Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Trends indicate number of younger hunters declining

Minneapolis (AP) — Fewer youth are taking up the hunting
traditions of their parents and grandparents, according to
licensing numbers from the DNR.

And that has DNR officials worried, as the state’s whitetail
herd continues to grow.

“We can’t manage deer populations without people out there
shooting them,” said DNR big game specialist Lou Cornicelli.

A decline in hunters also could affect conservation funding –
because about 85 percent of hunting revenues in the DNR Game and
Fish Fund comes from deer hunting fees.

“There appears to be a generational shift in Minnesota away from
all outdoor activities, including hunting, fishing, and wildlife
watching,” said DNR researcher Tim Kelly.

Over the past five years, the number of Minnesota hunters
between the ages of 16 and 44 declined almost 11 percent. This
fall, Minnesota’s 500,000 deer hunters are expected to kill about
250,000 of the state’s 1.3 million whitetails.

The decline often is blamed on urbanization, more single-parent
families, participation in youth team sports, and a lack of hunting
opportunities.

“Deer hunting is a big commitment,” said Brian Arndt, 34, of
Minnetonka, who said he still hunts pheasant, grouse and duck, but
no longer hunts deer. “You need land and time off from work. Deer
hunting just takes a lot more effort than getting up early on a
Saturday with some friends for a day of duck or pheasant hunting. I
can do that and get back in time to be with my kids.”

In 1971, the state had so few deer that the DNR canceled the
firearms season. In 1975, the state tried to increase the
population by limiting the number of does hunters could kill.
Permits to kill antlerless deer were distributed beginning that
year to lottery winners.

That management shift, landscape changes and fewer brutal
winters have helped boost whitetails in Minnesota. In 2003, DNR
wildlife managers largely scrapped the antlerless permit
lottery.

“Except in the southwest part of Minnesota, we’re back to a
‘kill everything’ deal in the state,” Cornicelli said.

Wildlife managers also are trying to deal with the changing
desires and expectations of hunters.

Until recently, most Minnesota whitetail hunters were fairly
happy just to kill a doe or buck. Now, trophy animals are seen as
the prize.

Still, the state’s ever-larger deer herd has been attracting
more hunters. Before the deer-management changes made in 1975, the
most hunters that Minnesota put in the field was 323,000 in 1968.
That mark has been surpassed every year since 1977, peaking in
1994, when more than 530,000 licenses (including those for archery)
were sold.

But it’s the declining percentage of hunters under age 45 that
concerns wildlife managers.

“Demographics worry us,” said DNR fish and wildlife policy
section chief Ed Boggess. “We’re not seeing the same participation
in hunting, even in Minnesota, among young people, as has been the
case historically.”

Surveys of active, adult hunters by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service indicate that almost 80 percent had their first hunting
experience before age 15. People exposed to hunting later in their
lives are less likely to stick with it.

Many hunters are ambivalent, saying the percentage of the
population that hunts might be declining, but the number of hunters
remains high.

In 2000, the DNR sold 250,000 more hunting licenses than it did
in 1970, though the percentage of licenses issued in the two
periods relative to the state’s population remained fairly
stable.

“But when baby boomers are gone,” Boggess said, “we could have
problems keeping hunter numbers up. Which is another reason we want
to keep the state’s deer herd at a manageable level. We might not
have as many hunters in the future as we do now.”

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