By Larry Keane
A 30-year Michigan study is confirming news that hunters and recreational target shooters are enabling wildlife to thrive. The American bald eagle, a national symbol, has made a remarkable recovery in Michigan and today’s recreational target shooters and hunters have played a substantial role in the recovery.
The study was completed by researchers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and others and reported in the Detroit Free Press. It examined the leading causes of death among bald eagles over 30 years. The study also showed that bald eagle populations in Michigan have soared. Michigan’s eagle breeding pairs in 1961 numbered only 52. The last year for which data was examined in 2017, showed there are 835 nesting pairs. That’s a more than 1,500 percent increase.
Michigan outdoorsmen and women can be especially proud of the bald eagle’s comeback. The state has among the highest percentage of hunting licenses sold per capita. That’s significant to Michigan’s wildlife because hunters and recreational shooters are literally investing in wildlife recovery. Funds from purchasing hunting licenses and excise taxes paid by firearms and ammunition manufacturers are directly responsible for conservation success. It’s called the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund but is also known as Pittman-Robertson funds for the originators, U.S. Sen. Key Pittman (D-Nev.) and U.S. Rep. Absalom Willis Robertson (D-Va.) who sponsored the federal legislation that collected excise taxes on every firearm, cartridge and shotshell produced to fund conservation. Those funds are allocated to states and help with wildlife management and conservation projects. More than $13 billion has been contributed since 1937.
Hunting Getting A New Look
Hunting is getting a boost during the pandemic. License sales are climbing as people are searching for socially-distanced recreation and providing clean food for the table. Michigan isn’t alone in the renewed popularity of America’s outdoors pastime. States including Kansas, North Carolina, Idaho, North Dakota, Iowa, Pennsylvania and more have all seen notable upticks in hunting and fishing license sales. The spring saw record turkey harvests. Hunters, though, are putting more into the woods, fields and marshes than they’re taking. Just half a million whitetail deer ranged the plains in 1900, but today, there’s 32 million. Waterfowl were devastated and today, 44 million migrate across the country. Rocky Mountain Elk number over a million, up from 41,000 in the early 1900s and wild turkeys grow from just 100,000 to over 7 million now.
That’s just game species. Wildlife conservation funded through Pittman-Robertson funds for nongame species like eagles is working too. Today there are more than 17,000 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states.
Surging Firearm Sales
Along with the uptick in hunting activities across the country, Americans are purchasing record numbers of firearms. This includes more than 2.5 million first-time buyers. An NSSF retailer survey conducted during the purchasing surge showed shotguns, modern sporting rifles and traditional rifles among buyer’s choices.
NSSF knows it can be tough getting started in hunting and that’s why it started the +OneSM Movement, a pledge by recreational shooters and hunters to introduce at least one person to the shooting sports this year. For hunters, that means being a mentor, teaching ethical hunting, processing and care for game from the field and sparking a desire in one more hunter to perpetuate hunting and wildlife conservation for all to enjoy.
National Shooting Sports Month®
Now is the perfect time to make the commitment too. August is National Shooting Sports Month, created by NSSF to celebrate the recreational shooting sports and introduce someone new to the range. It’s the perfect time to get ready, practice marksmanship and make plans for when the leaves turn, days grow colder and it’s time to once again take to the field on a hunt.
These cherished outdoor activities lead to increased hunting licenses, firearms and ammunition sales that support state conservation and wildlife population management. Keeping needed hunting materials economically obtainable, and public lands accessible, mean Americans will keep hunting and bald eagle populations soaring.
Larry Keane is Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade association.