The short answer is a lot. However, putting an exact figure on the number of hunters in the US is a bit difficult due to many factors. We dug up as many statistics as we could to get a better idea of the current state of hunting in America, and we've laid it all out for you. Regardless, you can be sure there is still a large hunting movement across the nation with tens of millions of participants.
- 15.9 million Americans hold a hunting license.
- 25.87 million Americans went hunting in 2021.
- South Dakota has the most hunters per capita with 239 hunters per 1,000 inhabitants.
- California has the fewest hunters per capita with seven hunters per 1,000 inhabitants.
- Eighty percent of Americans approve of legal hunting.
- Enjoying nature is the most common reason Americans hunt.
How Many Hunters Are In The US?
As of 2023, 15.9 million people in the US held a hunting license. This is often used as an estimate for the number of hunters there are, though it's not exact. In fact, research by Statista found that in 2021, 25.87 Americans aged six and older went hunting. Why such a difference?
Factors Affecting These Numbers
Any number you see, including those above, is an estimate at the end of the day. It's impossible to know exactly how many hunters are in the US for a number of reasons:
- In some circumstances, people can hunt without a license. Depending on the state, this may include children, seniors, landowners, etc., as well as certain game.
- Some people buy hunting licenses in multiple states.
- Some people buy or receive a hunting license as a gift but never go hunting.
- States use different systems and measurements to determine hunter numbers, making a consistent federal count difficult.
- Some people hunt illegally, so they aren't counted in official numbers.
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How Many Hunters Are in the US Each Year?
Based on that same Statista research, there are around 26 million hunters in the US each year. That number has been slowly declining, down from nearly 28 million in 2017.
However, if you look at paid license holders, the number is actually going up. 15.9 million in 2023 is up from 15.4 million in 2022 and 15.2 million in 2021. This may be because states are becoming more strict as to who must pay for a license.
What State has the Most Hunters Per Capita?
South Dakota has the most hunters per capita: 239 hunters for every 1,000 people, or 23.9 percent. Compare this to California, the state with the fewest hunters per capita: seven for every 1,000 people or 0.7 percent.
Paid Hunting License Holders
Hunters Per 1,000 People
Based on 2021 figures. Source: "States with the most registered hunters." Stacker. https://stacker.com/your-state/states-most-registered-hunters
How Many Americans Support Hunting?
The vast majority of Americans support hunting. An extensive survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies found that 80 percent of Americans approve of legal hunting. Only 13 percent actively disapproved of hunting, the other seven percent responding indifferently.
This number has been climbing, too. In 1995, 73 percent of Americans supported legal hunting.
Support by Region
Even though four in five Americans overall support hunting, this number varies significantly across the country. The survey divided the country into four regions: northeast, southeast, midwest and west. Regional approval was as follows:
- Midwest: 86 percent
- Southeast: 82 percent
- West: 77 percent
- Northeast: 72 percent
Approval By Type of Hunting
Although 80 percent of Americans approve of hunting in general, the type of hunting greatly affects approval ratings. Even more than 80 percent approve of hunting if it's to protect human beings, provide food or manage wildlife. On the other hand, only half of Americans approve of hunting for sport and just 29 percent approve of trophy hunting.
Bow Hunting has a slightly lower approval rating, but it is growing in the US. This trend can be attributed to the allowance of using crossbows during the archery season, which has increased participation exponentially.
Who Doesn't Support Hunting?
Anti hunting and animal rights groups are the only groups that we have found that do not support hunting.
As you can guess, the group most likely to support hunting are hunters themselves with 98.8 percent approval. (We're not sure what the deal is with that other 0.2 percent.) But here are some demographics that support hunting at rates lower than the national average of 80 percent:
- Non-hunters: 77 percent
- Under 35 years old: 76 percent
- City residents: 74 percent
- Women: 73 percent
As you can see, though, these numbers are still quite high.
Why Do Americans Still Hunt?
Americans hunt for many reasons, including:
- Bonding with family and friends
- Enjoying nature
- Wildlife management
- Challenge and sport
It's difficult to determine the most common reasons because hunters usually hunt for more than one. For example, they may enjoy the challenge and the time spent with their family while also harvesting the animals for food. It's impossible to say which motivation is greater.
Nevertheless, some small studies have tried to measure hunter motivation through surveys. One from the University of Nebraska with over 7,000 respondents found that for all types of hunting, enjoyment of nature was the top motivational factor. Food was another big motivator for big game hunters, but less so for small game and upland bird hunters. Socializing was also important while challenge and trophies were the least common motivators among all types of hunting.
Hunting big game like whitetail deer is a great way for many Americans to get healthy locally sourced meat at an affordable price. The average deer yields over 50 pounds of venison, which can feed a family for months. Meanwhile, the same amount of ground beef costs around $300.
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Nature and Wildlife Conservation
Hunting is one of the most common ways for Americans to enjoy nature. By participating in the circle of life and food chain, you become more integrated with nature than mere observers.
You also serve an important natural purpose: predation. For example, states promote whitetail deer hunting as a way to keep the population density from growing too high, which leads to disease and suffering for the deer population.
Similarly, the money hunters spend on licenses and permits as well as their equipment goes directly towards conservation efforts. License fees provide around $1.8 billion for conservation each year while excise taxes on firearms and archery equipment provide another $324 million.
Bonding With Family and Friends
Hunting is an activity that helps bond friends and family members through shared challenges. Primatologists have found that male chimpanzees hunt to build friendships with other males, so it's no surprise that humans do as well.
Hunting is a skill that parents can teach their children, building memories and growing closer together. Friends can find a common interest in the tree stand. Community members can come together for the same cause of conservation.
Across the United States, many communities have long traditions of hunting for food, socialization and appreciation of nature. Participating in the tradition brings members of the community together and puts them in touch with their cultures and history.
Sport and Trophies
Even with modern technology, hunting still requires practice and dedication. Finally harvesting your quarry gives you a feeling of success and personal accomplishment like any other sport. Additionally, you can mount the animal as a trophy to remind you of this triumph.
Raw statistics are great, but we think the implications are more important. Through our research, these are the main takeaways we got from the data:
- Hunting is still an integral part of American culture and increasingly has widespread approval and support.
- Hunting is both more common and more approved of in rural areas.
- Hunting serves multiple purposes for those who participate. It provides a sense of community, a connection with nature and a sense of accomplishment as well as food.