The number of licensed hunters, most of them deer hunters, dropped from 14.2 million in 1991 to 11.5 million in 2016. Most disturbing, the decline is expected to accelerate over the next decades.
Why fewer of us? I have my suspicions and government agencies and wildlife organizations have their theories, but I wanted information from real-life hard-core hunters, so I did a little Twitter/social survey. It’s far from scientific, but pretty darn representative I believe.
Loss of Access
By far the number one reason fewer people are hunting, especially east of the Mississippi, is loss of access to private land. This is not surprising, and it’s something I have known for years, but we have seemingly reached a tipping point. After years fighting it, trying to hold on to one or two spots they have hunted for years, people get frustrated and fatigued. Another 200 acres or so a guy has hunted for 20 or 30 years gets bought and posted and he says, “That’s it, I’m out.”
The repercussions? Not only do our numbers drop another tick, this guy’s kids don’t get the chance to hunt, and their kids don’t… You get the point.
Many landowners are posting their private properties, closing them to hunting probably forever. Others are leasing farms and woodlands to deer hunters and clubs, often at exorbitant fees depending on the rack genetics of a region. Many private lands continue to be developed, with houses springing up on hallowed ground where you and I shot deer for years.
My survey revealed that leasing land remains a hot topic, with strong feelings on both sides. One person in the Midwest wrote: “In my area almost all the private ground is now leased…people are paying big money, and I can’t afford that. So eventually I’ll have to quit…and dammit my kids and grand kids can’t hunt.”
Another hunter in Virginia posted: “My buddies and I lease land. We don’t like paying for it, but hell if we didn’t we wouldn’t have anywhere to hunt.”
Hunting Is Too Expensive
“Hunting has become a rich man’s sport.” I’ve heard people say this for years, but again we have seemed to reach a tipping point. Most deer hunters that responded to my survey, hard-working men and women, can’t afford lease fees or are not willing to pay up to hunt.
A number of people also mentioned that the cost of gear and tags have gone up so much so that they can’t or aren’t willing to pay for it. I get where they are coming from. But all things considered, if you still have a spot to hunt, hunting deer in your home state is still pretty cheap. As a rule, in-state licenses are reasonable. You can buy a fine new deer rifle package with a scope for $400 or less. The truth is, you can wear the same camo you have worn for 10 years, and in most cases use the same old gun and bow. So I urge you not to let cost impact your hunting.
America’s Changing Demographics & Culture
This is the most complex reason for the decline and the one that causes me the most worry. The vast majority of urban and suburban parents don’t hunt, and thus their kids will never have a chance. Rural parents, the ones that have driven the recruitment of young hunters for years, are super busy. And many of them have a different outlook on life and priorities than you or I or our fathers did, so their kids are never introduced to the woods.
As one guy wrote: “Many parents would rather pay $10,000 a year for their kids to play select sports than take them deer hunting these days.”
Most everybody rightly pointed to technology, electronics, video games, social media, Snap and the like. One person said: “When a kid becomes addicted to all this by the time he’s 4 or 5, he can’t imagine going out into the cold, wet woods when he’s 6 or 7 to sit still and wait for a deer.”
A few other notable comments from my survey:
One person wrote that baby boomers are aging and not hunting anymore. True, and there are facts to support this. Studies have shown that hunters are most active at 48 years old. Every few years after that, they hunt less and less…around 65 most people hang it up, either by choice or necessity.
One guy responded and said: “Part of the overall decline in hunters can be traced to the decline of America’s once rich traditional conservative values.” I’d say some truth in that.
Another person posted: “Some of my friends just say they have lost of the fire to hunt.” Disturbing, and if you dug deeper into their thinking I bet you’d find that they have lost all or most of their best places to hunt. They might have been forced to hunt a few years on public land where they didn’t have must success. All this douses that fire.
That guy, who still has the fire, went on to say:”Time to find some new friends!” LOL
Here’s the main reason all this matters. State wildlife agencies depend heavily on you, me and our brothers and sisters in arms for funding. Money generated from license fees and excise taxes on guns, ammunition and fishing equipment provide some 60% ($3.3 billion) of the annual funding for state fish and game agencies. As hunter numbers dwindle, so do dollars for conservation.
For more on the decline of hunters and the culture of hunting in America, this article is must read.
So what do you think? Still got any good places to hunt? Still got the fire to shoot a deer?