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.
In the United States, participation in hunting has been generally declining since the 1980’s. Hunter expenditures generate billions of dollars annually for the national and local economies and support hundreds of thousands of jobs, while hunting license sales provide essential funding for wildlife conservation and habitat restoration through the American System of Conservation Funding. The decline in participation poses an ever-increasing threat to this System. License sales data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that there were 15,158,443 hunting license holders in the United States in 2020, which is roughly 4.6 percent 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 at that time). In response, efforts to recruit new hunters, retain participants, and reactivate hunters whose participation lapsed has become a primary objective across the country. These efforts are collectively referred to as Hunter Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation, or R3.
Hunters have a tremendous impact on the U.S. economy, spending over $90 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. 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 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 most state fish and wildlife agencies, which are 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 organizations, shooting sports organizations, and the hunting/shooting sports industry have invested heavily in recruitment, retention, and reactivation initiatives. The success of these efforts, thus far, has been limited. A number of people in the outdoor community believe that more strategic approaches are needed to sustain and add to the number of sportsmen in the United States. As such, the Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports (CAHSS) was formed by leaders in the conservation community in 2017 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 that are 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.
CSF works closely with caucus members, state fish and wildlife agencies, and partner organizations to identify legislative and regulatory opportunities to advance R3 efforts and to explore potential solutions to any barriers to hunting participation that statutes may create. Working through the three caucus structures on both the state and federal level, CSF strives to educate decision makers about the importance of R3 efforts and how they can use their role in office to help advance policies that promote hunting participation.
Points of Interest
- The percentage of U.S. citizens who hunt has been steadily declining since 1980. In 2020, there were 15.2 million certified, paid hunting license holders, resulting in an effective participation rate of 4.6% (down from 16.26 million hunters 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. CSF will continue to work to complement all partner organizations in their R3 efforts while simultaneously informing lawmakers about the importance of promoting hunting participation through reducing legal and regulatory barriers where appropriate.