Hunting and Fishing License Sales Boom During COVID-19

By author of The Realblog with Stephanie Mallory

More hunters and anglers mean more money for state fish and wildlife agencies

A number of states have seen a recent increase in hunting and fishing license sales. ©Kayla Nevius

Social-distancing requirements, lost jobs, cancelled events and closed businesses are all heartbreaking results of the COVID-19 outbreak, but there’s a silver lining. According to many state game and fish reports across the country, more people are hunting and fishing. Some state biologists credit the uptick in license sales to the extra time people now have, while others say more folks are hunting and fishing due to concerns over the broken meat supply chain and reduced incomes. Whatever the reason, an increase in license and gun sales means more money for wildlife management, and that’s a good thing.

TMZ.com reports several Midwestern and East Coast states, where hunting is common, have seen a major increase in demand for hunting and fishing licenses. By May 8, Michigan had sold 97,305 turkey-hunting licenses in comparison to 83,072 by the same time last year. New York also saw a surge in license sales. Between March and May, the number of licensed anglers grew 30 percent, and turkey permit sales spiked about 60%.

In Virginia, hunting license sales have risen almost 10% with actual turkey harvest numbers increasing by 11 percent.

According to the Duluth News Tribute, despite worries that COVID-19 would cause license sales to plummet, sales of all types of Minnesota fishing licenses hit 354,080, up 45% over this time last year and the highest early season sales in at least the last 20 years.

So far, the state has sold 729,972 licenses, which is 113,580 more than were sold at the same period in 2019 and 152,430 more than in 2018.

Dave Olfelt, director of the Fish and Wildlife Division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said it’s unclear if more people are simply buying their license earlier in the summer or if the trend will continue.

“We won’t know really until the end of the season if this increase is new people, or maybe people buying again who hadn't bought licenses for a while,’’ Olfelt said. “But some of the numbers, like the youth license sales, look promising.”

More hunters means more money for state fish and wildlife agencies. ©Realtree

VTDigger reports that Vermont resident fishing license sales have increased by 50% from this time last year and combination hunting and fishing licenses are up by a quarter.

“Hunting and fishing is one of those things people love to do, but don’t have time to do,” said Virginia Department of Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter.

Tennessee has also seen a sharp increase in licenses sales. The Tennessean reports the number of hunting and fishing licenses purchased has increased dramatically in recent months.

So far, the state has sold 729,972 licenses, which is 113,580 more than were sold at the same period in 2019 and 152,430 more than in 2018.

Jenifer Wisniewski, TWRA chief of outreach and communications, told the Tennessean the revenue increase from license sales, compared to last year at this time, is almost $3 million.

“I think it’s wonderful that people are still finding a way to get outside with sports being canceled, school and just so many things being shut down,” she said. “The Great Outdoors is still open. It’s a wet state if there is any — we’ve got more reservoirs and water bodies that you can throw a hook in. You can even catch dinner if the shelves in the grocery store are empty.”

Reuters reports firearm sales are up throughout the country as well. Gun manufacturers have reported sales increases, and the FBI carried out 3.74 million background checks in March, a record for any month.

The boost in hunting and fishing license sales throughout the country follows a decline of 255,000 in the number of hunters between 2016 and 2020, based on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service license data. That decline has had a detrimental effect as money generated from license sales and excise taxes on guns, ammunition and fishing equipment provide almost 60% of the funding for state wildlife agencies, which manages wildlife throughout the country.

The question is, will the hunting and fishing license sales continue to increase even after the COVID-19 epidemic has passed?

Hank Forester of the Quality Deer Management Association told Reuters he expects a resurgence of hunting and fishing after many Americans experienced empty meat shelves at the grocery store for the first time in their lives. “People are starting to consider self-reliance and where their food comes from,” he said. “We’re all born hunters.”

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