Hunting License Sales Down in 2021, But Remain Above Pre-Pandemic Levels

The 2022 National R3 Symposium wrapped up last week in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. The 220 participants representing over 100 different organizations with an interest in hunting and shooting sports were the first to lay eyes on data released from the Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports (Council), documenting a slight decrease in hunting license sales in 2021.

“It’s important to note that a hunting license sale does not necessarily equal a participant, but we often use sales as an indicator of participation trends,” said the Council’s director of research and partnerships, Charles ‘Swanny’ Evans, as he opened the session on hunting participation at the Symposium. Swanny went on to present the findings of the Hunting License Sales 2020-2021 report.

This study was the follow-up to the COVID-19 and Hunting License Sales report the Council released last year, documenting a 4.9-percent increase in hunting license sales from 2019 to 2020. To continue monitoring the pandemic’s impact, the Council revisited this study in early 2022 to identify ongoing changes and emerging trends in hunters’ rates of license purchases. Working with Southwick Associates, the Council collected monthly resident and nonresident hunting license sales data from 46 state wildlife agencies to quantify and compare 2021 to 2020 sales. Among the 46 reporting states:

  • Overall, hunting license sales decreased by approximately 1.9 percent in 2021 compared to 2020.
  • Resident license sales were down 4.0 percent.
  • Nonresident license sales increased by 12.9 percent.

“While there was a decrease in resident hunting license purchases in 2021, the surge in nonresident license sales blunted the overall effect and sales were still higher than pre-pandemic 2019 levels,” Swanny said before turning the discussion to data from another source, the License Sales Data Dashboard.

The License Sales Data Dashboard project is excitement because it will be transitioning to a real-time dashboard in the near future, providing timely information to the public and R3 practitioners. Southwick Associates recently updated it to its current form. While it only has data from 20 states, the overall trends demonstrated were similar to the Hunting License Sales 2020 – 2021 report. In addition to those trends, the dashboards provide a more in-depth view into several categories when looking at hunting license sale changes from 2020 to 2021:

  • New recruits (bought a license in 2021, but none of the previous five years) were down 9 percent.
  • Churn, which demonstrates turnover in hunting (bought a license in 2020, but not 2021), increased by 1 percent.
  • The only monitored age range to show an overall increase was the 35–44-year-old group.

When asked about these projects after the Symposium, the Council’s executive director, Dr. Steven Leath, commented, “We are pleased that engagement in hunting is still higher than it was a couple of years ago and we look forward to working with all of our partners to increase the number of states providing data to the License Data Dashboard As we transition it from the current form to a real-time resource available to everyone.”

The Hunting License 2020–2021 report, which provides the most representative data of the current state of hunting license sales nationally and regionally, can be accessed on the Council’s website, cahss.org/hunting-license-sales-2020-2021.

The License Sales Data Dashboard, which does not yet have enough states to be truly representative of national trends, but provides valuable information regarding finer scale categories than the previously mentioned report, can be accessed on the National Shooting Sports Foundation or American Sportfishing Association websites.

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