How Many Hunters Are There, Really?
There are three times
more hunters in the US than commonly published. Nearly 45 million people in the
US have hunted and form part of its support. The National Wild Turkey Federation
(NWTF) issued a press release in July that quotes the experts. The National Wild
Turkey Federation is an appropriate sports- men’s conservation organization to
call these facts to attention. The number of wild turkey hunters in the US has
doubled from 1.3 million to 2.6 million since the NWTF was founded in 1973. We
repeat the NWTF points here, the quoted experts and add some need-to-know
analysis from our own files.
The NWTF press release states that "[m]any people believe that reporting there
are 13 million hunters in this country is at least misleading and, at worst, a
gross underestimation of their actual numbers." "That number only represents how
many people over the age of 16 hunted during a one year period…. It does not
include hunters under the age of 16, nor nor does it take into account those
people who consider themselves hunters but for whatever reason, didn’t hunt in
The release quotes Mark Damian Duda, Executive Director of Responsive
Management, that "[a]ccording to our research, about 28 million Americans
consider themselves hunters, even though they don’t hunt every year and some
haven’t gone for several years." (Emphasis ours.) The NWTF press release also
quotes Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates that "[t]he National
Survey shows there are 43.7 million people in the United States who have hunted
in any previous year. That number is three times more than the number of people
reported as having hunted in 2001. That’s significant." The NWTF release adds
that researchers have "found that many people subscribe to the idea that once a
hunter, always a hunter."
Now for our thoughts. The Survey everyone is citing is the 2001 National Survey
of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation completed once every
five years by the US Census Bureau. First, the 13 million figure can indeed be
misleading. When the 1.74 million hunters in the six- to 15-year-old age class
are added, the number of hunters is 14.7 million. It is also wholly incorrect to
compute hunters in 2001 as a percentage of the US population, as the antis do,
unless the six- to 15-year-old age group of hunters is included. One fifth of
the total US population was in the six- to 15-year-old age class at the time of
the survey. Certainly, hunters in that age class should be considered as well.
That age group is particularly important because of the lifetime impression
hunting can make on children that naturally yearn to hunt and experience the
greater outdoors. The same is true for the 13.145 million six- to 15-year-olds
who fished that year. They remember.
The National Survey does conclude that 43,745,000 persons in the US hunted in
2000 or before. That does not include those who hunted in 2001 for the first
time. It only includes those who hunted in 2000 or before. If the previous
year’s number of first-time hunters was used as an estimate of the number of new
hunters in 2001, that adds an additional 1.24 million hunters. When totaled, it
raises the number of people who reportedly have hunted by the early Fall of 2001
to 44,985,000. We round off that to 45 million, which it misses by only 15,000.
We must also add that the terrorism of September 11, 2001, did not affect the
results of the survey, according to the surveyors. Nevertheless, much of the
Survey was conducted in October, the next month. Many hunters we know cancelled
hunts and booking agents were complaining. The survey of 2006 should tell.
Readers may recall that Conservation Force and Dallas Safari Club contracted
with Mark Damian Duda of Responsive Management and published a brochure on the
significant growth of big game hunting in America. It is still true. Though the
2001 National Survey showed no growth in big game hunting, virtually all other
activities declined. Big game hunting continues to stand out for that. 91
percent of all hunters hunted big game. It is the most popular kind of hunting,
and it has had the highest growth rate of any popular outdoor activity for more
than half a century. One survey showing no growth does not change the long-term
The anti-hunters raved when the 2001 National Survey was published, but there
was little for them to rave about. They like to compare America’s hunting and
fishing to wildlife watching. We do not agree that wildlife watching activities
are opposite and opposing poles, as the anti profess. Nor do we agree that
hunting and fishing are declining in comparison to wildlife watching. They
absolutely are not!
The activities are not opposites. Hunters and anglers pay the largest share of
wildlife conservation, which is far more than all others combined. Moreover,
hunters and anglers are more likely to be "wildlife watchers" than others in the
general public. 62 percent of hunters and 58 percent of anglers participated in
wildlife watching in 2001. In fact, 33 percent of wildlife watchers also
reported hunting and/or fishing during the year.
