By Larry Keane
America’s outdoor pastime experienced a renaissance in 2020 and signs indicate the trend will continue in 2021. Hunting and recreational shooting sports saw a boom in popularity as millions of Americans purchased firearms during the past year. Hunting license sales suffered a slow decline but reports show a reversal as people took more hunting trips, brought someone new with them or rounded for another trip to the woods or fields.
Whether for upland birds on the plains or deer or bruins in the north woods, the effects of more hunting are positive not just for hunters but all Americans looking for outdoor adventure and fresh air.
The coronavirus pandemic throughout 2020 all but shut down community businesses. That included recreational activities at city parks, theatres, entertainment venues and sports arenas. The outdoors remained open as “social distancing” became a way of life.
Firearm retailer data from NSSF show self defense was among the main drivers of the 21 million background checks for a firearm sale, but hunting and the desire to get away from the cramped confines of the indoors was near the top of reasons as well. Shotguns and rifles were among the most popular choices for buyers.
Tickets and Tags
Hunting license sales are the biggest tell for who’s heading out for a shoot and the numbers from 2020 are big. States including Washington, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, New York and more all hit highwater marks.
“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, including record sales of big game hunting and trapping licenses,” explained Basil Seggos, Commissioner of New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Seggos noted N.Y. hunting license sales tripled the opening day rate from 2019. These numbers aren’t unique to the Empire State.
Iowa’s hunting license sales went up by 20 percent compared to last year and Arkansas hunting license sales were the highest since 1938. Ditto for Oklahoma, which saw a preliminary deer harvest total of more than 120,000 deer. Michigan saw at least 100,000 new deer hunters last year, good for a nearly 10 percent increase in some counties.
Highlighting the changing demographics of who’s hunting, Ashley Autenrieth, deer biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, summed up the Wolverine state’s surge.
“Female hunters went up significantly,” Autenrieth said. “A jump this big we weren’t expecting but we actually do anticipate female hunting numbers to continue to increase.”
Benefits For All
The benefits of heading out for a hunt aren’t just realized by those participating. Non-hunters and wildlife itself benefit. Fees from hunting license sales are directed to state conservation programs. For consideration, a look at New York’s hunting license sales data for 2020 shows $922,444 in sales reported on the first day of big game license sales this year, compared to $347,103 in 2019.
That’s in addition to Pittman-Robertson excise taxes paid by firearm and ammunition makers, which topped $13.3 billion paid since 1937. Each time a new hunter purchases a shotgun or rifle or buys ammunition for a hunt or trip to the skeet range, they help continue the preservation of public lands in the United States.
Former Secretary for the Interior David Bernhardt summarized the impact new hunters would have on public lands and hunting opportunities for all Americans.
“Our conservation model is funded and supported by America’s hunters, shooters, anglers, boaters and other outdoor enthusiasts,” Bernhardt said. “These stewards of conservation generated nearly a billion dollars last year alone and make our country’s conservation legacy the envy of the world.”
It’s not enough to be satisfied with millions of new hunters in 2020. The key is to keep hunters heading back to the fields and woods in the future, bringing a son, a daughter or friend along as well. NSSF’s +ONESM Movement is aimed at encouraging hunters to recruit and engage the next generation of hunters and recreational shooters to ensure the opportunities to enjoy these great American pastimes remain for all.
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.