FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. — When the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently reported the number of hunters grew by nine percent since 2006 and the number of anglers grew by 11 percent in that same time frame, sportsmen and the sporting industry were thrilled. The numbers, which are preliminary results released as the initial look into the USFWS’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, reversed what had been dropping participation levels in fishing over the past 10 years and indicated the first jump in hunter numbers in more than two decades. But what were the reasons for the turnaround?
Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates, which is a leading research and data analysis firm focused on the sportfishing and hunting industries, says the evidence points to several key factors.
“The slow economy has certainly had an impact”, says Southwick. “When the economy took a hit, a lot of people went back to enjoying more traditional activities that were also less costly than other options. Fishing license sales and tackle sales data all back that up.”
In addition to simple economics, on-going efforts to recruit new anglers are paying off. Southwick points to programs such as the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing National Campaign, which has been instrumental in introducing the sport to thousands of new anglers. Demographic shifts are also having an impact.
“Initial feedback indicates more baby boomers may be taking to the water”, says Southwick. The company and the USFWS will be looking at additional data in the coming months to identify other potential trends among youth and other segments of the angling community.
“We’ll be looking closely for shifts in youth and female participation. By the end of the year, we’ll know more”, says Southwick.
On the hunting side, the growth in participation is due to the same factors where the economy and recruitment programs are concerned.
“This is the first measured large increase in the number of hunters in years”, says Southwick. “Conservation and firearms industry organizations have been particularly effective at communicating the benefits of hunting.”
Organizations such as the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance all have programs geared toward growing youth and overall participation and have even teamed up to ease age restrictions that deterred many young people from participating in hunting. Additionally, expanded hunting opportunities such as allowing the use of crossbows in a number of states has made hunting more attractive to many new and returning hunters.
“Probably one of the most significant changes has been an apparent cultural shift regarding the acceptance and use of firearms,” says Southwick. Whether hunting or target shooting, many younger adults in their twenties and early thirties, are taking to shooting sports. Firearms sales have been strong for four years. Whether this is attributable to returning soldiers with a newly found appreciation of the shooting sports or to adults who want to get outside after spending too much of their youth indoors, we need to learn more about the reasons behind the increase”, says Southwick.
Southwick says there will be more details to come as his team reviews the data to identify more trends behind the growth in hunting and fishing and offers organizations the insight to keep these trends headed in a positive direction.
About Southwick Associates: Southwick Associates was founded in 1989 to serve state fish and wildlife agencies, as well as the sportfishing and hunting industries. We specialize in economic and business statistics related to fish and wildlife. Our expertise includes measuring retail expenditures by anglers, hunters, wildlife viewers and other outdoor recreationists; quantifying the jobs, tax revenues and other economic impacts of outdoor recreation; tracking trends within outdoor industries; identifying major distribution channels and the overall structure of specific outdoor-related industries; and analyzing the value of fish and wildlife resources and their uses including land transactions, new business ventures, fish kills and more. Visit us at www.southwickassociates.com.