Across the country, hunting license sales are declining. That’s not a new fact, but every time I hear it I feel as if I’m getting prodded by a needle. But not in a painful way — although it is an upsetting fact — yet rather in a way that encourages me to begin helping my friends experience the outdoors.
In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted its 5-year survey of people over the age of 16 who hunt. They found that only 4.4% (11.5 million) of the population does so, which continues the downward slide of participation since 1991 when the percentage was 7.3% (14.1 million). If you’re wondering where West Virginia falls, compared to the national average it’s at roughly 2-3%, with the rest of the mid-Atlantic states.
It’s also important to look at the number of hunters by age and sex.
Of the 11.5 million hunters, 90% are male. Further, The majority of hunters — 46% — are 45-64-year-olds. The lowest number of hunters are found in the 16-17 age group (2%). Participation rose 7% with 18-24-year-olds (9%) and continued on that trend with 25-34-year-olds (16%), but dropped in the 35-44 age range to 14%. Those 65 and older also made up 14% of the total number. What’s hard to process for me is the lack of hunters in the 18-24, 25-34 and 35-44 age ranges, solely due to the wide group it encompasses. When compared to the total U.S. population, each of the three groups has a hunter average of 4%. There are certainly external factors aside from not being exposed to hunting that keeps younger folks out of the woods, like school, establishing a career and access to extra money in the wake of increasing wealth inequality, but if that middle group begins to fade, it will certainly trickle down.
I was lucky to grow up with a dad who taught me how to hunt small game in between his multiple construction jobs. I don’t remember if I was ever hugely successful on those rare hunts in Doddridge County, but they at least instilled something in me that allowed me as a sophomore at WVU to pick up deer hunting. And then as a 24-year-old to pick up waterfowl hunting. Maybe that little nudge I had as a kid is good enough for most, or maybe I was predisposed to enjoy hunting. Whatever it is, I’m happy to be a hunter.
That being said, I challenge you to add this to your resolution list: Introduce someone to the outdoors.
In a prior column, I mentioned an initiative called R3, which stands for Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation. It’s a national movement to bring new hunters into the fold to help conservation efforts that are taking hits with that decline in sportsman license sales. To learn more about that, you can type this link into your internet browser: https://cahss.org/what-is-r3/
They’ll be able to explain it better than I can in a column that may be going on too long already.
And in that spirit, I’ll end on this. I have plenty of resolutions heading into the new year and decade, too. Of those, this is my biggest. I wouldn’t just write this as a call to arms without joining it myself, because the sport we love is in danger. As long as I work at The Dominion Post, I’m sure you’ll see plenty of columns about this, dissecting the topic more and more. But, having the platform I do, I want to try to inform our readers as much as possible.
Over the next year, I plan to report on conservation efforts in the state concerning our resident species like grouse and whitetail deer, while also pitching in as much as I possibly can. I hope you join me in 2020 and beyond.