Dan Z for TTAG
Previous Post
Next Post

By Larry Keane

America’s outdoor pastime experienced a renaissance in 2020 and signs indicate the trend will continue in 2021. Hunting and recreational shooting sports saw a boom in popularity as millions of Americans purchased firearms during the past year. Hunting license sales suffered a slow decline but reports show a reversal as people took more hunting trips, brought someone new with them or rounded for another trip to the woods or fields.

Whether for upland birds on the plains or deer or bruins in the north woods, the effects of more hunting are positive not just for hunters but all Americans looking for outdoor adventure and fresh air.

An Outdoor Escape

The coronavirus pandemic throughout 2020 all but shut down community businesses. That included recreational activities at city parks, theaters, entertainment venues and sports arenas. The outdoors remained open as “social distancing” became a way of life.

duck hunting
Dan Z for TTAG

Firearm retailer data from NSSF show self defense was among the main drivers of the 21 million background checks for a firearm sale, but hunting and the desire to get away from the cramped confines of the indoors was near the top of reasons as well. Shotguns and rifles were among the most popular choices for buyers.

Tickets and Tags

Hunting license sales are the biggest tell for who’s heading out for a shoot and the numbers from 2020 are big. States including WashingtonArkansasOklahomaMichiganOhioIowaNew York and more all hit high water marks.

“With New Yorkers looking for more ways to enjoy the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing tremendous interest in outdoor recreation and in the sports of fishing, hunting, and trapping, including record sales of big game hunting and trapping licenses,” explained Basil Seggos, Commissioner of New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

Seggos noted New York hunting license sales tripled the opening day rate from 2019. These numbers aren’t unique to the Empire State.

Iowa’s hunting license sales went up by 20 percent compared to last year and Arkansas hunting license sales were the highest since 1938. Ditto for Oklahoma, which saw a preliminary deer harvest total of more than 120,000 deer. Michigan saw at least 100,000 new deer hunters last year, good for a nearly 10 percent increase in some counties.

Highlighting the changing demographics of who’s hunting, Ashley Autenrieth, deer biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, summed up the Wolverine state’s surge.

Deer Hunting Preparation Off Season
courtesy oxhuntingranch.com

“Female hunters went up significantly,” Autenrieth said. “A jump this big we weren’t expecting but we actually do anticipate female hunting numbers to continue to increase.”

Everyone Benefits

The benefits of heading out for a hunt aren’t just realized by those participating. Non-hunters and wildlife itself benefit. Fees from hunting license sales are directed to state conservation programs. For consideration, a look at New York’s hunting license sales data for 2020 shows $922,444 in sales reported on the first day of big game license sales this year, compared to $347,103 in 2019.

That’s in addition to Pittman-Robertson excise taxes paid by firearm and ammunition makers, which topped $13.3 billion paid since 1937. Each time a new hunter purchases a shotgun or rifle or buys ammunition for a hunt or trip to the skeet range, they help continue the preservation of public lands in the United States.

Pheasant Hunting In Wheelchairs
Duane Townsend, left, shoots a pheasant at Special Friday Pheasant Hunts, sponsored by Southern Tulare County Sportsman’s Association, at Lake Success Recreation Area in Porterville, Calif. A Utah man who has been in a wheelchair for more than three decades has created a pheasant hunt for people like him who need help getting into the outdoors. (Chieko Hara/The Porterville Recorder via AP, File)

Former Secretary for the Interior David Bernhardt summarized the impact new hunters would have on public lands and hunting opportunities for all Americans.

“Our conservation model is funded and supported by America’s hunters, shooters, anglers, boaters and other outdoor enthusiasts,” Bernhardt said. “These stewards of conservation generated nearly a billion dollars last year alone and make our country’s conservation legacy the envy of the world.”

It’s not enough to be satisfied with millions of new hunters in 2020. The key is to keep hunters heading back to the fields and woods in the future, bringing a son, a daughter or friend along as well. NSSF’s +ONESM Movement is aimed at encouraging hunters to recruit and engage the next generation of hunters and recreational shooters to ensure the opportunities to enjoy these great American pastimes remain for all.


Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.


Previous Post
Next Post


  1. Hunters are their own worst enemies. There’s a TON of people that want to get into hunting but even if they know someone who does, they don’t want to take a new guy who might slow them down or screw up their favorite hot spot. So then new hunters try to figure it out on their own and that’s when safety accidents occur.

    • This. I didn’t grow up in Montana, so moving here I knew it was something I wanted to get into. I tagged along with my ex’s father a couple times and a guy from work a couple times, and each time just felt like they didn’t want me there. I knew what to expect. It’s the same thing I do when I am looking for secluded shooting spots. People know about them, we just don’t talk about them.

      But I had to learn and I was willing to be the third wheel if need be, rather than fuck it up on my own. I’ve only taken one elk in my life, but the biggest things I took away from it were what to do with the kill after the shoot. That’s why people don’t go about it themselves. They have no clue what to do next. Finding meat is the easy part.

      • >>>”…what to do with the kill after the shoot. That’s why people don’t go about it themselves. They have no clue what to do next. Finding meat is the easy part.”

        This right here 100%. This cannot be overstated enough. That is exactly what I tell everyone I come into contact with that’s new to big game hunting. ‘Hunting’ is easy. ‘Shooting’ is easy. It’s the next part that is a massive eye-opener to new big game hunters. Go with, or invite along, someone who’s done it before because no book, video, or tv show is going to 100% prepare you for dealing with something like a 700 lb. dead bull elk.

