Hunting statistics show decline

April 06, 2008 at 08:53 PM

More than half the time, adding statistical weight to everyday conversations enhances your credibility and can make people think you’re smarter than you really are. Opportunities abound. The statistical well never runs dry, especially in a presidential election year.

Right now, somebody is designing a survey that (they hope) will provide some new insights into voting preference of the same demographic group they surveyed last Thursday. Accounting for those who change their minds after they respond, and those who intentionally provide false information, the survey will be accurate within plus or minus 4 percent. That provides a lot of interpretive wiggle room. With that leeway, an ambidextrous spin-doctor can turn a loser into a winner.

Every five years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service releases The National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. Eighty-five thousand people are surveyed. Not even presidential election polls have a sample size that big. The number of people who participate adds considerable credibility to the USFWS findings.

The new USFWS survey estimates that 12.5 million people hunted in 2006. Nearly four times that many people say they have hunted at some time during their life.

Still, 12.5 million hunters represent a decline of 4 percent — or roughly half a million — hunters since the last survey was completed in 2001. Almost every expert agrees hunting numbers are down. It’s possible, within the margin of error, that the percentage of decline could be closer to 8 percent.

Sifting through the responses, big-game hunting, which includes white-tailed deer, is driving the entire hunting industry. The USFWS survey indicates there are 10.7 million big-game hunters. More than 80 percent of all hunters say they hunt big game.

On the other hand, there has been a double-digit decline in small-game, upland and migratory bird hunters.

Across the country, deer hunting is popular because there are a lot of deer to hunt. At the same time, small-game and upland hunters are dropping out of the sport because there is less upland game habitat and therefore fewer upland game hunting opportunities.

There are some encouraging signs. Since 2001, the number of young people ages 6 to 15 who have started hunting has increased significantly.

The survey shows that nearly 10 percent of all hunters are women, many of whom started hunting during the past five years.

Hunting continues to be big business. In 2006, hunters spent approximately $25.9 billion on hunting and hunting-related expenses. Part of that money is spent on hunting licenses and permits. These user fees, which in most cases are paid every year, help fund the state agencies that manage wildlife and natural resources.

With that much money in the mix, the National Fish and Wildlife Survey numbers will be crunched, analyzed, quoted and contested. New hunting surveys are on the way. Facts and figures start stacking up.

It might be best to take all of them with a grain of salt. Just remember, studies show that 61.9 percent of all statistics are made up.