US Hunting Statistics, Facts And Trends: Here Are The Numbers

Written By John VanDerLaan 

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The hunting community is a world all its own, and it can be difficult to fully understand its scope socially and economically without accurate statistics. At Deer Hunting Guide, we care about the future of hunting and wildlife conservation, for ourselves and the generations that come after us, so we wanted to do the research and provide a comprehensive look at hunting as a movement, sport and industry. 

Key Hunting Statistics

  • Paid Hunting License Holders: 15.9 million
  • Total Hunter Participation: 25.87 million
  • Percentage Hunter Participation: 8.4 percent
  • Hunter Approval: 80 percent
  • Most Successful Method of Take: Firearm – 65 percent
  • Most Popular Game Animal: Deer – 57 percent
  • Jobs Supported by Hunting: 525,000
  • Male-to-Female Hunter Ratio: Nine to one
  • Biggest Hunting State by Hunter Participation: South Dakota – 23.9 percent
  • Biggest Hunting State by Total Hunters: Texas – 1.1 million
  • Annual Hunting Spend: $26 billion
  • Annual Tax Revenue From Hunting: $8.7 billion
  • Hunting Fatalities Per Year: 100

What Percentage Of United States Citizens Participate In The Sport Of Hunting?

2 Hunters In The US

Since 2020, there have been over 15 million hunting-license holders in the US[1]. However, because hunters sometimes purchase licenses in multiple states while other hunters, such as children, may not need licenses this number doesn't tell the whole story.

In 2021, Statista found that 25.87 million Americans aged six and older participated in some type of hunting activity[2]. There were 309 million Americans in that age group overall, meaning that about 8.4 percent of US citizens participate in the sport of hunting.

Is Hunting Participation Growing Or Shrinking And Why?

You may see hunters tout the fact that hunting license numbers have been increasing for nearly a decade, reaching 15.2 million in 2021 up 8.6 percent from 14 million in 1960. However, this is actually quite misleading for several reasons.

First, although the number of paid license holders has been increasing since about 2010, it had been in freefall since its peak of 16.2 million in 1982[3]. In other words, despite the recent rise, numbers are still lower than they were 40 years ago when the population was much smaller.

Plus, speaking of population, it's grown much faster than the number of paid license holders. The US population in 1960 was 180 million, meaning about 7.7 percent of the population had a hunting license. Yet in 2020, the population was 83.4 percent higher at 330 million, meaning just 4.6 percent had a hunting license. That means the participation rate has declined by over 40 percent.

Paid Hunting License Holders vs US Population Over Time

In reality, this decline is likely even worse since requirements for licenses have only gotten stricter since 1960. Indeed, the numbers show that the number of Americans aged six and older participating in hunting has decreased slightly each year since 2017. Over the five-year period from 2017-2021, hunting participation dropped from 27.62 to 25.87 million.

Why Is It Shrinking?

Several factors have prompted the decrease in hunter participation in the US:

Urbanization

The biggest reason is that Americans have been moving to the cities over the last 50 years[4]. In 1960, only 70 percent of Americans lived in the city. By 2021, that number was 82 percent. 

Although urban dwellers can certainly still go hunting, it's a lot more difficult. Those in the country may be able to hunt right in their own backyard while those in the city probably have to drive far away and plan an entire trip around their hunt.

These geographical factors and the lack of connection with nature in general encourage different activities in the city. Indeed, the US Fish & Wildlife Service found that 13 percent of rural residents participated in hunting versus just three percent of urban residents.[5]

Urban vs Rural Hunter Participation Statistics

Increasing Costs and Regulations

Remember how the number of paid license holders has been increasing? Ironically, that may be the very reason overall hunter participation is dropping.

Many states have increased license costs. More importantly, they've made licensing schemes excessively complicated. You may need a certain license, various permits, different tags, all of which cost money and may require applications and lotteries. 

This all represents costs and hassles that deter people from hunting.