    • Wow here in Western NY I’ve mentored a few, the local QDMA branch has a field to fork program that matches new hunters with experienced ones ,who basically give up their season to teach them everything from shooting to processing as well .

      Most I know will gladly help , quite a few have taken their first deer with me .

      • I have a bachelor uncle who spends nearly as much time working with new hunters as he does hunting for himself. Does the same with trapping, although not many youngsters are interested in that pursuit these days. A couple of my aunts were pretty fecund, and their progeny generally ran more to boys, so he has had a lot of practice. I took his example and have worked with a few newbies myself. Despite what Jay thinks, we’re not all a bunch of self-absorbed fudds.

        Hat’s off to you Larry and those generous men like you.

  2. My dad was a consumate outdoorsman, if he wasn’t hunting he was fishing whenever he could. My brothers and I weren’t as interested in it as kids. He died 12 years ago, and Im now trying to give my younger brothers the experiences our dad did for me. We went out this year for the first time in 7 years.
    One of my younger brothers got one, and is now super excited about doing it more often. Ive confirmed unfortunately that I have a serious allergy to deer dander though, that I didnt have as a teenager! In any case, we may look into coyote hunting in the off seasons to keep up with it.

    • Theres some coyotes yippy yipping just outside of town that are wanting to make a fool of me. And it’s tough when you dont use an electric call, damn coyotes, but I guess if it was easy it wouldn’t be no fun at all.

  3. Up until about 6-7 years ago I had not hunted for decades. Then one of my sons decided to explore hunting. After hearing his stories of his hunts I decided to give it a try once again. Been at it ever since.

    I’ve always liked being outside. Hunting, like fishing, is just an excuse. 🙂

  4. Due to a heart attack in September, I’ve missed deer season in Louisiana for the first time in years. I have some family property that has been my place to hunt so I’ve shared it with 3 friends. The guys have trimmed shooting lanes, bush hogged roads, and rebuilt stands and feeders.
    I look forward to joining them next year!

    • SouthernShooter,

      The guys have trimmed shooting lanes, bush hogged roads, and rebuilt stands and feeders.

      Two comments:

      First of all, that is a really constructive way to go about hunting — you are helping some people to hunt (providing a location to hunt) and they are helping you to hunt (preparing the property).

      Second of all, this is another aspect of hunting that a lot of interested new hunters do not realize: there is a LOT of property preparation work required in many locations for successful hunting. And that preparation work takes the form of scouting in the off-season as well as improving the property, e.g. creating/managing walking trails and shooting lanes, erecting/maintaining blinds and/or tree stands, and possibly even cultivating food plots or creating fields for better game habitat. (Mature forests with almost no plant life at ground level are often poor habitat for certain game animals such as white-tailed deer.)

      I would encourage new hunters to view that preparation work as a positive aspect of hunting rather than a chore. Not only does it get them outside to get exercise and enjoy fresh air, it also increases their satisfaction and sense of accomplishment when they successfully bag their quarry.

  5. It is good for people to get out into nature. Hunting is away to do that, I’ve often found it’s just as entertaining to just watch the critters as it is to shoot them, even more so perhaps. A human needs to get out of the cities hustle and bustle, noise and commotion, give the mind time to slow down, relax, and enjoy what it was like before humans became civilized. Become brothers with those we share this earth with, it’s all good.
    Last year I purchased Hunt/Fish pass for life, best buy I ever made. Also found a nice public hunting area with a river flowing through it, so its hunting and fishing, good to go.

      • Ain’t worth shooting or running over,Robert Pittman act does nothing for us. Its racist by gawd.
        I used to get a quarter, gas was 35 cents a gallon, them and coons kept me rollin .
        LOL couldn’t get no gals to stay long in the car car though, smelled like wet coondog.

        • I’ll start writing my .gov officials about this injustice. Possums should not be discriminated against. They should be shot as often as them other critters.

          I got your back, bro.

  6. When I saw the headline, I thought that drive-in movies were making a great resurgence. We went often, but rarely saw the movie.

    • but, but, but, Why’d you go to the movies if you wernt going to watch it, and the popcorn wasn’t all that good, dont make no sense to me. Go to a movie and not watch it. ? ?

      • Woulda helped to wash the coondog off the back seat, possum.

        Thinking about it, that may be why my uncle, noted above, never married. The numbers are dwindling a bit now, but he’s always had dogs for rabbit, coon, squirrel, and even waterfowl for a short while. The dogs always came first.

  7. Just because most hunters use shotguns or politically correct bolt action rifles, don’t presume that they are Fudds who don’t support the Second Amendment right to own handguns and military style rifles for defense.

    Remember. General Paul Tibbets who suffered from no remorse or regrets about killing 50,000 people at Hiroshima and ordered the killing of 75,000 more at Nagasaki, kept a 12 gauge shotgun for home defense. General Tibbets also drove a Toyota because the Japanese build good cars.

  8. How are they hunting during the great ammo shortage of 2021?
    There seem to be shotgun shells available and that is all.
    The price of typical hunting ammo like .308 and 30-30 is out of this world when it is available at all.
    How are they going to sight in a rifle or hunt when there is no ammo to buy?

    • Do like I’ve been doing for 40-some years- load your own. If you’ve been doing this at all you are rarely out of components to load something.

      And anyway- how many shots should it take you to sight in a rifle? 3, perhaps, if you know wth you’re doing?

  9. Buy a hunting license every year if you do not hunt.

    Been doing that in Arizona for 49 years, have not hunted in over half that time.

Comments are closed.