While almost everyone can agree that 2020 has been one of the worst years ever, there are some positives coming out of this year. For one, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is reporting a massive surge in license sales that has officials excited.
The Daily Tribune reports the DNR believes the coronavirus pandemic is indirectly responsible for people heading back into the outdoors. They are seeing an overall hunting participation increase of 121.61%.
That's good news for conservation and for businesses that depend on hunter business this time of year.
Officials with the Michigan DNR are being cautiously optimistic about the numbers. They haven't had much to celebrate in recent years with hunter numbers declining by six figure numbers since 2008 when 725,190 residents hunted for deer. When you compare that to the 584,802 people that hunted deer in Michigan last year, it's easy to get down on the current trends in hunting. However, participation in deer hunting surged up 26.97% according to early season reports.
The DNR released a few stats showing that they have already sold 751,310 deer licenses this year, with many hunters buying multiple licenses. And Michigan's most popular time for license sales is still to come. The state is about a month out from the popular regular firearms deer season that starts November 15.
The surge in interest in all things outdoors in 2020 was obvious to the Michigan DNR's head of licensing, Tom Weston, long before the latest stats on deer licenses were released. It all started earlier in the year when quarantines and stay-at-home orders were just beginning.
"We have seen an uptick in participation, particularly spring turkey licenses during the height of the pandemic," Weston told the Daily Tribune. "The same with ORV (off-road vehicle) permits, we also saw an uptick in them. Folks have time on their hands and just want to get out and about."
Last year Michigan saw sales of 1,238,679 deer licenses, so the state could be well on their way to the biggest hunting resurgence in decades. Equally exciting is that the demographics for hunting have seen growth in nearly every major category over last season.
According to The Daily Tribune, they are seeing a 19.71% increase in men hunting, a 34.66% increase in women, a 105.4% increase in youth hunters nine and under and a whopping 189.73% increase in hunters aged 10-16.
That last bit is probably extra encouraging for officials who have long believed declining hunter numbers can be attributed to men and women aging out of the sport and hanging up their guns for good.
"We're very excited about this," the DNR chief of marketing and outreach, Kristin Phillips told the paper. "I'm trying to keep my expectations in check."
Here at Wide Open Spaces, this news of the pandemic affecting a surge of interest in the outdoors echoes much of what we have been hearing from outdoor industry insiders this year. It also parallels news about surging firearms sales and ammo shortages throughout much of the country. Whether all this translates into a permanent increase in hunters will likely remain to be seen. Hunters and wildlife officials can remain hopeful at the least.