Gerald Almy: The number of hunters is declining

Gerald Almy

Does it seem like the woods and fields are getting more and more crowded with hunters every year? That special place only you knew about suddenly has three or four cars parked nearby on weekends with trail cameras that monitor deer movement strapped on virtually every other tree?

Well if you’re unlucky that may be the case. Some areas certainly are more crowded, especially when major deer seasons open. But the fact is, surveys show the situation regarding hunter numbers is really just the opposite.

More and more people in the country are giving up the sport of hunting. It’s a sad situation for this rich tradition. It’s also sad for wildlife management, which depends on the contributions of sportsmen who buy licenses, stamps, and permits. Those purchases provide the funds that help protect and enhance habitat for both game and non-game species.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has conducted the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation since the mid 1950s, every five years, detailing how many people hunted and how much they contributed to the economy.

The last survey was in 2016, with preliminary data released in late 2017. The figures show that in 2016, 11.5 million people 16 years or older went hunting. (This represents just 5 percent of this segment of the population. In years past, up to 10 percent of the adult population hunted.)

Between the previous survey in 2011 and this one in 2016, the nation lost 16 percent of its hunters. Those who did hunt spent an average of 16 days going after game animals. Eighty percent of those hunters pursued big game.

Hunters spent $25.6 billion in 2016, mostly on equipment, with about 3 percent going for licenses and fees.

The sad thing about the decline in hunters is that the previous five-year period, from 2006 to 2011, actually saw an increase of a million hunters. That period coincided with many more women deciding to hunt. Unfortunately, the overall trend is now down, with a loss of 2.2 million hunters over the last five years.

Hunters’ annual spending also averaged $11 billion less than the previous five-year period.

If these statistics weren’t alarming enough, it’s expected that numbers will decline further as Baby Boomers leave the sport.

Here are a few more details on what people hunted. Some 31 percent hunted small game like squirrels and rabbits, while 21 percent went after migratory gamebirds such as doves, ducks and woodcock. Eleven percent pursued coyotes, groundhogs, and similar animals.

Days afield varied widely, from four days per year in Maine to 30 days in Illinois.

One positive note is that public support for hunting is at its highest level ever. Some 75 percent of adults support hunting, even though just 5 percent participate in the sport.

We are fortunate in the Shenandoah Valley that hunting has strong support, and many children head out into the woods each fall with parents or relatives to continue the tradition. But long-term, the statistics do not look positive for the country as a whole. For those with the time who are able, introducing newcomers to the sport is the best way to help keep hunting alive for a long time to come.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.