After years of decline, hunting participation took an encouraging jump this year.
Photo above: Rupp with her DIY cow elk taken in western Colorado.
The past year has been a tough one all around. Everyone has experienced the challenges of the pandemic in their own way. The hardships have been worse for some than others, but it’s safe to say we’ve all been affected. One thing that has happily remained constant through it all is the great outdoors, and the solace and renewal it brings to those who seek it out.
Like most of us, I didn’t travel this year; I hunted close to home. It proved fun and rewarding. I discovered some excellent dove and goose hunting less than thirty minutes from my house. I also killed my first DIY elk, a cow, in mid-October. As my husband and I packed the boned quarters out of the woods, we were intensely grateful for the fact that we would have a freezer full of excellent meat during a time of uncertainty.
We were hardly alone in this. People all across the country found themselves with more free time or work flexibility, fewer distractions, and an increased appreciation of the importance of self-reliance. As a result, a lot of them tried hunting for the first time–or returned to it after a hiatus. Hunting participation numbers, which have been on a long, slow decline for years, took a sudden jump.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that hunting license sales increased more than 12 percent in 2020 over the year before. That means there were as many as a million more hunters in the woods this past year. A large proportion of those hunters, according to preliminary stats coming out of several states, were first-timers, and many of those were women and young people.
We don’t know what will happen in 2021, as the world (hopefully) starts to return to normal. For the sake of wildlife agency budgets and wildlife conservation work, which are heavily dependent on hunting license sales, we hope that these new hunters stick with it and continue to increase their hunting skills and enjoy being out in the field.
If you’re one of those new hunters, welcome to the fold. If you’re an experienced hunter, please invite a newbie to go shooting with you, or share your duck blind. You’ll find it’s as fun for you as for them. Other than that DIY elk, the most rewarding hunt I did this year was a goose hunt where I invited a new hunter along and had the pleasure of seeing her shoot (and later skin, cook, and eat) her first goose.
There are lots of other ways to help new hunters. Share some of your extra gear (you know you have some). Treat them to a membership in a reputable organization so they can learn more about the conservation benefits hunting provides. Above all, make them feel welcome. Today’s new hunters are the ones who will carry on a timeless and precious tradition.