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Big Game Christian Berg: Stuck In The Rut

Hunting a Dying Sport? I’m Not Buying It!

by Christian Berg   |  February 7th, 2012 9


Recent license sales gains in states such as Pennsylvania indicate that hunting's demise may not be as imminent as some predicted.

Lots of people like to talk about how hunting is a dying sport. But after looking at the most recent hunting license sales report here in my home state of Pennsylvania, I ain’t buying it!

If you look at the report (Pennsylvania Hunting License Sales), you’ll see that as of the end of December, the Pennsylvania Game Commission had sold 923,795 hunting licenses. That’s 2,840 more licenses than they sold during the same period in 2010 – an increase of about 0.3 percent. Now, I’ll grant you that isn’t much of an increase, but it’s DEFINITELY not a precipitous decline. And when you look at the bowhunting numbers, things are even more rosy. According to the report, archery license sales for the period were up 2.9 percent to 297,462; no doubt due in part to the growing number of crossbow hunters taking to the field.

I realize that sales figures from one state don’t constitute a national trend. However, there is no denying that Pennsylvania is a bellwether state when it comes to hunting. Along with a handful of other states such as Texas, Michigan and Wisconsin, Pennsylvania plays a foundational role in America’s sporting community. And with nearly 1 million licensed hunters – and nearly 300,000 bowhunters – I can tell you this sport isn’t dying anytime soon.

I also find the numbers compelling when you consider the widespread dissatisfaction that exists over the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s deer-management strategy. There is no doubt that policies adopted by the agency have resulted in lower deer numbers across many areas of this state over the past decade. As a result, many hunters report seeing fewer deer, and many have predicted this unrest would lead to a precipitous decline in hunter numbers. But despite plenty of rancor, it looks like plenty of hunters are sticking it out.

Anecdotally, I don’t see a lot of gloom and doom out there either. I am friends with the owners of the two largest archery pro shops in my area and both report strong sales in 2011, both in terms of compound bows and crossbows, which continue to explode in popularity. I’m sure the difficult economy has forced many sportsmen to delay big-ticket purchases, but apparently there are still enough passionate hunters out there to keep the cash registers ringing.

I realize the long-term trend in hunter numbers shows a slow, steady decline. I realize the hunting population as a whole is aging and we aren’t necessarily bringing enough new hunters into the sport to replace all the old-timers who are dropping out. I realize the number of hunters as a percentage of the total population isn’t as great as it once was. I realize we face challenges in the form of a society that is increasingly disconnected from nature. But all that being said, I’m still not ready to put the nails in hunting’s coffin.

In fact, I feel pretty confident I’ll be bowhunting with my grandchildren someday. What say you?

  • Stine64

    I feel the same as you and feel that Sunday Archery and Crossbow hunting would help improve the hunter numbers.

  • David Kveragas

    The slight increase is due mostly to the bad economy. You have guys hunting to supplement their food supply as well as guys who are sitting on unemployment having time to hunt. Oh, and the influx of out of state gas drilling employees who will buy licenses here rather than in their home state.
    The number of hunters is in decline over al. I used to see a couple dozen guys around our property. Now there area handful.
    I have spoken with many former hunters who have simply given the activity up due to many factors.

    • chris moser

      You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned the effects of the economy. You really cant judge license sales for 1 season and say its holding strong. And hes right about the deer pop. It really is bad in alot of places. Of course the game commission is probably being lobbied with $ by the timber cos. to cut down the pop of deer since they have a direct impact on new timber growth. Unless the hunters word is pushed harder than the lobbiest nothing will change. So if your a hunter tell those money grubbing politicians to do what they hunters want not the timber cos lining their pockets say!

  • David Kveragas

    Another overlooked factor in the increase in license sales is that the PGC now requires that all non license holders seeking to use PGC shooting ranges need to have a special permit.
    It's no accident that the fees for non hunters are more than 30% higher than the cost of a standard hunting license. Why buy the more expensive permit when you can simply buy a license and save the money?
    The PGC did this to increase license sales which also increase the amount of federal P-R money it receives.

  • Clint Hardesty

    Great article, I don't have anything really intelligent to add. However, I would ask that Petersen's not send me any more emails that have somewhere in their title a story listed as "Hunting a Dying Sport". I'm at work and when I saw the title of your blog entry I had to drop everything (not to mention wipe tears from my eyes and hope my co-workers didn't come in my office) so I could read your blog. Stop doing that.

    Keep up the good work Mr. Berg!

  • Skie Gierach

    I agree with this article without a doubt that hunting will never die out, nor are we seeing fewer hunters. The same problem we are facing here in Wisconsin as your home state is that the DNR are not doing a very good job with the deer management. Over the past years I have been seeing less and less deer while out in the field, along with my game cameras we are seeing less and less there as well. How long will it be before the deer are so far and few between that a lottery will be given just like bear hunting? I see that happening very soon in Wisconsin. Poor management, and too many predators are hurting our herd numbers all over, and change is needed before it's too late.

  • chris moser

    Also, off the subject, Cross bow hunting is not archery. Its a gun with a bow attached to it. And its really pissed off alot of us true archery hunters. They need to remove it from the archery season or give it its own season. The main reason why I archery hunt is to get away from all those gun hunters, now we are going to crowd archery season with guys and weapons that shoot with scopes. DAs.

  • Pensno1

    Chris, unless you are using a recurve or a long bow I would not call yourself a TRUE archery hunter. I own both a crossbow and a compound bow and can shoot just as far and accurate with both, in fact i can shoot farther (80 yards) with my compund bow. Have you priced a new bow lately, they are as much as a crossbow and are just as accurate if you can shoot. The whole reason for a crossbow season is to KILL deer, the Game Commission wants deer DEAD. I have been hunting for 30+ years and now have been taking my seven year old son with me, who shoots a bow. It is alot easier for me to sit on the ground or in a blind with a crossbow since a kid will not sit still all day. I can shoot sitting down, kneeleing, laying down without much movement, try that with a bow. I also pay an additional fee for a crossbow license which the state is also happy about. Remember the whole point is to kill deer and as many as possible, it does not matter what weapon you use.

  • marvin johnson

    i kinda have to disagree with you guys a little. i am glad that they allow crossbow hunting so those guy that buy them work there ass off carrying them a half mile. they way i figure if someone wants to carry that 10 lb log for a long distance and pay more than a good bow, knock yourself out! try crossbow,clothes,backpack,boots, and a deer for a long distance, NOT ME. onto the deer subject there is alot of deer and they are right under your nose in pa. just find a small patch of woods located behind a development, where you can only bowhunt and you will find deer. MOST ALL land owners in pa will let you bowhunt rather than gun hunt. go up and introduce yourself and talk polite and ask if YOU can bowhunt and only you and give them your word that you wont gun hunt. then you should be fine. the catch is not leaving no trash, parking your car out of the way, not dressing the deer in there lawn, ect. you do your thing and they do thiers. all in all, respect goes A LONG WAY. there is plenty of good spots, you dont know if you can hunt untill you ask. whats the worst they can say, no. it isnt hte first time you ever been told that and it wont be the last!

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