By Larry Keane
Autumn hunting seasons are fast approaching and if early numbers on hunting license sales are any indication, the coronavirus pandemic isn’t keeping America’s outdoorsmen and women from planning to visit their camps, stands and fields.
Beginning in March and April earlier this year, COVID-19 spread across America and has led to a surge in firearm sales that hasn’t been seen before. According to retailer survey data, more than 5 million of the more than 13 million gun buyers in 2020 were first-timers. Hunting activities were listed by purchasers as one of the main reasons for buyers to jump off the fence and head to the gun store.
Through all the uncertainty and unrest in U.S. cities, America’s hunters are heading outdoors and to the fields and countryside.
Licenses Selling Fast
Hunting and fishing agencies are seeing a continued uptick in the number of licenses sold for these activities.
“I think it would be fair to say that (the pandemic) played a major role,” Mike Park, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Communications Director, told PennLive. “However, with COVID-19, people have found more time on their hands and have been seeking outdoor recreation close to home.”
Pennsylvania, regarded as a hunting bellwether state, has already seen a substantial increase in the number of hunting and fishing licenses sold this year. The Pennsylvania Game Commission reported an increase of nearly eight percent across all licenses sold, including a nearly five percent increase in licenses specifically for hunters. That totals 162,747 more hunting licenses purchased this year compared to 2019.
North Dakota is also seeing a significant bump as deer hunting license sales are up. A record number of hunters have applied for licenses there. Early numbers from Iowa, Michigan, Maine, Wisconsin and states across the country show similar trends.
During the continued trend of historic firearm sales in 2020, retailer data shows hunting as a leading reason for a new firearm purchase. Among those surveyed, shotguns and modern sporting rifles (MSRs) were among the most popular choices. MSRs are the most popular-selling centerfire rifle in American with more than 18 million in circulation today. In addition to being an effective self-defense firearm, MSRs are lightweight, accurate, have low recoil, come in a variety of hunting calibers and are adaptable with numerous upgrade options, making them highly desirable for America’s hunters.
New Hunting Generation
This fall isn’t just a great time to take a rifle or shotgun out for a hunt. It’s an opportunity to bring someone new along and introduce them to hunting. NSSF launched the +OneSM Movement to do just that, and the benefits are immeasurable. Providing a chance for someone new to join for a hunt can create a lifelong recreational marksman or hunter and even state wildlife departments are incentivizing introducing someone new to keep the traditions going.
Jared Wiklund of the St. Paul, Minn., chapter of Pheasants Forever praised the increased hunting trends and the impacts and connections between future generations of hunters and the ability to get outdoors.
“People are reconnecting with the land,” Wiklund explained. “This absolutely will be long-term, because the more people buy licenses, the more money there is for public land. The more public land there is, the more people want to be outside. We are seeing a huge influx of people getting outdoors.”
Creative opportunities to foster the growth of the American hunting population from across the country include “youth hunting weekends” in Vermont and the “Liberty Hunt” weekend in Michigan, where hunters ages 16 years old or under who have disabilities, or members of the deaf and hard of hearing community, can join a hunt.
“People with disabilities can experience difficulties with mobility, climbing into a tree stand, sighting in game, hearing game approaching or holding a firearm,” Michigan DNR Wildlife Division’s Hannah Schauer said of the event. “The Liberty Hunt provides opportunities for veterans and others to get outdoors and try a new sport or continue to enjoy one they love.”
With millions of new Americans buying firearms for hunting and purchasing hunting licenses, the pastime and traditions of American hunting and recreational shooting are growing.
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.