Participation in hunting has been generally declining since the 1980’s. Hunting license sales produce critical funding each year for wildlife conservation and habitat restoration, while hunter expenditures generate billions of dollars annually for the national economy and support hundreds of thousands of jobs. Development and use of partnerships and strategic models, in tandem with a careful examination of the efficacy of existing programs, must continue to be utilized to halt and reverse the declining trend in hunting participation.
Participation in hunting has been generally declining since the 1980’s. Hunting license sales produce essential funding each year for wildlife conservation and habitat restoration, while hunter expenditures generate billions of dollars annually for the national economy and support hundreds of thousands of jobs. The decline in participation poses an ever increasing threat to wildlife conservation and management. Recent certified license data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suggest that there are approximately 15.4 million hunters (4.9% of the U.S. population). This represents a significant decline in participation from 1980, when there were 16.2 million license holders (6.87% of the U.S. population).
Hunters have a tremendous impact on the U.S. economy, spending over $38 billion each year to engage in their pursuits. This spending helps create and support more than 680,000 jobs and generates $5.4 billion in state and local taxes, a sum that could pay the wages of 113,000 firefighters (or 37 percent of all professional firefighters in the country). If you add in federal taxes paid by hunters, the number doubles to $11.8 billion. More importantly, hunters generate a critical amount of conservation dollars through the American System of Conservation Funding (Page 32) by purchasing hunting licenses, tags, and permits, and by paying excise taxes on a wide array of sporting equipment, including firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, and other hunting-related expenditures. In total, monies paid by sportsmen and women provide 80% of the funding for state fish and wildlife agencies, the primary managers of our nation’s fish and wildlife resources.
In response to the declining number of sportsmen and women, state fish and wildlife agencies, conservation and shooting sports organizations, and the hunting/shooting sports industry, have invested heavily in recruitment, retention, and reactivation initiatives to reverse the decline in participation. The success of these efforts thus far has been limited, however, with the general consensus being that more strategic approach is needed to sustain hunter numbers. As such, the Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports (CAHSS) was formed by the leaders in the conservation community to take a fresh look at the business of recruiting and retaining hunters and shooters and to develop new and sustainable strategies and tactics to solicit, engage, and support these groups so vital to conservation and America’s heritage. Led by CAHSS efforts, there is a growing realization that recruitment, retention, and reactivation efforts must expand beyond hands-on learning experiences. Just as the American System of Conservation Funding model has evolved over time, the model for recruitment, retention, and reactivation must not remain static. In order to increase the number of participants from new and existing audiences, multi-pronged marketing and outreach efforts will be needed. Increasing participation from non-traditional user groups will require business practices that provide customer resources, straightforward rules and regulations, convenient licensing structures and sales processing, and better access to places to hunt and shoot.
Points of Interest
- The percentage of the U.S. population that hunts has been steadily declining since 1980. In 2016 there were 15.4 million certified paid hunting license holders, resulting in an effective participation rate of 4.9% (down from 16.26 million hunters with a participation rate of 6.87% in 1980).
- From 2006 to 2011, hunting participation either stayed the same or decreased in twenty-two states, with the highest negative percent change being seen in Maryland at 48%.
- If the downward participation trend continues, it will result in diminished capacity of our state fish and wildlife agencies to conserve species cherished by hunters and all outdoor enthusiasts. The best way to combat this downward participation trend is by establishing clear and achievable goals backed by the newest and most accurate scientific data.
- Over 450 individual R3 (Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation) programs nation-wide have had limited regional success, but haven’t sufficiently addressed the overall decline in hunter numbers. Examples of programs include National Archery in the Schools (NASP), Scholastic Clay Target Program, and Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW).
- Between 2000 and 2010, the number of hunters in Wisconsin had dropped by approximately 6.5%. Further models projected a 25% decrease in the next two decades. Evaluations of the state’s “Learn to Hunt” program found that 80% of the participants had fathers who hunted, and 70% had hunted before attending. Essentially, the program was only reaching hunters and their children and left little room for growth.
- Partnerships among stakeholders with a framework to identify strategies and effectiveness are key to stabilizing the hunting constituency.
- The Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports has developed a National Hunting and Shooting Sports Action Plan to provide guidance and structure for partnerships that can effectively meet the needs of new audiences, and can help clarify what initiatives and resources are the most needed to bolster participation in hunting and the shooting sports.
Development and use of partnerships and strategic models must continue to be utilized to halt and reverse the declining trend in hunting participation. State legislators are encouraged to work with their state fish and wildlife agencies – and by extension the Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports (CAHSS) – to ensure that state-level programs are designed and implemented to reach new audiences and mentor potential recruits to join the hunting community. To that end, such programs should seek to utilize data and resources provided by the CAHSS on hunter recruitment, retention, and reactivation efforts and trends in order to ensure that such programs will effectively reach and move various target audiences, rather than reinforcing an existing and/or stagnant status quo that may exist in a given state.
For more information regarding this issue, please contact Brett Stayton, 202-543-6850 x18, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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