Fewer Young People Hunt, Fish, Buy Goods

November 5, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Hunting and fishing are considered integral to Michigan’s culture, but the decline in license sales for those activities suggests Michigan’s hunters and anglers might be slowly diminishing breeds.

Nationally, there was a 12 percent decline in anglers from 2001 to 2006 and a 4 percent decline in hunters over that period, according to the 2007 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. According to Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, over the past 20 years the number of licensed anglers in Michigan has dropped nearly 22 percent and the number of licensed hunters dropped some 14.5 percent. Still, Michigan ranks third in the nation in licensed hunters and eighth in numbers of licensed resident and nonresident anglers.

National, regional and state studies have shown that societal and cultural changes have affected participation in both of these outdoor sports over time, according to the DNR’s Hunting & Fishing Heritage Task Force. Females are still less likely than males to have had hunting and fishing experiences in their youth. In fact, only 7 percent of women in Michigan are “high involvement” anglers.

The task force also suggests that for some people, increasing urbanization may have limited their exposure and access to fish and wildlife resources, and that lack of touch with the natural world makes them less likely to pursue either outdoor sport. A study conducted by Michigan State University, for instance, showed that fisherman who grew up in urban areas had less exposure to fishing as youths because few of their immediate family members fished.

In an earlier Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation survey, hunters and anglers indicated their reasons for quitting or cutting back on wildlife recreation activities were: too little time, family and work responsibilities, declining health or disability, lack of hunting and fishing partners, and dwindling access to quality hunting and fishing sites.

As the Heritage task force also points out, Michigan anglers and hunters — like the rest of Michigan residents — are aging, and the number of teenagers and young adults in the state has declined 21 percent and 20 percent, respectively, so they’ll be fewer outdoor sportsmen to take their place.

Are current sportsmen and women passing the time-honored traditions of hunting and fishing down to the next generation?

That seems to be the case among customers of Jay's Sporting Goods in Clare, one of the largest sporting goods stores in the Midwest. Front-end manager Jennifer Ross said Jay’s held a hunter safety class recently that nearly 90 kids, ages 9 through 13, attended.

“We have customers call us constantly to see when we’re going to have another one,” she said. “As a matter of fact, we had two or three of our staff members go to the state and get certified to teach hunter safety so we can do more of them.”

At Bob’s Gun & Tackle Shop in Hastings, which sells firearms, ammo and archery, fishing and camping equipment and gear, hunting and fishing license sales are up 6 percent, said Manager Steve Hayes. He said store sales have been up and down in the past few years, sometimes just depending on the month of the year. He sees kids come in with their parents to get outfitted with hunting and fishing gear, but believes more kids would love the sports if they had a chance to try them.

Bob’s Gun & Tackle conducts fly-tying seminars and other hands-on events for novices throughout the year, such as range-shooting demonstrations. As Hayes sees it, one of the problems in the industry is the high divorce rate: Men are more likely to hunt and fish, but women are more likely to have more access to the kids after divorce.

“So you have a lot of single moms raising kids, and the kids just aren’t getting exposed to hunting,” he opined. “I know there are a lot of other things competing for kids’ time like school sports, video games and things like that. I’ve heard before that if you don’t get your kid hunting and fishing by about age 10 or 11, there’s a good chance you’ll lose them to other interests.”

D&R Sport Center in Kalamazoo sells a wide range of fishing, hunting and archery gear and supplies, as well as fishing boats. President Randy Van Dam said sales of licenses and gear are extremely weather driven: The store sells more when the weather is ideal during fishing and hunting seasons.

“The hunting and fishing stuff is a little bit more economic proof,” Van Dam said.

“We don’t see a slow down so much on the tackle and the gun and hunting supply stuff as much as we do on the boat side. If they’re off work, they’re still hunting and fishing, but maybe they don’t buy as much.” 

D&R Sport, too, offers hunter safety seminars and special promotions geared for novices. The store also works with the Boy Scouts and with summer camps to introduce more young people to both sports, he noted. 

“We try to do our small part, and we do see a lot of kids, but I know that’s not the national trend,” Van Dam said.

Paul Bugher, manager of the Gander Mountain store on Acquest Avenue SE in Grand Rapids, said this has been a good year for fishing, but hunting sales have been slower because fall has been unusually warm this year. He said Gander Mountain’s customers, on average, are age 40 and up, but the store does have some young customers, as well.

“We see kids, but fewer than we wish we’d see,” Bugher said. “I would say it’s definitely a concern of anybody that works in outdoor sports to keep encouraging kids to come in. That part of the market isn’t as strong as the adult hunting and fishing market. This generation is not participating as much as the past ones.”

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