The Myth of Cultural Changes

Many claim, and it's easy to believe, that the decrease in hunter participation is merely due to changing values in the United States. The idea is that people aren't as interested in hunting as they used to be, the same way people aren't as interested in quilting.

However, a little research shows this isn't true. For one thing, if interest in hunting were declining, there would be more hunters in older generations than younger. Yet the average age of an American hunter is 43.5, barely older than the overall average age of 38.[6]

Moreover, research by the National Shooting Sports Foundation has actually found that interest in and approval for hunting has been increasing[7]. For instance, 80 percent of Americans currently approve of legal hunting versus 73 percent in 1995.

This all suggests that it's the barriers of geography and regulation that keep people from hunting, not their lack of interest.

What Methods Of Hunting Are Most Popular?

The most popular hunting method is generally considered to be the rifle. When it comes to firearms, research shows 11 million hunters used rifles in 2020 versus 7.9 million for shotguns and only three million for handguns.[8]

Statistics from the National Deer Association on deer harvest produce similar results for the 2020 season. Most successful kills were with firearms, usually a rifle.[9]

Method Of Take As Percentage of Deer Harvest Statistics

At first glance, you may think these numbers aren't especially useful since firearms are inherently more successful than bows and muskets. There are no national statistics on license issue by method of take, but we can look at a state that does provide this information, North Dakota, to get a better idea.[10]  

License Type

Number of Licenses

Percentage of Total

Modern gun

64,200

69%

Archery

27,720

30%

Muzzleloader

1,168

1%

Total:

93,088

100%

As you can see, the percentage for each license, at least gun and archery, is pretty similar to its success rate. In the end, it makes sense that hunters gravitate proportionally towards the most successful methods of take. Obviously not every state will be the same as North Dakota, but it's safe to say that modern firearms are by far the most popular method for deer hunting around the country.

Of course, these numbers will be vastly different for other types of game. For example, waterfowl is almost exclusively taken by shotgun.

What Game Animals Are the Most Popular to Hunt?

Deer is by far the most popular game animal in the United States. Hunters spent an average of 14 days in 2016 hunting deer, more than any other animal, or over 57 percent of all hunting days. Rabbit was the next most frequently hunted animal at about 10 percent followed by wild turkey at less than seven percent.

Hunting Days By Year Per Game Animal

How Many Jobs Are Supported By The Hunting Industry?

Hunting supports many different types of employment from outfitter clerks and salesmen to park rangers and guides. Research by Statista[11] has determined that there are about 15,550 employees in the hunting and trapping sector in the US. That number has been fairly stable over the last decade or so, and the industry is expected to add a few hundred jobs through 2023.

Additionally, it can be difficult to define exactly what a "hunting job" is, but the activity of hunting creates economic activity and growth throughout various sectors. Consider that Cabela's alone employs over 19,000 people[12]. Although many of them are accountants at the corporate office or spend as much time selling kayaks as crossbows, hunting nevertheless supports much of their livelihood.

As a result, the Association of Fish & Wildlife estimates[13] that hunting supports over 525,000 jobs in the US in one way or another. This equates to $21.5 billion in salaries and wages each year. 

Hunting Demographic Statistics

Gender

Hunting has long been viewed as a male-dominated activity[14]. For the most part, this impression is accurate. As of 2019, roughly nine in 10 American hunters are men. Men also have a participation rate of eight percent versus just one percent for women.

Percentage Of Hunters By Gender

However, studies have found that this number varies a lot by location[15]. States and regions with easier access to hunting and elaborate cultures around it often have far more female hunters. In Wyoming, for example, 22 percent of hunters are female, more than one in five. 

Race

American hunters are predominantly white. The most extensive survey that looked at hunter race was the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation published in 2016. They surveyed over 250,000 people and found that of the over 11,000 that participated in hunting that year, less than 10 were black or Asian. 97 percent were white with two percent representing "other" races, likely Native American.

