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|Good news about hunting. Yes, actual good news!|
Well, hot diggity, the preliminary numbers are out and the number of hunters in the U.S. has increased over the past five years.
The numbers come from the mammoth U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's 2011 National Survey, which I've found to have the most reliable numbers (i.e., biggest sample size and lowest margin of error) on hunting in America.
Total hunter numbers up 9.6 percent. Big game hunters up 8.4 percent. Migratory bird hunters up 13 percent. Hunters of other animals up ... wait for it ... 100 percent! The only number that dropped was small game hunters, which were down 6.3 percent. Good. More rabbits for me.
Here's a look at the numbers (you can click on the image to see it a bit larger):
This is as much detail as USFWS has released so far. There's no breakdown yet for the numbers of kids, women and various ethnic groups hunting. The 2006 survey showed that the number of girls 15 and younger who hunt had nearly doubled over the previous 15 years, so there are a lot of potential gems in the 2011 numbers.
But unless FWS has changed its survey, we won't ever see answers to what is, to me, the most important question: WHY?
From where I sit in Northern California, I can tell you we're seeing a huge interest in hunting from non-traditional groups, primarily urban foodies (often liberal) who are trying to opt out of the factory-farmed meat supply. Thank you, Michael Pollan, for sparking that interest with The Omnivore's Dilemma. But I haven't yet seen any data that would back up that anecdotal evidence with real numbers.
I also can't ignore the fact that the Great Recession may have sent more people into the field just to put meat in their freezers. It might not have anything to do with the noble aspirations of foodies.
The other question the National Survey won't answer is what is the upshot of this increase? I hope it means that support for hunting is on the rise. More people hunting = more non-hunters being exposed to hunting = stereotypes getting crushed.
I see that personally. Hell, I live it - I'm a female college journalism professor, and when non-hunters find out I hunt, they're almost always surprised, and they almost always walk away with an image of hunting that is no longer the caricature peddled so effectively by the Humane Society of the U.S.
But realistically, the only thing we can assume with reasonable safety is that rising hunter numbers means rising revenue for, and interest in, conservation. That's a good thing.
By Holly Heyser. This article originally appeared on "Fair Chase Hunting," the Orion blog, on August 18, 2012.