Hunting and Hunters

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According to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, there were 13.7 million hunters 16 years old and older in the United States in 2011. This survey found that hunters hunted a total of 281.9 million days in 2011 and spent nearly $34 billion on trips, equipment, licenses, and other items for their hunting activities. The average hunter hunted 21 days per year.
Although the National Survey exhibited a decline of nearly 1.5 million hunters between 1996 and 2006, the most recent survey shows an increase from 12.5 million hunters in 2006 to 13.7 hunters in 2011, as well as an increase in total number of days hunted, average hunting days per hunter, and total spending on hunting. Previously, hunting participation had been slowly declining: Federal Aid data indicate a decline of over 800,000 hunting license holders over the past 3 decades from 1990 and 2010. However, the decline in hunting license sales nationally masks yearly fluctuations; in that same time frame, hunting license holders showed slight increases or remained stable between different year-to-year time periods. There have been three notable exceptions to the overall rate of national decline: the number of hunting license holders across the nation increased in 1992, 1999, and, 2004. For example, between 1998 and 1999, hunting license holders increased by just over 250,000. Responsive Management partnered with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division, under a Hunting Heritage Partnership grant from the National Shooting Sports Foundation to conduct a study to identify the specific reasons, including economic, climatic, biological, administrative, marketing and communications, and outreach and promotional factors related to these specific instances of increase in national hunting license sales. The results of this study are being used to assist state agencies with implementing more effective programs and outreach efforts to reverse the current overall decline in hunting and to increase hunting participation and license sales. The results of this study are posted with our hunting reports.
Hunters in the United States are predominantly rural, white males, and hunting is strongly connected to their relationships with their fathers or father figures. As such it is to the majority of hunters an activity with which they identify on a more emotional level than a cognitive level. Failure to grasp the importance of the emotional connection to hunting can almost certainly lead to a less-than-accurate understanding of hunting only as a recreational activity. Hunting, however much a recreational activity, can be fully comprehended only if it is understood as a complex cultural phenomenon closely linked to naturalistic values, hunters' identities, and the American family. Hunting is not only a recreational pursuit.
Changing demographic factors in the U.S. have been driving the dominant trend of decreasing hunting participation. One of the most important trends is the increasing urbanization of the U.S. Most of the population now lives in non-rural housing. In 1950, 36% of the U.S. population lived in a rural area according to U.S. Census data. This percentage went down to 30% in 1960, to 25% by 1990, and to 22% in 2000, and remained at 22% through 2010. This demographic trend is important because hunting participation is positively correlated with living in a rural area. In addition, urban environments have decreased opportunities for hunting and a lack of information on where to go to hunt. Urban environments also lack the social support system that is crucial to hunting because an individual is not surrounded by others who hunt, making initiation into hunting and retention difficult.
Hunting Initiation
It takes a hunter to make a hunter. Responsive Management research indicates that almost all long-term hunters are initiated into hunting before the age of 20, usually by a father or a father figure. Hunters who are initiated by a father or another male family member before the age of 20 hunt more frequently and are more likely to hunt avidly throughout their lifetime than are hunters who were not initiated in this way. The presence of other family members who hunt, amount of exposure to hunting, and the presence of a "hunting culture" are of utmost importance in hunting initiation as well. Rarely does hunting initiation occur outside of these parameters. For instance, a national study of youth ages 8 to 18 conducted by Responsive Management in 2003 found that 92% of youth who had hunted in the previous year came from a hunting family, while only 8% came from a non-hunting family. There are few other paths of initiation and no other paths of even relatively the same significance. In short, hunters come from hunting families, and hunting families produce hunters.
Hunting Motivations
Hunters hunt for a variety of reasons. Current studies show that top motivations for hunting are not utilitarian, but instead are recreational and social (particularly familial). Hunting motivations have changed over time with hunting for meat becoming less important and hunting for other reasons growing in importance. In a study by Dr. Steven Kellert of Yale University, hunters' hunting motivations were assessed, and in subsequent surveys conducted by Responsive Management, these same hunting motivations were again assessed. Significant changes over this time period in hunting motivations were found. In comparing Dr. Kellert's earlier study and a nationwide Responsive Management study in 2006, the percentages of hunters hunting primarily for the sport and/or recreation increased slightly from 37% in 1980 to 39% in 2006. Hunting to be with friends and family increased more dramatically from 9% in 1980 to 20% in 2006. Hunting to be close to nature also increased from 10% in 1980 to 21% in 2006. Hunting primarily to obtain meat significantly decreased over time: 43% of hunters in 1980 compared to 16% in 2006 hunted for the meat.