Race

Percent of US Population

Percent of US Hunters

Hunter Participation Rate

White

78%

97%

6%

Black

13%

<1%

<1%

Asian

6%

<1%

<1%

Other/Native American

2%

2%

3%

Hispanics as a cultural group also hunted less than non-Hispanics. While Hispanics are roughly 17 percent of the US population, they represent only three percent of hunters and have a hunter participation rate of just one percent.

Age

There is a widespread myth that hunters tend to be older or that the hunting population is aging. This simply isn't the case. Despite being the largest age group, seniors aged 65 and older had the lowest hunter participation rate overall at just three percent.

Hunting By Age Statistics

As you can see from the chart, the ages that hunt the most relative to their proportion of the survey and therefore the US population are those 45-64, or the middle aged.

Hunting Statistics By State

Texas boasts the country's largest hunting population at over a million hunters. However, Texas is one of the largest states, both by area and population, so this isn't surprising. What we find more interesting is the hunter participation rate, or the number of people in each state who are hunters. 

Although it's not a perfect measurement, we've used the number of paid license holders in each state to measure this. The charts below display both hunter participation by state, for which South Dakota leads with 24 percent, and the total number of hunters.

Percentage Hunter Participation By State Statistics
Total Hunter Population By State Statistics

Hunting Revenue Statistics

How Much Do Hunters Spend In The United States And What Do They Spend It On?

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service also found in their 2016 survey that hunters spent over $26 billion that year on hunting, or $2,287 per hunter. This includes everything from the food on hunting trips to hunting licenses to hunting magazines.

Annual Hunting Spend Statistics

As you can see, equipment is nearly half of all hunting spending in the US, and hunting-specific equipment, such as rifles, bows and sights, is the largest category overall, even more than vehicles and land, purchases with hefty price tags.

In fact, that works out to over $7 billion on those items alone. And since we were curious how that broke down, we know you are too.

Hunting Equipment Spend By Category

How Much Tax Revenue Do Hunters Contribute To The United States Treasure And State Coffers?

Research by the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies found that hunting generates $5.3 billion in federal tax revenue as well as $3.4 billion in state and local tax revenue for a total of $8.7 billion each year. This breaks down to $23.8 million per day.

How Is That Revenue Used By The Government?

Many are unaware that the tax revenue from hunting is generally used for wildlife conservation, wildlife research and hunter education. In fact, nearly all the money generated from the sale of licenses, permits and tags is used to fund state conservation agencies and maintain public lands. This alone provides $1.8 billion for conservation efforts each year.

Additionally, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, specifically directs tax revenue from hunting equipment towards conservation. It levies an 11-percent excise tax on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment. Half of this money goes towards hunter education programs while the other half is used for wildlife conservation programs, including the acquisition of land for reserves and reintroduction of species.

Elk is the best example of this. Since 1937, elk have been reintroduced into eastern states where they'd gone extinct by 1937. Many of these states have even begun operating managed elk hunts.

How Much Money Does the Pittman-Robertson Act Generate Yearly?

Estimates suggest that hunters spend between $3 and $5 billion on equipment taxed by the Pittman-Robertson Act each year generating upwards of $324 million annually. Since its inception, the act has distributed $12 billion to its various programs. 

How Much Do Bowhunters Spend In The US?

Bowhunters spend over $13 billion each year on hunting. In 2016, they spent $1.6 billion on bows and arrows alone.

How Much Does The Average Hunter Spend On Hunting In A Single Year?

According to the 2016 survey from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, American hunters spend $2,287 each year. This is primarily on equipment.

Is Hunting Safe In The United States?

