Hunting Numbers Soar Amid COVID-19 Pandemic – Will The Trend Continue?


Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of hunters across the country were continually declining each year. Gaming and social media has a way of keeping many folks anchored inside these days, and it seems more and more people lean towards the convenience of buying their food already prepared and sealed in plastic. On top of that, you have hunters who struggle to make it back to the woods each season due to age, and fewer young folks are stepping in to fill their places.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service details the decline in hunting numbers in their National Survey of Fishing and Hunting. They point to the fact 13.6 million American hunters in 2011 fell off to 11.4 million in 2016.

Here in my home state of Michigan, the number of hunting license sales from 2013 to 2019 also reflects this trend. According to data from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, there were nearly 125,000 fewer hunting licenses sold in the state during those years compared to this season.

Michigan Sees Spike in Hunters Due to COVID-19

With all that being said, it appears more hunters in the mitten state have been hitting the woods since the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the DNR reports 440,780 people purchased a hunting license through October 12. Over 64,000 of those buyers were first-time hunters – 31,000 more new hunters than previously recorded at the same time last year.

Coming from somebody who grew up hunting and fishing, it really is no surprise that more Americans are wanting to get outdoors during these crazy times we’re experiencing. At a certain point you need to find a way to detach from the whirlwind of a year it’s been – and the way the next four years are shaping up to be – and I personally cannot think of a better spot to do so than up in my treestand. There are theories that suggest the uptick in hunters can be attributed to more people working from home and simply having more time to put into the season. There’s also the widespread lock downs that forced the cancellations of several entertainment options this year.

Encouraging Signs

(And I’m not just talking about all the buck rubs I’ve been seeing!)

Michigan’s whitetail firearm season is set to start on November 15, and hunting license sales have already surged way past the number the state saw in 2019. Moreover, deer license sales have been reported up over 16% from last year.

Several other encouraging signs are worth noting as well. According to Kristen Phillips of the Marketing and Outreach Division of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, state shooting ranges are seeing unusually high use.

There’s also a large number of ‘new customers’ – hunters who have not purchased a license in at least five years – buying hunting licenses this season, and a dramatic increase (141%) in licenses purchased for hunters ages 10-16.

That’s exciting stuff, because not only can those new and returning hunters play a vital role in breathing new air in our cherished past time, but the increase in license sales also means an influx of funds heading straight towards the management of state lands and wildlife populations. Hunters are awesome!

Promising future – Will it last?

Given the fact millions of Americans are becoming first-time firearm owners and purchasing a hunting license for the very first time, hunting and recreational shooting is definitely trending in the right direction in terms of growth. It will be interesting to see what happens in the seasons following COVID-19, but I’d bet a majority of the new hunters hitting the woods this season catch the ‘bug’ and continue hunting for the remainder of their lives.

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