February 07, 2012
By Christian Berg
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?