More people are hunting, fishing in recent years

Study looks at reasons behind rising participation

Why do you hunt or fish? How about your friend — what's her reason? Is it for the meat, the recreation, or maybe it's a way to connect with family and friends.

Responsive Management, an outdoor recreation research and survey organization, recently published the results of its study analyzing why hunter numbers had climbed in recent years in the United States. The survey was based on the fact that between 2006 and 2011, hunting participation among Americans increased 9 percent and fishing participation increased 11 percent, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2011 survey.


Top reasons

Any guesses on what the No. 1 reason was for the climb in participation? Surprisingly, it was the recession.

In one respect, it's understandable that more people might hunt or fish to acquire meat — a way to save money on the grocery bill if times were hard, and that's partly what Responsive Management found. A hunter who was underemployed or unemployed may have had more time to hunt.

The No. 2 reason for the increase in the number of hunters was because some people were making more money. That sounds contrary to the No. 1 reason, but if some folks had more money to spend and went on more hunting and fishing trips, then that may make sense. With extra money in the bank, it was time to take that hunting trip to Alaska or Canada that had been put off. Or maybe because of the recession, prices fell and trips were a bargain.

The third-most popular reason for an increase in hunter numbers may take some people by surprise — the locavore movement. A locavore is someone who tries to eat meat, vegetables and other foods that are produced locally or within 50 to 100 miles. The term was coined in 2007 and has gained currency among individuals trying to eat more organic and chemical-free foods.


Natural foods

In a wrap-up of the Responsive Management survey, it noted, "When hunters in the survey were read a list of factors that may have influenced them to go hunting, the top factor that was a major or minor influence was interest in hunting as a source of natural or 'green' food, with 68 percent of hunters naming this as an influence.

"When a similar list was read to anglers, 51 percent said that fishing as a natural or 'green' food source was an influence in their decision to go fishing.

By looking deeper into its data, Responsive Management found that female hunters appear to be substantially more likely to choose "for the meat." Fifty-five percent of female hunters chose "for the meat," compared to just 27 percent of male hunters.

Finally, in an open-ended question — where no answer set was read and respondents could name anything that came to mind — 56 percent of hunters said they hunted for food, and 32 percent of anglers fished for fresh fish to eat.

If hunters and anglers had been asked 40 years ago about the reasons they fished or hunted, I'm betting a stronger majority would have said it was for the meat. Few folks practiced catch-and-release fishing when I was young, and deer and elk were still scarce enough that hunting for trophies was rare. Instead, most people were what we called "meat hunters" as opposed to "horn hunters."


Boosting numbers

Farther down the list, the survey found that fish and wildlife agency recruitment, retention and access programs were helping to boost hunter and angler numbers.

"Access is one of the most important issues that acts as a constraint to hunters; when access is good, participation is unimpeded," the survey said.

The No. 6 reason for a jump in hunter and angler numbers was fish and wildlife agency marketing efforts as well as changes in licenses to make the buyer perceive that the licenses are a better deal.

Key groups were driving the increases, including current and longtime hunters and anglers participating more often, returning military personnel resuming their participation, the reactivation of former and lapsed hunters and anglers, and new female participants.

Compared to established hunters, "the new/returning hunters were slightly more often female, are somewhat younger, are more often in the military or college, are slightly more suburban, have not been living in the same state for as long, and are more often hunting with friends.

"Likewise, compared to established anglers, the group of new/returning anglers again are slightly more often female, are markedly more often retired with new free time, are slightly more often identifying themselves as homemakers, are slightly more suburban, have not been living in the same state for as long, and are more devoted to fishing in freshwater."

To collect its data, Responsive Management conducted personal interviews and surveys with state agency personnel, reviewed license sales data and past hunting and fishing participation, and conducted more than 1,400 interviews in 10 states, including Oregon, over an 18-month period.


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