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Dan Z for TTAG
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By Joe Bartozzi

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.

The 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.

Liberte Austin turkey hunting hunt
Liberte Austin for TTAG

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.

Deer hunt hunting trophy buck jon wayne taylor
Jon Wayne Taylor for TTAG

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.

hog hunting handgun texas
Hunting feral hogs with handguns is a great way to sharpen your handgun shooting skills. (Kat Ainsworth for TTAG)

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.

Hunting is America’s greatest pastime and all signs show these traditions are in good hands.


Joe Bartozzi is the President and CEO of the National Shooting Sports Foundation

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    • Shorter barrel, tighter choke.
      Often with a pistol grip to facilitate firing from sitting scrunched up on your ass up against a tree.

    • Prndll, The short answer is any shotgun you can kill a turkey with, but Shire is correct. My favorite turkey gun is a Remington 870 Special Purpose. It has a 24″ barrel with an extra full screw in chokes. Mossy Oak camo. I load it with #5 3″ Hevi Shot. I taken birds at 50+ yards with this combo. With confidence. The range is a result of the ammunition, but you need to pattern any shotgun with few different loads. Same as you do with any rifle or handgun. Back to my original statement, I took my first gobbler with a Spesco (Brazilian) single shot 12 ga loaded with Winchester 2 3/4″ magnum #6 load. He was flopping when i put my boot on his head.

      • I’ll accept that. 24 inches doesn’t sound like a shorter barrel though but ok. There might be more people hunting now and I’ll take their work for that. But most people in this country don’t. Labels like ‘turkey gun’ and ‘deer rifle’ might not resonate with people that are new to this. I don’t hunt so certain nuances are not things I’m all that familiar with and I’m sure that there are people reading this that aren’t either. There are quite a few people that are new gun owners in recent years and have never had the chance at such things. I know that when I started getting into guns, there were certain items that were very difficult (unnecessarily difficult) to find answers to.

    • Prndll,

      Before reading the responses to your question, my concept of a turkey shotgun was any shotgun with an extra full choke (sometimes actually called a turkey choke) and often covered with camouflage tape or similar.

      I learned in the responses that some people define a turkey shotgun as having a shorter barrel. I believe your typical adult shotgun “bird” barrel is about 28-inches long. Thus a shotgun with a 24-inch barrel would be about 4-inches shorter of course and more maneuverable.

      For the uninitiated, a choke is a cylinder about 2-inches long which screws into the end of a threaded shotgun barrel and slightly reduces the inner diameter of the barrel. The more the choke reduces the inner diameter, the tighter the shot pattern that exits the barrel. For example a “cylinder” choke does not reduce the inner diameter at all and produces the largest shot pattern. Historically (as far as I know and I could be wrong) a “full” choke reduces the inner diameter the most and produces the smallest shot pattern. In more recent times, manufacturers are now producing extra-full chokes, turkey chokes, and even coyote chokes which produce ever smaller/tighter shot patterns.

      One last comment on shotgun barrel chokes:
      No choke (which is the same as a cylinder choke) are typically optimum in a “spray and pray” scenario where you want the greatest probability of at least one shot pellet hitting your target at closer ranges. Increasing chokes produce ever smaller patterns which are optimum where you want the greatest probability of at least one shot pellet (or perhaps multiple shot pellets) hitting your target at ever greater distances.

  1. My hunting extends to finding select parts to assemble another AR platform rifle and feeding my deer, squirrel and bird buddies. My brother on the other hand is a lease sharing huntin’ finatic who knows how to prepare Venison just right while he gives me a cinder block size of frozen Venison to wrestle with. The next time he wants some work on his huntin’ rifles the cost includes getting the cinder block out of my freezer and him being the chef.

  2. Well, that is good to see.
    If and when WWIII starts, I am sure we will see an even bigger % increase.

  3. As I have stated on this site before, I highly recommend hunting to everyone who is even remotely able and has at least minimal skills to do so.

    First and foremost, it is fantastic recreation. You get outside to enjoy nature and you get exercise.

    Second, you end up honing your hunting (e.g. stalking and/or stealth) skills. Having such skills will be absolutely critical if a foreign entity ever invades.

    Third, you hone your marksmanship skills and learn to manage excitement and adrenaline. Those skills could be critical in a self-defense event as well as a foreign invasion situation.

    And before anyone poo-poos the notion that an excellent hunter is a foreign invasion force’s worst nightmare, think about that for a moment. A hunter often has excellent marksmanship and, if a medium or big game hunter, possesses and is adept with a “sniper” rifle. A hunter also knows how to minimize their visual, audio, and scent signatures. Finally, a hunter often possesses excellent “woods craft” skills. In summary: the LAST thing that a foreign infantry soldier wants to deal with is someone who is comfortable in the forest and able to take medium/large game which have far superior sight, hearing, and smell than humans. If a hunter can take wild game, he/she is definitely able to take-out foreign infantry.

  4. Most bird hunters I know admit that there primary motivation to hunt is to have an excuse to have a dog.

    • I don’t know that it was primary reason for having him, but my duck hunting buddy was the coolest dog on the planet. So, maybe, yeah…

      One beagle was special too. If I shot a rabbit that was in the middle of a nasty tangle, she’d haul it out and drop it at my feet.

  5. That’s not good. I’d rather see a 100% decrease in hunters. You humans can buy your dead shot in a store. Why do you have to go about fcking with us critters that aren’t bothering anything.
    Just to be sportsman, modern day hunter, us critters took a vote, you can kill any of us, any time of the year, anytime you want, but all you can kill us with is a rock tied to a stick.
    Oh Mighty Hunters.
    Three Indians(NativeAmericans, IndigenousNations???,,injuns)
    It’s a joke meant for humor.
    Three Injuns walk out of a bar ,,,,,sober.
    I told that too the guy that runs booze to the Rez , he waited a bit and said, ” Who’s been blowing smoke up your ass?” He never got the joke.
    My girlfiend is injun, and part chimpanzee. Fermented Bananas and you got Hell on your hands.
    Lucky for me she monkey dont know how to sharpen knives cause the blade got caught up in my fur elsewise shed have cut me open.
    TTAG an debate gunms and calibers all we want.
    My opinion is if you’ve got a Cherokee/Chimpanzee cross keep the banana booze far far away.
    Jack Daniels too.

  6. I think a lot of the increase is migrants from the south exercising their newly-acquired rights and saving money on food. I seriously doubt that the average Metrofruit will dress game. Ironically, hunted food can be some of the most expensive you’ll ever eat.

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