Hunting is a very safe activity in the United States. It's estimated that there are around 100 fatalities each year, and the Hunter Incident Database[16] only recorded six fatalities for 2021. Even assuming the low estimate based on paid licenses of 15 million hunters per year, this is one death per 150,000. This is slightly less than the fatality rate for high school and college football players, one per 100,000, according to the American Journal of Sports Medicine.[17]  

RELATED: Hunting Accident Statistics

Most hunter-related injuries are from accidental firearm discharges. However, there are a number of other types of accidents as well, some common, though usually non-fatal. In particular, the National Deer Associations states that there were a whopping 3,000 tree stand related injuries in 2018, most the result of a fall[18]. The Hunter Incident Database recorded 14 such incidents in 2021.

Whether a misplaced bullet or a tumble from a climbing tree stand, all hunter incidents are avoidable. These statistics, low or high, emphasize the importance of hunter safety practices.  

What Can Be Done About The Decline In Hunting Participation?

As we saw, the decline in hunter participation is not a result of a decline in hunting interest. It is due to limitations that make hunting harder for most people than it used to be, whether by specific government policies or simple geographical and socioeconomic factors.

Therefore, the best way to encourage hunting participation is to make it easier. One way is to reduce barriers to entry by simplifying licensing schemes and lowering license and permit fees. Wildlife agencies often raise fees to make up the difference in the conservation budget due to declining participation, but this merely creates a downward spiral.

The other way is to make hunting more accessible geographically by opening up public land to hunting. Private citizens can do this as well by allowing others to hunt on their land.

Finally, hunters should do their best to educate others on the importance of hunting to conservation efforts. Emphasize that without hunting and the revenue it generates, there is no money for wildlife programs that bring nature to everyone, hunters and non-hunters alike.

Final Thoughts On Statistics About Hunting

The raw statistics give us an unadulterated glimpse into the hunting community and industry. While many of the numbers should give us optimism, it's important to understand how a decline in hunter participation could negatively affect wildlife conversation overall. Consider contacting your local representatives and taking part in community efforts to promote hunting and educate the public on its benefits. And don't forget to share this article! 

Resources:

  1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/247643/hunting-licenses--license-holders-in-the-us/
  2. https://www.statista.com/statistics/191244/participants-in-hunting-in-the-us-since-2006/
  3. https://wildlifeforall.us/resources/decline-of-hunting-and-fishing/
  4. https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/USA/united-states/urban-population
  5. https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/fhwar/publications/2016/fhw16-nat.pdf
  6. https://www.zippia.com/hunter-jobs/demographics/
  7. https://www.fishwildlife.org/application/files/7715/5733/7920/NSSF_2019_Attitudes_Survey_Report.pdf
  8. https://www.statista.com/topics/1161/hunting-and-wildlife-viewing/
  9. https://www.deerassociation.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Final-NDA-DR2022_web.pdf
  10. https://gf.nd.gov/news/6497
  11. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1180145/number-of-hunting-and-trapping-industry-employees-us/
  12. https://www.zippia.com/cabela-s-careers-1863/
  13. https://www.fishwildlife.org/application/files/3815/3719/7536/Southwick_Assoc_-_NSSF_Hunting_Econ.pdf
  14. https://www.adn.com/outdoors-adventure/2019/08/06/women-have-always-been-hunters-and-hunting-has-nothing-to-do-with-gender/
  15. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236993509_Female_Hunting_Participation_in_North_America_and_Europe
  16. https://www.ihea-usa.org/hunter-incident-database/
  17. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23477766/
  18. https://deerassociation.com/treestand-accidents-can-we-stop-the-insanity/
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John VanDerLaan

John VanDerLaan is the managing editor here at DeerHuntingGuide.net. He oversees a team of editors, writers and pro staff that are subject matter experts in hunting and hunting gear. John's expertise includes thoroughly testing all types of hunting gear, as well as hunting all over the U.S. and Canada. While his hunting expertise includes game birds, small game and large game, his favorite game animal is the whitetail deer and he loves to share the knowledge that he has gained over 40 years of chasing the wily whitetail with both archery gear and firearms. John is an active member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America.

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