There is continuing evidence that participation in hunting is increasing, providing welcome news to many companies in the industry, from those that manufacture hunting firearms to those that produce game calls.
However, not all is well in hunting. The ever-present access challenge hinders the number of days hunters are in the field, thereby reducing the number of purchases they’re making. In a recent Southwick Associates survey, 23 percent of hunters said areas they tried to hunt last year had been restricted or placed off limits. While that’s less than a 1-percent increase over the previous year, it still translates into nearly one in four hunters losing access to areas to hunt.
“Finding a place to hunt remains one of the biggest challenges to hunters and hunter recruitment,” said Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates, which designs and conducts the surveys at HunterSurvey.com. “As available lands for hunting diminish or change ownership, some hunters will inevitably grow frustrated and pursue other activities.”
Southwick reports that more than half (52 percent) of those taking the survey said not having access to a hunting area reduced the time they spent hunting in 2011. This is a 7-percent increase over 2010. More troubling is the number of hunters (11 percent) who said the loss of access kept them from hunting last year. A mere 7 percent of those responding to the HunterSurvey.com questions said they had acquired access to different areas where they actually hunted more than originally planned.
What can be done to improve access to lands for hunting? Southwick points to the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, part of the 2008 Farm Bill. The three-year program was designed to provide incentives for private landowners to open their lands to hunting and fishing. Unfortunately, federal budget cuts killed the program. And, with additional federal budget cuts predicted, plus more landowners restricting access to their property, the biggest challenge to hunting — and the hunting market — continues to be land access.
To learn more about how you can help increase hunting areas, visit NSSF’s website on hunting, at www.nssf.org/hunting. In addition, become involved in your local and state government. Let your voice be heard on hunting access.
By Russ Thurman
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