But that is not all. Wildlife watching has never been what it is held out to be
in popularity, growth or revenue. The number of wildlife watchers declined in
every survey before 2001. In 2001, its growth was not enough to offset its
decline over the decade. "Participation in wildlife watching (observing, feeding
and photographing wildlife) decreased from 76.1 million in 1991 to 62.9 million
in 1996 (17 plercent), but it increased to 66.1 million from 1996 to 2001 (5
percent)," according to the survey. That is a 10 million decrease over the
decade! That was preceded by a similar decrease in participants in both
five-year surveys the decade before. Nothing has fared worse than wildlife
watching in the past two decades, since 1980. Before 1980, wildlife watching was
not surveyed. Overall "the number of wildlife-watching participants who took
trips away from home to observe, feed or photograph wildlife decreased 19
percent from 1980 to 2001. The number of people who fed wildlife around their
home decreased by 18 percent." (2001 National Survey Summary of Findings)
Wildlife observing and photographing decreased by five percent in 1996 and 13
percent in 2001. The component of wildlife watching that increased in 1996 was
residential wildlife watching, while feeding wildlife and visiting parks
maintained their 1996 participation levels. Watching wildlife at one’s residence
is the "preeminent type of wildlife watching," but does little to support
America’s wildlife conservation system.
The longer trends of hunting and fishing should also not be ignored. From 1955
to 2001, hunting (all kinds) increased 31 percent and big game hunting more than
tripled. Angling increased by 130 percent during the same period.
Sportsmen and sportswomen also remain the paradigm because they pay the bills.
The perception that wildlife watching is ushering in a new conservation era has
proven dead wrong for two decades. Even the Teaming With Wildlife campaign of
our state agencies would have placed the greatest burden on sportsmen and
sportswomen. Some agencies have lost sight of the fact that they are wildlife
agencies, not tourist bureaus. They are spending sportsmen’s dollars to lure
general tourist into the states. Those general tourists contribute little to
wildlife conservation and add to management costs. Those added costs are
political as well as financial. Their prejudices, biases, and urban beliefs pose
From 1996 to 2001 nonresidential wildlife photography declined 22 percent,
nonresidential observing of wildlife declined 12 percent and nonresidential
wildlife feeding declined 29 percent. The declines over the full decade from
1991 to 2001 were 30, 34 and 47 percent, respectively. Even visiting public
parks and areas in one’s own state of residence was down 29 percent from 1991 to
Still another comparison is insightful. The antis and doomsayers would have you
believe that hunting recruitment is too low and that hunters are aging and
dieing off. When the survey results were first announced, Heidi Prescott, the
National Director of the Fund for Animals, commented in a press release, "The
End of Hunting is in Sight." She said that "[t]hese are long-term trends, not
just a blip in the numbers, and we’re delighted to see that more and more people
are trading their guns for cameras…. The end of hunting is no more than a
The truth is that wildlife watching is far worse off. There are a lower
percentage of young wildlife watchers than hunters. Only 13 percent of wildlife
watchers are in the 25 to 34 age group while 19 percent of hunters and anglers
are in that class.
Wildlife watchers are older. 19 percent of wildlife watchers are 65 years of
age, or older, while only seven percent of hunters and eight percent of anglers
are in that class. Adding the three age groups (45-54, 55-64 and 65 and over) is
really revealing. More than half of wildlife watchers (57 percent) are in the 45
and above age classes. Only 40 percent of hunters and 42 percent of anglers were
forty-five and over in 2001. What is even more remarkable is how much older
wildlife watchers would be if 62 percent of hunters and 58 percent of anglers
were not wildlife watchers, thus lowering the age percentages because of their
inclusion. The younger hunters among wildlife watchers make the watchers appear
more youthful than they would otherwise be.
That having been said, the antis want to eliminate wildlife watching too. They
want to eliminate all dominion and interference with wildlife and animal life.
They want to close zoos, circuses, parks and access to land. Their strategy is
to divide to vanquish. Perhaps hunters are actually fortunate that wildlife
watchers enjoy wildlife too.
Take solace in the fact that there are 45 million people in the US who have
hunted and 111 million people who have fished as anglers, which is 115 million
when those who fished for the first time in 2001 are included. Nevertheless,
hunters and anglers are minorities. No one and no organization will ever change
our minority status, yet we are not alone. Minorities are the norm for nearly
every activity. We are a big one.