Hunting Numbers May Be Down, But 16 Percent?

Commentary: Feds should revisit 2016 survey that reports 2 million fewer hunters

Monday, Sept. 18, 2017

Editorial (updated)

In August, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service released the preliminary report of its once-every-five-year National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. The final report will be issued sometime soon although a date for its release has not been given.

The survey reported that the number of hunters declined from 13.7 million in 2011 to 11.5 million in 2016, a 16 percent drop. The survey said the drop was not “statistically significant.”  Neverthelesss, we were immediately suspicious of the accuracy of this survey as reported in the preliminary report. We are suspicious of the people who conducted the survey, most of which of which was done in 2016. 

Hunters should remember that the portion of the survey carried out in 2016 was done under the leadership of Dan Ashe and the Obama administration. They are the same ones who, in their last days in power, looked down their noses at those who hunt and fish and ruled we could no longer use lead in our ammunition for hunting or for sinkers in our fishing gear. 

The Obama administration never liked hunters because many of us hunt with firearms -- “guns” in their vernacular. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke revoked that rule within days after he took office. 

So, the first thing we did when we read this new survey was to look up the Fish & Wildlife Service’s annual National Hunting License Report listing the number of hunting licenses issued each year in each state.  Here is the official number of total issuances for the last eight years from that report:

Total License, Tags, Permits & Stamps

  • 2009 -- 34,082,726
  • 2010 -- 34,655,635
  • 2011 -- 35,711,382
  • 2012 -- 36,393,788
  • 2013 -- 35,238,092
  • 2014 -- 35,850,931
  • 2015 -- 36,355,087
  • 2016 -- 38,402,443


(There are some relatively small distortions in these numbers -- for example, Missouri reported only 23 licenses in 2013 -- but the numbers otherwise are accurate because each state reports its numbers to the Fish & Wildlife Service from their sales of licenses.)

A decline of 2 million hunters in five years? At the same time, the number of licenses, tags, permits and stamps experienced no decline. Yes, we’re suspicious. Not of the current administration, but the last one. They didn’t like firearms or hunters. They never will accept us. And they were in charge for much of the time when this survey was conducted.

We do not believe there are 2 million fewer hunters in five years, a 16 percent drop. It may be a statistically insignificant, but we would be less skeptical if it had been something like a 16 percent increase in the number of hunters. 

But there are fewer hunters than in the past. This is a result of the continuing population migration to the cities for jobs.  A greater percentage of youth grow up in the urban areas without ever being exposed to the magical allure of the hunt with a firearm or bow.  

We reported on this in an interview with David Yeates, head of the 10,000-member Texas Wildlife Association, headquartered in San Antonio. TWA has established the Texas Youth Hunting Program to introduce youth to hunting. It is an excellent and imaginative program from which every state can learn how to introduce youth, particularly those in the inner city, to hunting, sport shooting and archery.

Another notable effort is the National Wild Turkey Federation’s 10-year conservation initiative, "Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt," that aims to conserve or enhance 4 million acres of critical upland habitat, recruit 1.5 million new hunters and open access to half a million new acres for hunting, sport shooting and other outdoor recreation.

Hunting is an integral component of life in the United States, and is alive and well. Whit Fosburgh, the head of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said it best about hunting when he told America Hunt, “Hunting is something anybody can do regardless of socioeconomics, race or background. It’s true democracy.”  

We should always take pride in calling ourselves hunters. And before the final report for 2016 is issued, the Fish & Wildlife Service should revisit the methodology of the survey report, and learn how it was designed and executed and whether there was a bias in the survey management and staff.  Let’s be sure that the reported decline really is nothing more than just statistically insignificant. 

Porter Briggs
Founder & President
America Hunt