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The Role of Outdoor Recreation

I’ll be honest: when I was a kid growing up, my parents had little or no interest in the outdoors, including hunting, fishing, and viewing wildlife, so how on earth did I end up so deeply involved in that scene today? No doubt, where we lived must have contributed to my outdoor interests in the years to come. We lived at the very edge of town, and our backyard emptied into nothing but fields and forests for miles and miles. I spent many of my teenage years roaming those woods and fields. I suspect that those early years hiking around the outdoors, catching every snake I could find, and trying to get a glimpse of every wild critter I could find led to my great attachment to hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities that dominate my life today.

On occasion, these days, I find myself asking just how much of a role hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing play in the lives of our young people and in the lives of the rest of the population as well. In recent years, I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that interest in those activities is diminishing, especially in young adults. Interestingly enough, I recently came across an article in Pennsylvania Game News magazine that zeroed in on that subject. I want to pass along some of what I found.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently released its 2022 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. One hundred thousand people took the survey, which I didn’t even know existed, but get ready, here come the numbers. Last year, 14.4 million people 16 and older hunted, and that’s about 6 percent of all Americans. Another 40 million, or 15 percent, fished, and another 148 million, or 57 percent of the population, were involved in wildlife watching. Together, those people spent 14 billion days afield, and they spent $394 billion on equipment, travel and licenses, and fees.

If we dissect the hunting aspect a bit further, big game hunting of elk and deer comes out way ahead of all other game animals that we hunt. Of our 14.4 million hunters, 11.5 million pursued big game animals, 5.3 million hunted small game, 2.8 million hunted migratory game birds, and 2.3 million hunted other species like predators. Americans spent 241 million days hunting, with 135 million of those days hunting big game. All that hunting created $45.2 billion in spending, and not surprisingly, the Mid-Atlantic region, including Pennsylvania, was higher than the national average. Fishing generated 785 million days and, 463 million trips, and 99.4 billion dollars in expenditures. Most of the wildlife watchers were bird watchers — 93 million of the 148 million focused on bird watching.

It was interesting to note that recreational shooters and archers had high participation among the 6-15 age group, but those numbers dropped considerably in the 16-17 age group. The numbers climbed a bit in the 18-24-year age group and then climbed dramatically again throughout the remaining age groups.

As informative and interesting as these numbers are, I still suspect that the interest in hunting has dropped in recent years. On the other hand, wildlife viewing seems to be gaining in interest, and that’s especially obvious when it comes to visiting Pennsylvania’s elk country, where you will often find plenty of people and vehicles gathered to view the growing elk herd. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service surveys take place every five years, so it will be interesting to see what figures they come up with the next time around.