Woods just got more crowded


All of a sudden, there are about 7 million more hunters in the woods. But you probably won't notice it much.

Numbers are a tricky thing. That is never more evident than in an election year. In these times you can pretty much make numbers say just about anything.

But the latest report from the National Shooting Sports Foundation backs up a lot of what many of us pundits have felt for years: The numbers of hunters don't seem to be decreasing, even though everyone says hunters are a dying breed.

Lately it's been fairly common knowledge that there are about 14 million hunters in the United States, most of them deer hunters. The NSSF study reveals that there are about 14 million hunters who take to the woods each year. But in addition there is more than 21 million who actually hunt over a five-year period.

Prior to the study, according to census takers for several years, hunter numbers were dwindling. And the prognosis has always been that hunting was in trouble. At times some of us have simply felt beleaguered.

That feeling was there even though many of us watched interesting trends in the hunting market. There are far more women hunting these days than ever before. Youth hunts that get a new generation the field are common and heavily participated in (at least in my part of the woods), and expenditures are up.

It's been easy to ask: How in the world are hunter numbers shrinking so much with all these good things taking place?

The inference has always been fewer and fewer people just don't care. That may still be true, but obviously not at the rate previously believed.

This is just my take on the situation and in all things like this I reserve the right to be wrong. But it looks to me like hunting is in better shape than most thought, making me believe that our obsession, our pastime or our hobby is just a reflection of what is happening in society as a whole.

We want to believe that all hunters are so passionate that we just have to hunt to fulfill our needs of the chase or whatever it is that drives us every single season. But reality creeps in on hunters as well.

Life gets busy. People get sick. Money gets hard to come by. Time gets constrained and becomes precious. Any number of things can and will happen to keep some out of the woods and not buying a license during any given year. As I get older, I understand those things.

And if you read the NSSF study closely it's easy to come to the conclusion that one in three of us have trouble being consistent with our passion. But that doesn't make them any less of a hunter in the strict definition of the word.

Count them how you want them, draw your own conclusions but thanks to the NSSF, hunting actually got a big boost with the revelations of their study, even if it means I'm sharing the woods with an extra 7 million hunters I didn't realize were there.