Smokey Merkley

In 1982, there were 17 million hunters in the United States, according to records of hunting license purchases. Between 2000 and 2011, we lost 2.2 million hunters. In 2016, only 11.5 million people hunted. Obviously the steady decline of hunters over the years has fish and game departments, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concerned because the bulk of their revenue comes from taxes hunters pay for licences, buying firearms, bows, arrows and ammunition.

There are many factors that influence the decline of hunting in the United States. The baby boomers who make up 30 percent of current hunters are aging out of hunting. Within 10 years, the majority of baby boomers will have stopped hunting altogether. So the generation that was born between approximately 1945 and 1960 are now dying, have lost interest in hunting, don’t see as well as they used to, are unable to meet the physical requirements of hunting, or just feel too old to climb mountains that seem to get steeper each year. I’m a baby boomer having been born at the end of World War II, and I have seen a few of my former hunting friends stop hunting.

It is harder for those of us who are now in our 70s to stay in shape for hunting each year, but several of us are still hunting pretty much the same as we always have, albeit we may have slowed down a little. But in 10 years, who knows how many of us will still be hunting since we will be crowding 80 years or more?

Private land where hunting or crossing to get to public lands is prohibited is another concern that has frustrated hunters the past few years. In some cases, the only viable access to public land is through private land where access is prohibited. Fish and game departments are doing what they can to open up private land with the Access Yes! program, but not all private land owners are willing to participate.

I often hear frustration that the best areas for hunting are available only through the draw, where a hunter has to choose a particular area, draw to hunt the area and wait a couple of months to hear if his or her name was drawn to hunt in that area. Some have complained that they draw for a particular area year after year and never have their name drawn. Personally, while I would like the opportunity to hunt in a draw area, I believe there is good hunting in other areas of public land if you take the time to scout the area and learn where to find game once hunting season opens.

As hunters, we also have a recruitment problem. We aren’t recruiting new hunters and introducing them to hunting in such a way as to teach them to hunt and process their meat, or we are recruiting the wrong crowd who are approximately the same generation we are and will age out of hunting at about the same time as we do. We should be recruiting our children and their generation by taking them hunting and teaching them what our parents taught us about hunting

A 2016 USFWS census concluded that only Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky, had increased their hunting population by 200,000 hunters or more, based on hunting licenses sold. Some states such as Idaho were able to maintain about the same number of hunters, but the majority of states reported significant losses of hunting license sales. The overall decrease in licenses sold directly impacts management of game animals and means that funds for increasing wildlife habitat and purchasing additional public lands may not be available if the trend continues.

Although we are experiencing a decline in hunting licenses sold, firearm sales and archery sales are up nation wide. Not all people who buy firearms and archery equipment are hunters, and firearm and archery sales are also taxed, and those taxes are dispersed to fish and game departments around the country.

I think that hunting will always be an important part of game management, but I also think we will be seeing some changes in hunting and hunters in the next few years. I believe that the 23- to 45-year-old crowd will save our hunting heritage. However, they will be hunting primarily for meat instead of trophies. I also think that in the future, crossbows will be used more as additional states begin to allow crossbows for big game hunting. I also see ballistic compensating rifles such as the Remington 2020,which practically aims the rifle for you, being used by more hunters. Smartphone apps that tell you where to hunt are now being researched and developed and will be used by more hunters and the art of scouting for big game will only be done by a few purists. I believe suppressors will be used on more rifles as regulations by both the state and federal government are relaxed. More women will be getting into hunting, which is a good thing. Clothing for female hunters has been a priority of the clothing industry for several years and companies such as Weatherby are already building rifles like the Camilla to suit female hunters’ frames more comfortably. Lighter, warmer hunting clothes such as Silver Shield will be developed for hunters. I also see Chronic Wasting Disease in big game getting worse, so make sure to stop at the fish and game checking stations on your way home from hunting to check for the disease before processing and eating the meat.

Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at