The worrying decline in small-game license sales
Data geeks can find a whole bunch of cool stuff in the DNR’s annual report about small game and small-game hunters in Minnesota.
They could see, for example, that duck hunters killed an estimated 699,620 ducks in Minnesota in 2014, or that the pheasant harvest – 152,800 – was the lowest in decades. They could see that state duck stamp sales in 2014 – 90,376 – were about the same as they’ve been since 2008.
But one of the data sets I check first when I receive the report is the number of small-game licenses sold. And when it comes to that number – 258,109 in 2014 – the trend isn’t good. It marks the seventh year in a row that number of small-game licenses has fallen, and it’s more than 40,000 fewer than were sold in 2007.
Given the state of grasslands and pheasant hunting, by extension, in Minnesota, that’s probably not super-surprising. After all, the state sold almost 60,000 fewer pheasant stamps in 2014 (70,406) as it did in 2006 (129,546).
But I can’t help but wonder if there’s something larger at play, too. There was a time when the natural progression of things meant hunters entered the sport targeting small-game species such as rabbits and squirrels. As recently as 2014, for example, hunters killed 132,659 gray squirrels in Minnesota, and 86,508 cottontail rabbits. Last year, they killed 91,250 gray squirrels and 38,820 cottontails.
Perhaps there’s another explanation, but maybe the reason for the decline is young people now-a-days skip over small game in favor of big game, such as deer. There’s nothing wrong with deer hunting, of course, but does deer hunting produce the same relationship with – or appreciation for – nature as slinking around the woods looking for squirrels, or pounding brushpiles for bunnies? Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t.
But I think small-game species are at the root of hunting, and I worry about new generations have hunters not even being familiar with those roots.
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