreasing. The list sometimes seems endless. We know there are fewer acres of land to hunt on than the past. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that kids aren’t getting afield like past history showed. The costs of participation are increasing, including equipment, gas, license fees, etc., even though these same surveys indicate we are spending more money every year on our sport.

The Arizona Fish and Game Department recently hosted a symposium where representatives from 23 states and Canada met in Flagstaff to discuss ways to recruit and retain hunters. Too many times, we as individuals and group meetings such as these, spend countless hours discussing how to counter the negative effects on our sports like those I just mentioned but we fail to discuss a growing concern that is having just as bad an effect. That’s squabbling among sportsmen.

When you have organizations like AHSA badmouthing the NRA, which like it or not is one of the most powerful gun and hunting lobbies we have, it does nothing good for hunting and fishing. Sporting groups are bringing legislative actions against our own industry and those who support it.

In Pennsylvania recently, a hunting organization filed a lawsuit against the Game Commission in order to force them to change their deer management plans. While hunters and fish and game often disagree with management tactics, any good that would have come out of such a lawsuit wouldn’t come close to offsetting the negative.

Presently in North Dakota, hunting groups operating under the auspices of an organization called the North Dakota Hunters for Fair
Chase, want to outlaw high-fence hunting. Once again the result of the battle to influence the public come election day will create more harm to the hunting fraternity than any good will come from such legislation.

The list goes on and yet we keep asking ourselves what can we do to increase participation? There is nothing wrong with taking close looks at all aspects of ways to retain and recruit but first I might suggest that hunters, fishermen and the groups we belong to, stop cutting each others’ throats and work together for one common good. Every new and existing hunting and fishing organization should be founded based on the belief that they can supplement the sport not fight against it.

Tom Remington


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