Fish and Wildlife Economics and Statistics

Hunting, Fishing Rebound in U.S.

September 27, 2012

by Wendy Koch, USA TODAY

More Americans are heading outdoors to hunt and fish for fun, reversing a two-decade-long decline among adults.

Eleven percent more Americans (ages 16 and older) fished and 9% more hunted in 2011 than in 2006, according to a new five-year survey from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The kids went, too. Of those ages 6 to 15, 13% more hunted (from 1.6 million to a record 1.8 million) and 2% more fished (from 8.3 million to 8.5 million) during the same period. The preliminary state-by-state data were released this month.

“What we see is a pretty significant change in direction,” says Dan Ashe, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s director, noting declines in prior surveys since 1991. He says the specific causes for the reversal won’t be spelled out until the final report is issued later this year but adds: “There’s a growing realization that doing things outdoors is healthy.”

The recession had a major impact, says Rob Southwick of Southwick Associates Inc., a Florida-based firm that tracks the industry and noticed an increase in licenses for hunting and fishing three years ago. He says these old-fashioned pastimes had been giving way to other leisure activities such as kids’ sports teams and computer games. “But when times got tough, people wanted to go back to the basics” and what they did growing up, he says.

Another factor is the softening of hunting regulations by nearly three dozen states since 2004, says Tom Hughes of the National Wild Turkey Federation, an organization that promotes hunting. More states now offer apprentice licenses that don’t require hunters’ education for beginners accompanied by licensed hunters.

Urban fishing programs and other outreach efforts by private groups and state agencies have also increased in recent years, targeted especially at youth, says Jon Gassett, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

“For a while, I thought we lost them (youth) to the computer generation,” Gassett says, adding the new efforts seem to be luring them back. His department is showcasing the state’s wildlife resources this month by rolling out a new app-like guide for mobile devices.

Higher participation numbers aren’t due to U.S. population growth, because even the share of adult Americans who hunted (6% last year) or fished (14%) were each up one percentage point from 2006 — the first such shift in 20 years.

Not all states saw the uptick in wildlife-related recreation. Of the 28 states that did, the largest percentage increases occurred in Alaska (47%) and Louisiana (40%), according to the 2011 survey based on Census Bureau interviews with 48,627 households.

Fishing and hunting vary widely among states. The share of state residents who fished last year ranged from 6% in California to 41 % in Alaska for people ages 16 and older. The participation rate for hunters ranged from 1% in Massachusetts to 21% in South Dakota.

The differences depend on state policies, economies, demographics and weather, says Sylvia Cabrera, who worked on the 2011 survey for the Fish and Wildlife Service. Because of the prior downward trend, she says the new data came as a surprise.

“More people are looking to harvest their own food,” says Ken Hardy of Wild West Guns, a store in Anchorage, recalling a “poor female college student” who recently went on her first hunt.