Hunter numbers have been on the decline for decades, losing hundreds of thousands of hunters each year, but was this year any different? We’ve all heard the guy on Facebook, in the bar, or a friend of yours saying, “I’ve never seen this many people in the woods before, and it’s all because of COVID.” But what does the data say?
Some states certainly saw an increase in hunters. Nonresident elk permits in Idaho sold out faster than ever this season. A Fox News article from November cited increases in hunting license sales in at least five states. An ABC outlet, reported a three-fold increase in license dollars in New York State. New York Department of Environment Conservation Commissioner, Basil Seggos, sums up the sentiment behind this rise: “With New Yorkers looking for more ways to enjoy the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing tremendous interest in outdoor recreation and in the sports of fishing, hunting, and trapping.” Basil Seggos, NY DEC Commissioner.
Where I live, in Florida, the number of individual license holders increased by less than 700 from 2019 to 2020. The national number of total permits, tags, licenses, and stamps (excluding 2009, the year Georgia inexplicably produced 10 million more than usual) ranged from 34,082,726 (2010) to 37,007,122 (2018). In 2020, that number was reported at 38,854,259.
Interestingly, one of the largest increases was seen in the Northern Mariana Islands, a United States Commonwealth in the Pacific Ocean. In that territory, license sales went from a low of 23 in 2014 to 308 in 2020. That 308 also included two non-residents.
On a national scale, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data, however, paints a somewhat different picture. Between 2004 and 2019, the number of individual license holders in the U.S. was between 14,448,040 (2010) and 15,620,578 (2018). That number for 2020? 15,158,443, lower than 2019.
How hunter numbers will play out after COVID-19 is hard to say. How will this new attention change our views of hunting? How many of 2020’s rookie class will buy licenses in 2030? Time will only tell. What is for certain is that we, as a group, must continue to pass along our traditions to our kids and adult friends. We must maintain a professional appearance as stewards of the land in the face of increasing pressure from society at large. We must do these things to ensure the survival of our tradition, the animals, and ecosystems we so dearly love.