Numerous studies documented a 4.9% increase in hunting license sales from 2019 to 2020. One of the few bright spots of COVID was that it produced a rekindled interest in deer hunting across the United States as people sought to get outside, and try to harvest their own food.

But an extensive study of 46 states in 2022 found that overall hunting license sales decreased by approximately 1.9% in 2021 compared to 2020. Resident license sales were down 4.0% in many states.

And yet another new study finds this troubling trend is continuing.

The Wisconsin Department of Naturals Resources studied 18 years of detailed license data. Software used in the study allowed the DNR to track and analyze the ages, gender and license-buying patterns of hunters throughout their lifetimes.

The analysis of all archery and firearms deer license data from 2005 through 2022 shows Wisconsin lost 65,000 hunters during that span, a nearly 10% decline, from roughly 672,000 hunters to about 607,000. Even more troubling, the study shows that most of that decline (51,000 hunters or 78.5% occurred in the last 10 years.

Dan Storm, the DNR’s chief deer researcher, said the study found hunter numbers declining across all ages. And the problem isn’t unique to the huge baby-boomer generation (hunters born from 1946 to 1964) “aging out” of our hunting ranks.

“This predictable loss of baby boomers is just one of many factors.” Storm said. “We’re also seeing declines in the number of boys and girls who hunt, probably because their middle-aged fathers aren’t hunting as much either.”

Some facts from the study:

  • Storm’s research team found that 5.5% of Wisconsin girls hunted deer in 2005. That percentage increased to 8.5% by 2015, but then slid back to 6% in 2022.
  • Data showed about 27% of Wisconsin boys hunted deer in 2005, but their participation fell to 22% in 2015 and to 17% in 2022.
  • Roughly half of boys and girls quit hunting soon after high school.
  • Boys are far more likely to resume hunting in their 20s. Their numbers peak in their 40s, but don’t plummet until reaching their 60s.
  • Participation rates differ by weapon choice, with gun-only hunters plunging 37% among males during the 18-year period studied; in contrast, in some good news, gun-only female hunters increased about 32% those years.