Deer hunting license sales up big this year, but unlikely to reverse decades-long decline
There’s been a surge in the number of deer hunting licenses sold in 2020, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. It likely coincides with an overall increase in outdoor recreation during the pandemic.
With regular firearm season starting November 15th, the DNR reports a 17% increase in the number of deer hunting licenses sold so far this year.
“We’re not sure if this increase is because we are going to see an increase in hunters a-field this year, or if it could just be license-buying behavior is different,” says Ashley Autenrieth, a biologist with the Michigan DNR in Gaylord.
She suggests people are buying licenses earlier this year because they’re at home and may have more free time due to COVID-19 restrictions.
But the increased number of deer licenses to date seems to follow an overall increase in hunting and fishing in Michigan this year. The DNR reported a 27% increase for spring turkey hunters and a 9% increase in fishing licenses.
The state has also seen a 95% increase in new hunters since March, according to the Michigan Wildlife Council. That has been fueled by a 25% increase in the number of female hunters and a 144% increase in license sales for hunters aged 10-16.
“If you look at who’s got the biggest hunter participation, Michigan is still in the top five,” Autenrieth says.
“You’ve got Wisconsin, you’ve got Pennsylvania, you’ve got Texas ― those are some of your biggest players right there and they’re seeing very similar trends to what we are.”
Overall, deer hunting in Michigan has been declining for decades. Numbers peaked at almost 900,000 hunters in the mid-90’s then dwindled down to under 500,000 in 2019.
The DNR says the increased numbers early on this year are great, but they’re unlikely to reverse that trend which is mainly caused by baby-boomers aging out of the sport.
“I think it’d be asking a lot to reverse the trend just given the age structure of our hunters,” says Chad Stewart, a deer and elk specialist with the Michigan DNR.
“But if we can sort of slow that decline, I think that’s a win, or if we can take advantage of some increased participation over the next couple years, I think that would be a win as well.”
Hunters are the main tool the state has to manage the deer population. That’s why the DNR is already thinking of ways to market the increased interest and continue that participation beyond this year.