In the October issue of the Bulletin we reported on the preliminary findings of the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation
, but waited for the publication of the Final Report
for our own analysis. The National Survey is conducted every five years by the US Census Bureau, collecting data for state wildlife agencies and the Association of Fish Wildlife Agencies. Conservation Force has always tracked the number and growth of “big game hunters” reported in the survey, as well as the comparative, per capita field days of those hunters and their relative share of the American Conservation paradigm. We continue to point out the unique role of big game hunting and its strength and importance.
The 2011 survey confirms the continued popularity of big game hunting. It is the most popular class of hunting, and it continues to have a positive growth trend. There are more big game hunters today than at any time since 1986 when the survey methodology (comparability) changed. It is likely to be the greatest number of big game hunters in history. The hunting that is perceived by some to be the most under attack is actually doing the best among classes of hunting and is at a record high.
Though the early methodology from 1955 to 1986 did not provide comparable numbers, big game hunting had a growth trend in every single survey under that earlier methodology. That trend has continued. Since there has been overall growth since the new methodology began (1991), the 2011 survey reflects more big game hunters than ever. There was a small, “statistically insignificant” decline in big game hunters in the early 2000s, but that has been completely offset by the overall growth. From the comparable period of 1991 to 2011, the number of big game hunters has grown. There has been a six percent increase over the past decade, 10,911 (2001) to 11,570 (2011). Moreover, big game hunters constitute 85 percent of all hunters.
What about time in the woods (days of participation)? No group of hunters, anglers or wildlife watchers had more days of participation time per capita (per individual) in the outdoors. Big game hunters are the foremost outdoorsmen and women if time in the natural world is the measure (18.3 days per capita). They are followed by freshwater anglers (16.5 days per capita) and wildlife watchers (14.9 days of participation for wildlife watchers with less for observing wildlife, feeding wildlife and photography wildlife subcategories in descending order).
Sportspersons, hunting and fishing days combined, spent an average of 22.3 days of participation afield. This is a higher average than either hunting or fishing alone because of the number of “sportspersons” that do both. Hunting (all kinds) exceeded the fishing average per capita days of participation largely because of big game hunting. Those trips are away-from-home trips, unlike wildlife watching wild bird observers who average 110 days of birding at home in 2011. We don’t count wildlife watching at home as days afield because it is literally “at home.” Away-from-home “birders” averaged only 13 days. The away-from-home (one mile) wildlife watchers, which are observing, photographing and feeding combined, averaged 14.9 days afield. Away-from-home “observers” participated 13.5 days per capita (268,798 ÷ 19,808); away-from-home photographers participated 8.9 days per capita (110,459 ÷ 12,354); away-from-home feeders participated 10.9 days of participation per capita (59,255 ÷ 5,399.) The obvious conclusion is big game hunters do spend the most time afield of all “wildlife associated recreationalists” (the term for hunters, fishermen and wildlife watchers) in the outdoors. This is despite the shortened seasons and ever-growing hunting restrictions, such as mandatory hunter education and harvest limits.
We might be remiss not to discuss the declining percentage of hunters compared to the overall increase in the US population and, second, compare that to fishing and to wildlife watching, which are declining even worse as a percentage of the population. That said, I for one don’t want hunters’ numbers to keep pace with this population growth. Shortened seasons, lower quotas, competition and prices are already enough of a problem. We need to recruit to maintain numbers, not increase numbers to keep pace with excessive population growth.
Since 1991 (first comparable methodology), “sportspersons” have declined from 21 percent of the population to 16 percent with anglers declining from 19 percent to 14 percent of US population and hunters declining from seven percent to six percent over those 20 years. Wildlife watching overall (including those “at home”) has fared much worse. It has declined from 40 percent of the population in 1991 to 30 percent in 2011. The wildlife watchers away from home have slid from 16 percent of the population to nine percent over the past 20 years, while those around the home have declined from 39 percent to 29 percent. Unquestionably, hunting is faring the best of the wildlife recreational activities and big game hunting is not declining as a percentage of the US population at all.
In summary, today there are a record number of big game hunters, they spend more per capita time outdoors than any other category or subcategory of wildlife recreationalists. Overall, hunting numbers are again growing while hunting as a percentage of the US population is faring better than angling and all forms of wildlife watching. When hunters ages five to 16 are included, there were 15.72 million hunters in 2011 (13.7 + 2.2). This category of youth increased 14 percent from 2006 while anglers declined six percent and total wildlife watchers declined seven percent. This hunting segment growth exceeds the US population growth rate.
You can download a copy of the final report on Conservation Force’s website at www.conservationforce.org/news.html
or at wsfrprograms.fws.gov