Reasons vary for the recent spike in hunters

A research firm spent 18 months surveying in 10 states to find out why hunting has grown in popularity.

rphillips@idahostatesman.comDecember 25, 2013 

After a decades-long, slow, steady decline in the number of hunters in the U.S., hunting is on the upswing.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s survey done every five years found participation in hunting grew by 9 percent nationwide from 2006 to 2011.

During that period, the number of hunters in Idaho grew by 33 percent, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s license data.

Many people have speculated why there was growth nationally after a gradual declined in hunting since the 1970s, but one company specializing in public opinion research, Responsive Management, set out to pinpoint the reasons.

The number one reason it found was the recession.

Folks who were unemployed or under-employed had more time to go hunting, and hunting was also a way to secure food when household income was tight.

But that wasn’t the only reason for the uptick. Ironically, higher wage earners also contributed to an increase in hunting as they sought out big-ticket hunts.

Outfitters, private ranches, and others with access to prime hunting market it to wealthy hunters.

But what’s fascinating is the broad spectrum of reasons for the growth, such as:

- Hunting for meat and the locavore movement that emphasizes locally grown and natural foods. The organic crowd has warmed to hunting as a source of purely organic meat.

- Agency recruitment and retention programs, such as Idaho’s “Passport” program that allows people to try hunting at a discounted price and without taking hunter education first.

- Agency-access programs that provide places to hunt, such as Idaho Fish and Game’s wildlife management areas and the “Access Yes” program that pays private landowners for hunting and fishing access.

- Agency marketing and changes in licenses. Many states, including Idaho, are expanding their hunting license offerings to make it cheaper and more convenient.

- Current hunters are participating more often. This is common as hunters specialize in certain types of hunting and take vacations or extra time off work to do it.

- Returning military personnel. Many who serve in the military come from rural areas where hunting is popular.

- Re-engagement of lapsed hunters. Many states have found there’s a large segment of hunters who do not go every year, so agencies have tried to entice them to buy licenses more often. Some relapsed hunters also want to introduce their kids to hunting, even if the parent hasn’t done it for years.

- New hunters including female, suburban and young participants. Hunting gear manufacturers have focused marketing efforts on women and youth because they see them as an opportunity to grow their sales.

Hunting organizations are also behind the push for more hunters.

“Hunting is a way of life. It is an American tradition and more and more people are realizing the importance it plays in all our lives,” said David Allen, president and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

“Hunting is conservation! It has a wide range of positive impacts on our lands and our wildlife,” he said.

Responsive Management, which specializes in surveys and research regarding natural resources and outdoor recreation, conducted the study by surveying and interviewing state agency personnel, reviewing license sales data and past hunting and fishing participation.

The firm also conducted more than 1,400 interviews in 10 states over an 18-month period while gathering data.

“The fact that a variety of factors was responsible for the increases should not take away from the importance of each individual factor,” said Mark Damian Duda, executive director of Responsive Management. “The research isolated each of these factors as having a notable impact on the increase in hunting and fishing participation between 2006 and 2011.”

RMEF’s Allen points out that more people hunting benefits all people who care about wildlife.

“Different people hunt for different reasons, whether to put food on the table, they want a more natural source of food, they have more or better access to lands to hunt, or they’re trying it for the first time,” he said.

“But the bottom line is more hunters and more hunting is good news for conservation, wildlife and wildlife habitat.”

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

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