About 14 million people a year buy hunting licenses in the U.S. That’s less than 30 years ago, but if you add to that people who own lifetime licenses and youth hunters under 17 who don’t need to buy licenses in some states (as they are accompanied by adults), there are close to 19 million hunters in the U.S. each year. If you add in those who don’t hunt each year but still consider themselves active, the total number of hunters is closer to 24 million.
But the untold story is that the culture of hunting is changing. There are fewer small-game hunters today than 30 or 40 years ago, but according to Conservation Force, the number of big-game hunters is growing exponentially. In l955 there were 1,579,704 big-game hunters in the US. Forty-one years later, in l996, there were 11,288,000 — a 615 percent increase.
Part of the reason big-game hunting is on the rise is that the numbers of white-tail deer, elk, and wild turkey are exploding in the U.S. In addition, more and more women are taking up hunting. Ironically, during the last decade, the number of people who say they took trips to watch wildlife for recreation decreased by 10 million.
And these big-game hunters are increasingly from the big-pocket set. The New York Times recently reported that the number of hunters with household incomes of $100,000 or more increased more than 25 percent, to 1.3 million, between 1991 and 2001 (taking into account inflation and population increases).
Which brings us to the bottom line: The rise of big-game hunting means that hunters are pumping a lot more money into the economy. According to Southwick Associates, big-game hunters contributed more than $60 billion to the nation’s economy in l996.
Hunting big game is expensive, but people who have money seem to relish the enjoyment that comes from harvesting wild meat and bringing it to the table. That’s why big-game hunting organizations — like Safari Club International, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, Dallas Safari Club, and the National Wild Turkey Federation — are holding very successful, multi-million dollar fundraisers that attract high memberships.
At the recent Safari Club International Hunter’s Convention in Reno, more than $6 million in auction items were donated and gobbled up by an enthusiastic crowd. According to the newsletter African Indaba, African outfitters donated close to $1 million in hunts to SCI this year. Already in 2004, African outfitters have donated nearly $2.5 million to all American hunting organizations.
And what happens to the big bucks collected?
In contrast to animal rights groups, who spend nearly all of their income on fund-raising appeals and media sensationalism, and environmental groups who spend on legal battles with federal, state, and local agencies, hunting organizations put the majority of their income into wildlife conservation.
Take, for example, Safari Club International. In the past year, SFI and its chapters have funded museum and zoo exhibits, nature centers, state and federal wildlife agency research and law enforcement, the building of thousands of nesting boxes for birds and bats, the donation of thousands of meals of wild game, free medical services to the needy in many parts of the world, wildlife-agency needs in foreign countries (including planes to patrol for poachers), teacher training and youth education programs, stuffed animals for blind children (“Sensory Safaris”), purchasing and management of hundreds of thousands of acres for wildlife habitat, and the teaching of prison inmates on how to raise pheasants and other game birds for stocking.
Despite what the antis rant or the liberal press writes about hunters and hunting, today’s highly active hunting “organizations” are, in reality, service clubs. Frankly, modern wildlife conservation could not exist without them.