December 22, 2013

Bob Humphrey: Who knew hunting would get trendy?

After years of decline, the number of hunters is on the rise.

For a while we’ve been hearing that hunter numbers are declining, but results from a recent survey by Responsive Management are both enlightening and encouraging. It seems that after nearly two decades of decline, hunting participation is on the rise. And there are several significant reasons why.

The study found a negative correlation between hunting license sales and the economy, which might seem counterintuitive at first. But the old adage, “When times are tough, people go hunting,” seems to ring true. The main reason cited was a decline in housing. Construction-related occupations (carpenter, plumber, electrician, craftsman) are among the principal occupations of hunters, so a down economy provides less work but more time to hunt.

Somewhat contradictory was another finding. Despite the recession, some segments of the population experienced higher incomes, and thus had more money to hunt.

A third reason cited is the so-called locavore movement – folks who hunt for self-sufficiency and organic, local, chemical-free meat. The study suggests this might be related to the economy, but I contend it could also be influenced by recent reality shows and books promoting locavory. (As a personal aside, I find it amusing that what hunters have been doing for centuries is suddenly trendy.)

Reasons four and five include agency recruitment and retention programs and access programs. We’ve seen several examples in Maine recently. One is the apprentice-hunter program, which allows a first-time hunter to purchase a license and hunt for one season without taking the hunter-safety course so long as they are in the presence of a licensed mentor. Additionally, the Legislature approved and Gov. LePage signed a slate of new laws designed to encourage greater participation. Meanwhile, we’re still sorely lacking on the access side, particularly in the more populated regions of the state.

Reason six – agency marketing and changes in licenses – is actually part of reason four. Among Maine’s efforts to recruit more hunters was a change in some licenses and permits. And more are on the way in 2014. Some hunters may recall several years back when the state instituted a Superpack license, which was originally intended to include all licenses, tags and permits for all game and all seasons. Since the program’s establishment, the Legislature has nibbled away certain specific tags and permits, ostensibly as a cost-cutting measure. There’s a new effort to create an all-encompassing license, and analysis shows no lost revenue.

As for marketing, research proves it increases license sales (22 percent of hunters said marketing efforts influenced their decision to go hunting). But it’s often the first program axed when budgets are short. We promote tourism, so why should we expect hunters to simply show up without an appealing invitation?

The survey also examined the types of people who were augmenting this upswing. One group was longtime hunters spending more time afield, which includes both underemployed tradesmen and their well-heeled compatriots. Another was returning military personnel resuming their participation, and former civilian hunters returning to the sport.

Finally, the survey noted that new or returning hunters are slightly more often female, somewhat younger, in the military or college, and from more suburban areas. This is particularly encouraging, as these folks are not often considered to be among the mainstream of the hunting community. Among their chief motivations for hunting was to be with friends.

Regardless of the age, income or personal motivation of hunters, it’s encouraging to see more folks joining our ranks. Apparently hunting is “in,” and it behooves veteran hunters, state agencies and the Legislature to encourage participation and preserve our fine tradition.

Bob Humphrey of Pownal is a freelance writer and registered Maine Guide who loves in Pownal. He can be contacted at:

bhunt@maine.rr.com

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