Hunting Satisfaction and Desertion
Reasons that take away from hunting satisfaction generally relate to access and crowding issues. In a Responsive Management study, U.S. hunters reported that the following issues have taken away from their hunting satisfaction:
  • Not enough access to places to hunt (46%)
  • Not having enough places to hunt (44%)
  • Work obligations (42%)
  • Poor behavior of other hunters (39%)
  • Too many hunters in the field (35%)
Three of the four most common reasons that inactive hunters stopped hunting relate to time constraints. Inactive hunters in the U.S. reported in a Responsive Management study that the following reasons caused them to stop hunting:
  • Lack of time (41%)
  • Work obligations (37%)
  • Family obligations (36%)
However, lack of time as a reason to quit hunting may mask a much more complex set of circumstances. Responsive Management research indicates that many ex-hunters are inelastic in the sources of their hunting satisfaction. Ex-hunters' motivations are similar to active hunters' motivations in many respects. They share utilitarian, naturalistic, aesthetic, and ecological values. However, it appears that active hunters are more elastic in their expectations about hunting. Active hunters can easily substitute one value for another and/or derive satisfactions from a wider range of values than can ex-hunters. Those hunters whose satisfaction stems primarily from one value tend to drop out of hunting more easily than hunters who derive satisfaction from multiple values.
Responsive Management research also indicates that a major reason hunters quit hunting is because of a breakdown in the social support system among hunters. Most current, active hunters continue to surround themselves socially with other active hunters. This is in sharp contrast to ex-hunters who "fall out" of a social circle of hunters and subsequently "fall out" of hunting. Hunters hunt with other hunters. As hunting partners move away, pass away, or become involved with other activities, participation by other hunters in the group declines. Similarly, when an avid hunter moves to a new area, his or her hunting activity often does not resume because the hunter does not have the social support system he/she previously had.
Public Opinion on Hunting
Responsive Management research indicates that support for hunting and fishing has remained strong over the past decade with approximately every 3 out of 4 Americans approving of legal hunting. In 1995, 73% of Americans approved of hunting, 75% approved in 2003, and in 2006, 78% approved of hunting. Responsive Management's 2006 study shows that 11% moderately disapprove and 11% strongly disapprove of hunting. Click here for a news release discussing Responsive Management's research on this trend.
Some groups of Americans are much more likely to support hunting than others. Survey results and statistical analyses show that some variables are positively associated with support for hunting while other variables are negatively associated with support for hunting. Hunters, naturally, show the strongest support for hunting, followed by persons who have a family member who hunts. The closer a person's association with hunting, either through personal experience or from the experiences of family or friends, the stronger support a person has for hunting. Gender is the next strongest variable. Men are much more likely to support hunting than are women, even though a majority of both genders support hunting: a 2006 study by Responsive Management showed that while 84% of men approve of hunting, only 72% of women approve of hunting. Outdoor recreationists in general are more likely than the general population as a whole to support hunting: boaters, anglers, and people who view wildlife around their home are more likely to support legal hunting. Factors negatively associated with support for hunting include not having a family member who hunts, being 25-34 years old, and residence in a suburban area or a large city. Higher levels of education are also negatively correlated with approval of hunting.
Women and Hunting
According to research from the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA), women's participation in hunting and shooting sports increased significantly in the past 5 years with more than 3 million women hunting in 2005. In 2001, the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation reported 1.2 million female hunters age 16 years old and older.
Responsive Management research found that during the 1980s, hunting participation among women as a percentage of the female population increased while, simultaneously, hunting participation as a percentage of the male population decreased. And while the percentage of hunters who are women increased, the percentage of hunters who are males decreased. Between 1985 and 1990, the percentage of women who went hunting more than doubled, while the percentage of males who went hunting during this same time period declined by 16%.
This trend was examined to better understand the cause of this increase in female participation in comparison to the decline in male hunting participation. An interesting pattern emerged. While increases and decreases in hunting participation among male hunters could be correlated to numerous demographic factors, changes in the female hunting population could not. The implication was that the increase in the number of female hunters was caused by basic changes in attitudes and changing roles of females in general within society. However, it could be speculated that just as easily as women dropped into hunting, they could also drop out.
Additional Responsive Management research indicates that the female hunting population does not have the stability of participation that the male hunting population does. The majority of male hunters tend to hunt every year, which is not true for female hunters.
Of all of the differences between male and female hunters, one of the most noticeable differences in hunting behavior is related to hunting motivations - why females hunt versus why males hunt. Responsive Management research indicates that females hunt predominately for utilitarian and familial reasons. In a nationwide study of hunters, hunters were asked which of the following reasons was their primary reason for hunting: for the meat, to be with friends and family, for the sport or recreation, or to be close to nature. For every single motivational reason, significant differences were found between male and female hunters.
Female hunters were twice as likely as male hunters to hunt for meat (47% female, 22% male), almost 2 times more likely than males to hunt to be with friends and family (27% female, 11% male), less than half as likely as male hunters to hunt for the sport and recreation (20% female, 45% male), and a third less likely as males to hunt to be close to nature (7% female, 22% male).
Responsive Management Experience
Responsive Management has conducted more studies on more hunting-related issues in more geographic locations than any other organization in the world. Responsive Management has conducted almost 1,000 qualitative and quantitative projects on natural resource and outdoor recreation issues over the past 18 years. Clients include the federal natural resource and land management agencies, most state fish and wildlife agencies, state departments of natural resources, environmental protection agencies, state park agencies, tourism boards, as well as most of the major conservation and sportsmen's organizations. Many of the nation's top universities use Responsive Management for data collection because they recognize the quality of Responsive Management's data services. Because Responsive Management specializes in researching only natural resource and outdoor recreation issues, our senior research staff, research associates, and interviewers conduct surveys only on these topics and understand the nuances involved in conducting such research.

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