Hunting Numbers Down 2 Million, Says Federal Survey

FWS findings indicate hunters not as plentiful, but anglers and wildlife watchers up

Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017

By Mark Carter

The number of Americans who hunt dropped by about 2 million people between 2011 and 2016, according to a new report by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The agency releases its "National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation" every five years, and the recently released 2016 report reveals a drop in the number of hunting Americans. While FWS says that 101.6 million Americans took part in wildlife-related outdoor recreation (hunting, fishing and wildlife watching) in 2016, participation in hunting dropped by roughly 2 million people to 11.5 million hunters.

Meanwhile, the number of people taking part in fishing increased 8 percent from 33.1 million anglers in 2011 to 35.8 million in 2016 with fishing spending up 2 percent as well. Hunting expenditures dropped 29 percent from $36.3 billion to $25.6 billion. 

Overall hunting participation decreased 16 percent, the report found. The number of big game hunters fell 20 percent, while hunters seeking “other animals” decreased by 39 percent. Other findings from the report:

  • Total hunting-related spending decreased 29 percent between 2011 and 2016 (not statistically significant) and hunting equipment purchases decreased 18 percent (again, not statistically significant).
  • The category with the biggest decrease was land leasing and ownership with a 62 percent drop.
  • Small game had a decline of 27 percent, “other animal” hunting increased 17 percent and total hunting expenditures decreased 6 percent. 


Recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3) efforts are credited with the increase in anglers. A funding provision in the Dingell-Johnson Act (also known as the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act) allows a small percentage of exise tax revenues related to fishing and boating to be used for R3 programs. 

Many believe the same provision is needed for hunting. The Pittman-Robertson Act (the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act), which created an excise tax on guns, ammunition and archery equipment, doesn't permit using the funds for R3 activities.

“It is time for our community and our decision makers to get serious about R3, or recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters, because the implications for conservation are dire if this trend continues,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We must modernize the Pittman-Robertson Act so we can promote hunting the same way we promote fishing and boating, bring the hunter education and licensing systems into the 21st century, and immediately address serious threats to hunting, like chronic wasting disease in deer.”

Fosburgh said hunters also must focus on expanding access and "improving the quality of the hunting experience."

"Better habitat means more animals and more opportunities for success," he said.

In a post titled, "A Confirmed Decline in Hunter Participation Should Be a Call to Action for Sportsmen," TRCP blogger Kristyn Brady wrote that the fiscal year 2018 budget bill should include robust conservation funding that incentivizes private landowners to enroll acreage in voluntary public access programs, and that the trend of fewer hunters "has significant ripple effects on not only the key federal funding models that support conservation of fish and wildlife, but also the base of support for our public lands and thoughtful natural resources policy."

According to FWS, 11.5 million people went hunting in 2016. That's 5 percent of the U.S. population aged 16 and older. More data points from the report:

  • Hunters in the U.S. spent an average of 16 days pursuing wild game.
  • Big game like elk, deer and wild turkey attracted 9.2 million hunters (80 percent) who spent 133 million days afield.
  • More than 3.5 million (31 percent) pursued small game including squirrels, rabbits, quails, and pheasants on 38 million days.
  • Migratory birds, such as geese, ducks and doves, attracted 2.4 million hunters (21 percent) who spent 16 million days hunting.
  • Hunting for other animals such as coyotes, groundhogs and raccoons attracted 1.3 million hunters (11 percent) who spent 13 million days afield.
  • Hunters spent $25.6 billion on trips, equipment, licenses and other items to support their hunting activities in 2016.
  • The average expenditure per hunter was $2,237 while total trip-related expenditures comprised 36 percent of all spending at $9.2 billion.
  • Other expenditures, such as licenses, stamps, land leasing and ownership, and plantings totaled $4.2 billion, 17 percent of all spending.
  • Spending on equipment such as guns, camping equipment, and 4-wheel-drive vehicles comprised 48 percent of spending with $12.2 billion.


Read the full survey here.

(Photos courtesy of Texas Parks & Wildlife)