Business Blog

Making Sense of Hunter Numbers


How many hunters do we have in the U.S.? If you have an outdoor industry job that requires you to advertise, market, manufacture or sell to or for hunters, you’ve no doubt tried to answer that question.


First, the less-than-exciting news … Even the most casual research on hunter numbers will lead you to understand that hunter numbers have not grown in comparison to the U.S. population. To put the situation in perspective, consider this: From 1960 to 2015, the total U.S. population age 15 and older increased by 112%. Meanwhile hunting license sales for the same period grew by less than 11%.


But, the bright side … Depending on which statistics you are looking at and who you consider to be a legitimate hunting consumer, your customer pool for hunting goods and services is between 11 million and 21 million individuals.


It is important to understand where the numbers are coming from, which ones are worth paying attention to and, finally, where your customers live. Let’s delve more deeply into this.


Which Number is the Right Number?

As described in the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s annual Industry Reference Guide, hunter numbers vary based on methodology used to collect the data. The three main sources for hunter numbers are as follows.


1. National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation – According to this survey, which uses U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and U.S. Census data and is conducted every five years, in 2016 there were 11,453,000 hunters. This source consistently provides the lowest estimate, but keep in mind it only counts hunters 16 and older.


2. Certified Hunting License Sales – Data compiled by the USFWS and various state departments of fish and wildlife agencies results in a tally of 15,614,036 hunters in 2016. A couple things to keep in mind here are that many states require a paid hunting license starting at age 12. And there are exemptions in some states, so landowners and/or veterans might not be included in this number.


3. Shooting Sports Participation Reports – The National Sporting Goods Association consistently comes up with the highest annual participation number, and in 2017 it estimated 18,200,000 hunters took to the field. This number is extrapolated from a survey of more than 34,000 individuals age 7 and older.


A wild card in all of this is that not every person who considers himself or herself a hunter buys a license every year. The percentage of every-year participants may be as low as 65%. As noted in the NSSF report, a Southwick Associates study, “A Portrait of Today’s Hunters”, determined that approximately 21 million individuals have purchased at least one hunting license during a five-year period.


Three more variables that affect the numbers:

1. An individual who hunts in multiple states is likely being counted once in each state where he or she hunts.


2. At what age do we begin counting a participant as a hunter? As seen above, the three main sources for tallying hunter numbers use different entry levels: 7, 12 and 16. How many of those youngsters will still be hunting when they become adults?


3. Alabama, Georgia and Arizona have changed their licensing programs in recent years. Figures from those states can be inflated due to hunting licenses being included with the purchase of other recreational licenses (a boating or fishing license, for example).


Confused yet? Don’t be. Even with all these data variables to contend with, it’s not unrealistic to believe that your number of potential customers may be as high as 20 million individuals.


License Sales Trends

A review of license sales data from 2016 (the data mentioned earlier that concludes there were 15,614,036 licensed hunters) will not lead to any remarkable data points. Those 15-million-plus hunters represent a 4.8% increase over the 20-year average of 14,896,850 annual U.S. license sales. Back out the aforementioned inflated portion of the numbers from Alabama, Arizona and Georgia, and that increase is probably closer to 4%.


One trend worth noting is that hunters seem to be more mobile across state lines than they were three decades ago. In 2015 9.5% of all licenses went to nonresident hunters; in 1985 that percentage was 5.9%.


The Big States          

We’ve covered state-by-state hunting figures frequently here at the Realtree Business Blog, and we’ll continue to do so, but here’s a quick refresher on the big-number states …


  • Texas leads the U.S. in license sales with 1,157,779 sold in 2016. That’s an appreciable 11.75% increase over the state’s 20-year average.
  • Pennsylvania trails relatively closely with 975,650 licenses sold in 2016. However, that represents a 2.32% drop compared with the Keystone State’s 20-year average.
  • Wisconsin’s 706,400 licensed hunters in 2016 contribute to the Badger State’s third-place ranking, but similar to the situation in Pennsylvania, that number is off of the 20-year average by 2.44%.
  • Neighboring Michigan reports 706,101 hunters in 2016. That’s a big number, but unfortunately it’s a whopping 14.07% lower than the state’s 20-year average of 821,709 hunters.
  • Tennessee has a positive story to tell, with its 700,600 hunters in 2016 representing a healthy 3.62% increase over the 20-year average.
  • Minnesota, like its Midwestern neighbors, has seen a slight drop its license hunter numbers. In 2016 the Gopher State sold 568,087 licenses, which is .86% below its 20-year average.


Check back here often for more hunter participation insights. Next time we’ll provide an update on the most hunter-friendly states, those area where hunting traditions are as strong as ever.


Editor’s Note: Targeting your products and services to the right hunters in the right regions is more important than ever in today’s competitive outdoors industry. Realtree has multiple manufacture and dealer support programs that can help you grow your business. Contact us today at [email protected] to find out how!


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