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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) just made a significant announcement that all of America’s hunters, young and old, should loudly celebrate. Even Americans who don’t know the joys and benefits of participating in America’s greatest pastime should celebrate, as they most likely participate in an outdoor activity that a robust hunter population supports.

USFWS announced the results of their latest U.S. Hunting and Fishing Participation survey and it shows that some of the positive trends the firearm industry saw over the past few years have taken hold and have likely become more enduring than previously thought.

The new data is noteworthy not just because of the direct impacts it represents in terms of supporting jobs and local communities, but also for the substantial funding that goes back to state conservation and wildlife management efforts. There are also incalculable and intangible benefits that are connected, too, in the way the new survey reveals that old family traditions, and completely new ones, are being passed down to new generations of Americans to enjoy in the years ahead.

Results Are In

During the coronavirus pandemic that began in 2020, one outgrowth of the lockdowns was Americans’ interest in buying firearms and learning how to safely use them. It was a historic surge in gun ownership that is still being seen today. NSSF data revealed at the time a number of those Americans buying firearms listed their interest in hunting as a reason for their purchase. That also meant millions of Americans took up hunting-related activities and took to the woods and fields.

The USFWS survey – published roughly every five years – shows the rise in hunting interest wasn’t fleeting and those Americans stuck it out and are now full-fledged hunters. The data showed that 14.4 million people over the age of 6 participated in hunting. That’s almost 3 million more hunters nationwide since the last survey in 2016, good for a 26 percent increase.

The good news isn’t just seen among hunters, though. Other important outdoor activities saw big increases as well. All told, the USFWS survey also revealed that 46.2 million people aged 6 or over went target shooting, 39.9 million people fished and 148.3 million participated in at least one type of wildlife-watching activity in the United States over the past few years.

Those big numbers have a big impact in more ways than one.

Preeminent Model for Outdoors

The big boosts in hunting participation brought to light in the USFWS survey represent a big lift to the dollars that go not only to local economies but also back to the states to benefit their own wildlife management and conservation programs. With the increases in the numbers of hunters shown in the latest survey, Americans injected an eye-popping $394.8 billion into the economy while participating in wildlife-related activities in the outdoors. That figure represents a nearly 250-percent increase from the $156 billion reported by the last survey.

What’s more, the USFWS data showed the average hunter spent approximately $3,264 on equipment and trip expenses. That can include buying a gun, ammunition, hunting license, travel and lodging, meals and more.

NSSF’s Mark Oliva said it best to the media: “The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service report is an encouraging reminder of the integral part the firearm industry, hunting and recreational shooting fulfills in our national and local economies. This is truly a report card on the significance Americans place on ensuring that we have healthy public lands and waters for wildlife to flourish and for everyone to enjoy.”

When Americans choose to participate in hunting and recreational shooting activities and spend their hard-earned dollars in support of those traditions, they’re supporting the system for future generations. That’s because they’re supporting the Pittman-Robertson excise tax or Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program. That includes the excise taxes paid by firearm and ammunition manufacturers that go back to the states and are distributed to state fish and wildlife agencies to fund and perpetuate the cycle. All told, since the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund was created in 1937, firearm and ammunition manufacturers have paid in more than $25 billion in excise tax contributions, when adjusted for inflation. This along with other tenets of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation make it the world’s most successful system to manage, restore and safeguard fish and wildlife populations and habitats. The more hunters supporting the system, the better.

Reasons for Optimism

The historic streak of firearm purchasing happening right now is truly astounding. It’s been 50 straight months – more than four years running – of more than one million National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) verifications for the purchase of a firearm that have been processed by the FBI. Throughout that stretch, NSSF research has revealed that the gun-owning community has never been more diverse than it is right now. That also includes a more diverse community participating in hunting-related activities.

While some concerns linger about American hunting traditions and participation on the decline, the latest USFWS survey results, as well as additional ongoing positive trends, show there’s plenty to celebrate and be encouraged about in the years ahead.

Article by Joe Bartozzi

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