The pandemic forced people to rethink how they would protect their health and well-being in 2021, and one of the ways they did so was by retreating to the outdoors.
The sales of hunting and fishing licenses in Michigan has surged the past two years, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
From Jan. 1-Nov. 30, 2021, 641,588 Michiganders purchased hunting licenses and 1.13 million purchased fishing licenses. The hunting permits were for a variety of species, including duck, deer and turkey licenses.
Hunting and fishing license purchases actually were down 3.4% and 2.6%, respectively, from 2020, but the sales of licenses in 2021 remained above sales in 2019. First-time hunting and fishing license sales also decreased from 2020 but were higher than 2019.
The sale of hunting license increased by 1.6% from 631,138 licenses bought in 2019 and fishing license sales increased by 5.9% from 1.07 million licenses bought in 2019. There also were 68,250 first-time hunting licenses purchased. That is up 5.3% from 2019, and 271,883 first-time fishing license purchases were up 8.2% from 2019.
The high number of fishing and hunting license sales were fueled by an increase in purchases from hunters and anglers aged 65 and older, women and out-of-state tourists.
Hunters and anglers aged 65 and older purchased 107,107 hunting licenses and 204,726 fishing licenses in 2021.
The purchase of hunting licenses among the older population was up 4.4% from 2020 and 8.5% from 2019. Fishing license purchases were up 12.2% from 2020 and 10.2% from 2019.
The increased interest in hunting and fishing coincides with the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think people were looking for opportunities to social distance but still get out and do something, and I think the outdoors provided an opportunity to still socialize with family and friends but in a safe environment,” said Nick Buggia, chair of the Michigan Wildlife Council.
“There is still a significant increase in people 65 years and older participating in hunting and fishing. I think it was a way for them to spend time with their kids and grandkids. Those who were still working didn’t have the commute that they normally do. They had a little bit more free time. They weren’t going out to dinner and the movies, so they had a little bit of extra money and they spent it on equipment and things for the outdoors.”
There were 68,253 women-held hunting license purchases in 2021, which is a 6.7% increase from 2019, and 244,347 women-held fishing license purchases in 2021. That is up 11.4% from 2019.
“There is more of a general acceptance of being more inclusive in the outdoor community and trying to get new people out there and share the love of the outdoors,” Buggia said. “I also think that, especially for women, it is a way of providing healthy and organic-scoured food. I think that is part of the reason we’ve seen a big increase. It is a desire to know where your food is coming from. But there are a lot of single mothers out here now and a lot of times we’ll hear anecdotally stories about their kids wanting to get into hunting and maybe they want to take their son or daughter out hunting, and in order to do that they have to get into hunting so that they can help their kids.”
Visitors from out of state purchased 32,334 hunting licenses and an estimated 215,700 fishing licenses in 2021. Hunting licenses purchased by visitors increased by 10.3% from 2020 and 21.6% from 2019. Fishing license purchases among that same group were up 11.4% from 2020 and 11.7% from 2019.
Buggia credits the increase in visitors coming from out of state to the large amount of state land that is available for hunting and the variety of species that are in the state. Some of the species that are available in Michigan include walleye, salmon, steelhead trout and Northern pike. Some of the popular animals include duck, deer, turkey, rabbits, squirrels and elks.
“The good thing about Michigan is that state land is distributed across the state, so no matter where you live, there is an opportunity,” Buggia said. “Traditionally, people tend to go up north, to the northern part of the Lower Peninsula or the Upper Peninsula to do a lot of hunting. There are opportunities outside Grand Rapids. The Allegan State Game Area, which is one of the bigger pieces of public land, is not only great for recreating but it has some good hunting and fishing opportunities.”
The increase in hunting and fishing license purchases has created a positive economic impact during a time when much of the country was shut down and is now trying to rebound economically.
Hunting and fishing have a combined $11.2 billion economic impact on Michigan and provide an estimated 171,000 jobs annually, according to a 2019 study released by the Michigan United Conservation Clubs in partnership with Michigan State University.
Buggia said hunters and anglers support the economy by buying the equipment they need and also purchasing gas to put in their boats and vehicles, paying for hotels to stay in and purchasing meals.
“It has a pretty big impact on the overall economy and supports jobs across the state,” he said. “Michigan has a few factories that produce things like bows and ammunition and things like that, but it is more than just the outdoor equipment. A lot of people may be traveling up north to go hunting and they stay in a hotel, they go out to eat a few times a week, so it is supporting those local economies at certain destinations where certain times of the year those towns are seeing a big increase in tourism dollars.”
While the hunting and fishing license purchases have increased, there are efforts to keep the animal populations in balance and protect Michigan waters from habitat degradation and invasive species, as well as safeguard the state’s forests to provide habitats for thousands of wildlife species and reduce the risk of wildfires and flooding.
Licenses purchased by hunters and anglers generated an estimated $65.5 million for the Michigan Game and Fish Protection Fund in 2020. The fund is the DNR’s largest revenue source and is critical to its conservation work. The sale of hunting and fishing equipment raised an additional $29.4 million to support wildlife and natural resource management.
“Hunting and fishing is really a management tool,” Buggia said. “That is what it is about. It is not just about going out there and harvesting an animal. It is about making sure that the populations are at sustainable levels. If we have way too many deer, it can spread diseases and there can be an increase in deer-and-car accidents and things like that. There is a lot of time and science that goes into determining what a sustainable population is and that is not only for deer and turkey, it also is for things like sturgeon and butterflies.
“So not only is hunting and fishing a tool to make sure that the population is staying at the right amount, because you can raise or lower the amount that is harvested so that can change from year-to-year, but the money from hunting and fishing licenses is the primary source of conservation funding not only in the state but across the country.”