Pandemic Triggers Jump in Michigan Hunting License Sales

Since COVID-19 first sent people into quarantine in March, Michigan has seen a 95 percent increase in new hunters, according to the Michigan Wildlife Council.
A jump in hunting license sales linked to the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to continue into firearm deer season, which runs from Nov. 15-30. // Photo courtesy of Michigan Wildlife Council

Since COVID-19 first sent people into quarantine in March, Michigan has seen a 95 percent increase in new hunters, according to the Michigan Wildlife Council.

“We have seen a record increase in license sales that we haven’t seen in 20 years,” says Shannon Lott, deputy director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “This is definitely the year that everyone wants to get outside.”

She says the drastic increase in hunting license sales is expected to continue into firearm deer season as the increased demand for socially distanced recreation is also expected to continue. The season takes place Nov. 15-30. More than 475,000 firearm deer hunting licenses were purchased last year. The season marks the state’s largest hunting participation each year.

The DNR reports 440,780 people, 64,333 being first-time hunters, had purchased a hunting license through Oct. 12; 31,000 more new applicants than at the same point last year. Additionally, the number of female hunters has increased by nearly 25 percent, from 35,619 to 44,425, and the number of hunters ages 10-16 has seen a 144 percent increase, from 9,284 to 22,624.

“This is great news for Michigan since hunting participation here and nationally had been declining in recent years,” says Nick Buggia, chair of the Michigan Wildlife Council “The more people who enjoy Michigan’s great outdoors, the better it is for our entire state.”

License sales typically generate about $61 million annually for wildlife and natural resources conservation projects in Michigan, with another $32 million coming from the federal levy on hunting and fishing equipment sales. Law dedicates the money be directed entirely to wildlife management and conservation.

The increase in hunters is also good for many reasons, according to the DNR. One is that the DNR relies on hunters to manage the state’s deer population. However, prior to COVID-19, the hunting license sales in both Michigan and the U.S. were declining rapidly due to baby boomers cutting back on hunting and young families having less free time to pursue the sport.

“Additional hunters would be a much-welcomed change to better assist with management of our herd,” says Chad Stewart, deer specialist for the DNR.

Michigan residents also bought 9 percent more fishing licenses this year — 1.2 million compared to 1 million in 2019. The number of new anglers also increased 42 percent, according to Dustin Isenhoff, marketing specialist for the DNR.

In addition to hunting and fishing, many Michiganders pursued other outdoor activities including camping, hiking, bird-watching, and kayaking. If such interests continue in the future, Michigan’s conservation efforts and economy can expect to see an increase in revenue for both wildlife management and conservation activities.

A recent study by the Michigan United Conservation Clubs showed that hunting and fishing support nearly 171,000 jobs annually and add $11.2 billion to the Michigan economy, with the greatest impact in southeast Michigan.