SAMUEL: Why losing hunters is a concern to us all


We hear all the time that hunter numbers are declining. And I think they are, but evaluating that isn’t as simple as it sounds.

 The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service canvases the country every five years to get the number of hunters over 16 years of age. Using those figures, we are definitely loosing lots of hunters. The 2011 survey showed 13.6 million hunters, and the 2016 survey showed a drop to 11.5 million. Big drop for only five years. The 2021 survey will be interesting to see.

That survey doesn’t show the number of hunters under 16 years of age, but it seems we need to recruit more hunters.

State wildlife agencies have started recruiting, retaining and recovering former hunters. For example, there are various programs to recruit more kids into hunting. Those programs sound good, but after several years it appears that nothing is working.

The Fish and Wildlife Survey looks at various age categories and those numbers are interesting.

For example, in 1991, 28% of all hunters were in the age group from 25 to 34. In 2016, only 16% of hunters were in that age group. How about older age categories? In 1991, 23% were in the 45 to 64 age group, but that jumped to 46% in 2016.

Clearly, using these numbers the future of hunting is in jeopardy. There’s more old hunters and fewer young hunters.

However, there are other numbers looking at hunter numbers per capita that aren’t so negative. In 1958, when our population was 175 million, 14,138,182 people owned hunting licenses, but in 2020, when our population is 333 million, there were 15,158,443 that owned hunting licenses.

This jump occurred even though 8% of the population hunted in 1958 and that dropped to 4.5% in 2020.

Finding places to hunt may be a bigger threat to the future of hunting than the number of hunters.

I hear this all the time from hunters. The places they used to hunt are either loaded with hunters or they are gone. Housing developments, businesses such as Walmart, roads, etc. Where all that development is located, was once wildlife habitat.

Look at the Midwest where corn fields keep expanding because of the demand for corn. Corn fields are pretty bleak as wildlife habitat compared to what was there previously.

Hunters per capita have dropped only slightly in the past 50 years. Hunting is still very important to millions of us. That tradition is still a big part of many families. But the drop in hunting reflects a more urbanized society where people have no exposure to hunting.

When this growing number of urbanized Americans know nothing about the values of hunting, then hunting suffers. We see this happening more and more.

The loss of bear hunting over bait in Colorado hasn’t benefited the bears. The loss of grizzly bear hunting in British Columbia hasn’t benefited the bears nor has it benefited the rural economy there.

If hunters don’t react to this and get involved in educating the urban public in a big way, then the tradition of hunting will continue to decline. Sad, but true. And what is really sad is, when this happens, wildlife will not benefit.

Dr. Samuel is a retired wildlife professor from West Virginia University. His outdoor columns have appeared, and continue to appear, in Bowhunter magazine and the Whitetail Journal. If you have questions or comments on wildlife and conservation issues, email him at