Number of Hunters, Anglers on the Rise

Published 9:18 am Tuesday, January 28, 2014

“Jelly Bean the Clown” tends his fishing lines on a warm afternoon on Beaufort County’s South Creek. FRED BONNER | CONTRIBUTOR

“Jelly Bean the Clown” tends his fishing lines on a warm afternoon on Beaufort County’s South Creek.


By Fred Bonner


Many of the animal rights organizations you hear about these days are trying to be “politically correct” when they rejoice in stating that the numbers of hunters and fishermen are decreasing. They seldom stop and think about the fact that the hunters and fisherman are the ones who supply the vast majority of the money it takes to keep our fish and wildlife agencies (both state and federal) operating. They are distressed about these figures because their salaries and operating funds are strongly dependent on the numbers of hunters and fishermen who buy their licenses from these governmental agencies. The agencies that are given the responsibility of conserving our fish and wildlife resources generally do a good job of protecting these natural resources, but, like most civil service groups, they are nearly always short of operating funds. Few wildlife conservation agencies could exist without these license fees and taxes paid on the equipment that the outdoorsmen purchase.

In a newsletter to the subscribers of his online outdoor report, Wide Open Spaces, Editor Eric Pickholtz takes issue with the statement that the number of hunters is in a decline. His economic rationale behind the “increasing number of hunters” in America is quite interesting.  He says, “Between the years of 2006 and 2011, hunting participation soared by nine percent. A big part of that boon was a burgeoning interest in hunting among females. In fact, female hunters were 25 percent more common in 2011 than they were five years earlier.

“Throw in the fact that fishing saw a growth of 11 percent, and it seems that something was going on during the latter part of the last decade to make people want to take up rifles, bows, rods and reels and get outdoors in pursuit of game or fish.

“So what do you think happened to drive the growth in two of America’s longtime favorite sports? Was it some sort of presence in the media or in pop culture that made people want to see what they were missing? Did the trend of growth mark a growing acceptability for hunting and fishing among the once staunch animal rights activists we so often find ourselves up against in arguments?

“While any and all of those things may have played a role in the growth, none of them served as the main impetus. How come? Because that title belonged to something you might not expect: the economic recession.

“That’s right, the primary reason given for the growth of hunting and fishing participation was a downturn in economic growth, according to research by Responsive Management and reported on by the Billings Gazette. On one hand, that doesn’t make much sense: after all, becoming a serious hunter or angler is not cheap. In addition to hunting and fishing licenses, outdoor sportsmen and women must expend money on all manner of gear. Rifles, fishing rods, clothing, tree stands, ATVs, fishing boats, target practice, tackle, etc., etc. There’s a reason why the second most popular reason for newfound fishing and hunting participation was a growth in income.

“But despite the entry expenses that hunting and fishing require, they also offer an economic appeal to those hit hard by recession, simply because they give people a chance to catch or kill their own meat and feed their families without adding extra strain to the weekly grocery bill.

In other words, many people who have taken up hunting or fishing in the past six or seven years did so because it offered them a way to save money on food without going hungry. When asked why they had begun to hunt or fish, many newcomers answer “for the meat.” The answer was especially popular among women, possibly explaining precisely why our sport has seen such a great increase in female participation in recent years.

“The question now is this: as the country finally digs itself out of the recession, are hunting numbers going to decline to what they were half a decade ago? Will the female hunting trend reverse now that the sport will not be as pivotal for providing meals? It’s possible, but we’d like to think that most of the new hunters in our midst came for the meat and decided to stay for the sport.”

It’s really interesting that we’re seeing a lot more women taking part in the consumptive use of our wildlife resources. The modern woman is determined to see to it that they have just as much of a right to take an active part in hunting and fishing as their male counterparts. It fact, given the fact that the sport of hunting has pretty much been left up to men, the women have an obligation to take a very active part in hunting, as well as shooting.

I have several private and public shooting ranges very close by my home, and I never cease to be amazed at the numbers of women that I see on the range with handguns, shotguns and rifles. I feel that an increasing numbers of women are learning to shoot handguns for self-protection, but the new interest in shooting the long guns is for purely sporting (hunting and competition) purposes.

Over the years, there have been a lot of young women who have told me how much they wished that their father, brother or male friend had taken the time to take them out into the forest and fields to hunt. “We really felt left out when dad took the boys on a hunt and never said a word to us about our going along.” Was this their answer to today’s women’s rights movement?

Conversely a number of both men and women taking part in the sport of hunting have in recent years told me that they really didn’t care that much for hunting for sporting reasons but liked the actual hunting for purposely practical reasons. Just as Eric Pickholtz said, they wanted the meat on their dinner tables. I expect that if the economy of our nation declines as much as a lot of people fear that it will, we’ll be hearing a lot more of hunting (and fishing) just for the meat. Golf balls just don’t taste right.