September 29, 2020

Do The Numbers Support The Demand For Sunday Hunting?

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This topic of Sunday hunting amazes me in many ways. It is heated and for many the idea of it stirs passion on both sides of the aisle. I don’t pretend to have the answers. In fact, I may raise more than answer. What I am striving to achieve here is to provide you with enough information to help you make a more informed decision based on facts not lies and emotional rhetoric.

I have said before I am a fence sitter on this subject. I have not made a firm stance one way or the other. If I had to give an answer today, I would have to say that I am not for Sunday hunting but my reasons are as varied as those across America.

I think a quick recap with links back to previous blogs is in order. My first post was sharing a letter I received from Lee Kantar, wildlife biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. I had posed a question to the department asking for their position on how they viewed Sunday hunting in respect to the harvest numbers and would this force a shortening of the hunting season overall.

I then did an article covering more of an indepth look at how economics may be driving the issue.

Following that I brought you a look at comments and questions about Sunday hunting from readers and editorial writers nationwide.

Now I want to delve deeper into the numbers. In my article called, “How Much Is a Hunter Worth“, I took a look at percentages of hunters that make up the resident and non-resident hunters in many states, including several that don’t currently allow Sunday hunting but are considering it.

My efforts were to see if there were any noticeable differences in comparing percentages, state by state. My conclusions were mixed and certainly far from conclusive. What the article did reveal was the economic impact each and every hunter has on any state they decide to hunt in.

One of my readers named Dave began making comments to some of my posts and raising more questions and sharing some of his observations. Through him I was prompted to do some more research taking a closer look at the numbers and what exactly sets one state apart from another in terms of their success in drawing more hunters – in this case, more non-resident hunters.

In my previous article on economics I made a comparison of how New York, being surrounded by states that did not allow Sunday hunting, yet they showed no marketable increase in non-resident hunters. It wasn’t until after I had posted the story did I realize that the figures I was using came from a 2001 survey and New York wasn’t open to Sunday hunting then. My bad.

I worked in percentages hoping to find it easier to explain and make comparisons. It may have made it easier but I’m not convinced it made it accurate enough, so I began looking at raw numbers and other factors such as cost of licenses, bag limits, proximity to large population centers, hunting habitat (which would involve things like deer densities, hunting terrain, available land to hunt on, etc.), available lodging including sporting camps, guides, etc. and overall hunting atmosphere and promotion within the state seeking non-resident hunters.

I quickly became overwhelmed. I would be lying to you if I thought I could put this all together to make any sense and even if I did, some of you would agree with it and some of you wouldn’t.

Percentages are an interesting thing. Let’s compare New Hampshire and Pennsylvania for example. New Hampshire boasts the highest percentage of non-resident hunters compared to all 50 states at 33%. In raw numbers that translates into roughly 26,000 hunters. This means in total New Hampshire sees nearly 80,000 hunters.

Compare that with Pennsylvania, which by the way doesn’t allow Sunday hunting. 14% of its total hunting numbers are non-resident or around 143,000. All hunting licenses sold in Pennsylvania totals just about 1 million.

So what, you might say. Consider this if you will. The majority of the deer in New Hampshire are found in the southern half of the state. This part of the state is within a 2-3 hour drive from the Greater Boston area. It doesn’t take long to add up 26,000 hunters from such a densely populated region that offers virtually no hunting to speak of.

Maine is closed to Sunday hunting yet they sell over 41,000 non-resident hunting licenses. That’s considerably more than New Hampshire. Between Maine and New Hampshire the human population is just about the same but Maine has nearly four times the land mass as New Hampshire. Wouldn’t that lead one to conclude that there would be more available hunting space in Maine than New Hampshire? Is there four times the available land to hunt on? Is there four times the amount of game to hunt?

Do you see where I’m going with this? I can sit here and speculate until the cows come home but by myself I am not going to come up with hard evidence to prove that Sunday hunting in every state that doesn’t allow it would bring big dollars to its economy. There’s far more to it than that.

If I had to draw any conclusion to the numbers I have looked at, I would have to say that proportionally New Hampshire makes out okay because they are small, have a reasonable price of non-resident hunting licenses, provide enough hunting land, ample and good-sized game, and so forth but their biggest asset in my mind is proximity to a large population base.

When you look at each state separately, I am convinced that anyone willing to do the research would discover some similar attractions and assets that help drive their economies. On the other hand, one could probably find just as many liabilities that work against it.

I mentioned before that the total number of hunters in America, approximately 14 million, isn’t growing. At best it is holding steady. One of the things that have plagued the ski industry in this country is the same lack of increased user base. What happens is ski resorts across the U.S. and Canada just shuffle skiers from one resort to another. If one resort sees an increase of 10%, that increase is someone else’s loss.

The same holds true with hunting. With no real growth in numbers of new hunters the same shuffling goes on. I would wager a guess that if Maine opened Sundays to hunting, the amount of increase in non-resident licenses sold would directly reflect on the number New Hampshire would lose.

My conclusion is this. Each state needs to decide whether Sunday hunting is something they want to do. When any state examines the economic benefits, I think they need to be realistic in understanding that there is more to generating more revenue from hunting than simply by offering an extra day.

Each state has something a little bit different to offer when it comes to hunting. If that state can exploit that uniqueness for the sake of making money and that is what their interest is, then they may be able to succeed in drawing in some more hunters.

The bottom line for me is that I still cannot definitively say that one state makes more money from hunting because they have Sunday hunting. There has to be a draw. There has to be enough of what makes hunters want to go there – land to hunt, ample game, trophy game, disease-free game, reasonable license fees, stores to buy gear, restaurants, motels, hotels, sporting camps, guide services and a good reputation as a state for a quality hunting experience.

Tom Remington

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