The Guns Of Thanksgiving

While turkey will be on the table for most Americans today, millions of us will out in the field or up in a tree stand this today hoping to add some quality venison to our freezer. Now, I’ve been filling in for Vince Coglianese on WMAL’s morning show all week, so I didn’t get a chance to get out this morning, but as the sun was peeking out over the treeline I heard the sharp crack of a rifle from my neighbor’s property (thankfully we were in a commercial break at the time).

About twenty minutes later I heard three more shots, this time across the creek on the north end of my property, and when I ran to the grocery store after I got off the air at 9 o’clock the parking lot of the one open convenience store in my small town was packed with pickup trucks and men, women, and children in their camo jackets and blaze orange hats.

Hunting on Thanksgiving is a longtime tradition for many of us, but this year more Americans seem to be taking to the field for the first time, or at least the first time in years. In Michigan, for instance, the number of deer hunting licenses has grown by more than 25% compared to 2019, and the overall hunting numbers have more than doubled.

The increase in hunters is good as particularly when it comes to deer hunting, there have been fewer hunters in recent years as older people “age out” and fewer younger people don’t have the time or may have other priorities. The DNR relies on hunters to manage and cull the state’s estimated 1.7 million deer population.

“We’re very excited about this,” said Kristin Phillips, chief of marketing and outreach for the Michigan DNR. “I’m trying to keep my expectations in check.”

The Michigan DNR reports that the number of first-time hunters has nearly doubled since 2019, which includes a surge in hunting licenses for both youth and women.

People ages 10-16 drove a 144% increase in license sales across all hunting species, while the number of female hunters has risen nearly 25%.

Michiganders also bought 9% more fishing licenses this year, with the total number of new anglers rising 42%, said Dustin Isenhoff, DNR marketing specialist.
These numbers are a sharp contrast to a downward trend in hunting license sales both in state and nationwide over the past several decades, as baby-boomers are spending less time hunting, and younger generations opt not to pursue the sport.

What’s driving the increase? There are a few factors at work here. First, the economic impact of the coronavirus closures has likely led to more Americans hunting for quality protein for their freezer. Some fish and game officials have noted that hunting licenses tend to go up when there is high unemployment, and the current jobless rate of 6.9% is nearly double what it was in November of last year.

The lockdowns mandated by many governors have also resulted in more Americans getting outside. Camping, fishing, and other outdoor recreational activities have increased throughout the year, so the rise in the number of hunters is part of a broader trend. Whether this is a one-year spike or the start of a new renaissance remains to be seen, but my hope is that those who’ve gotten a taste of the hunting experience (not to mention the taste of some freshly grilled backstrap) will keep them coming back for more in the years ahead.

Mar 03, 2021 10:30 AM ET