Youth hunters a bright spot amid downturn

NEWTOWN, Conn. - America's oldest outdoor tradition may be growing younger.


New data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show that young people represent ever-larger portions of America's ebbing hunting population. The ratio of hunters age 6-15 has grown nearly 4 percent since 2001.

Percentage of Youths Age 6-15 Among Total Participants

  Hunters Anglers Wildlife Watchers
2001 10.9% 23.0% 16.0%
2006 11.3% 21.7% 14.4%
Percent Change +3.7% -5.6% -10.0%

Of the three outdoor activities tracked by the federal conservation agency, only hunting showed an increase in the percentage of youth participation. The ratio of young anglers fell more than 5 percent while young wildlife watchers showed the largest decline at 10 percent.

The statistics are part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. The survey shows that hunters age 16 and over slipped more than 3 percent to 12.5 million since the previous survey in 2001, while hunters age 6-15 held steady at 1.6 million.


The shooting, hunting and firearm industry's nonprofit trade association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), attributes the youth stability to several factors.

"These new data suggest that hunter attrition between 2001 and 2006 centered on aging hunters. Participation among youngsters hasn't wavered, which makes them a larger subset within the total. That's welcome news because hunters have long emphasized the recruitment of youth as critical to the future of hunting and conservation," said Chris Dolnack, senior vice president of NSSF.

Dolnack added that some of the most innovative and promising youth-hunting initiatives, such as Families Afield, are only beginning to bear fruit.


Families Afield, launched in 2004 by NSSF, National Wild Turkey Federation and U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, urges states to eliminate unnecessary hunting age restrictions and ease hunter education mandates for first-time hunters.

Twelve states have changed laws and regulations to enhance future hunting opportunities for youths and their families. Half of those states are already reporting a significant climb in new hunters. Data from Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi and Ohio reveal that apprentice hunting license programs brought nearly 34,000 new hunters to the field (without a single hunting-related shooting incident) in just two years.

Families Afield states include:

  • Florida: Created a supervised hunting program that permits a newcomer to hunt with a mentor for one year before completion of a hunter education course.
  • Illinois: Created an apprentice-hunting license that permits experienced hunters to take newcomers age 10 and higher hunting for one year before completion of a hunter education course.
  • Kansas: Permits newcomers under 16 to hunt with a mentor before completion of a hunter education course.
  • Kentucky: Created a one-year non-renewable exemption from hunter education classes for novices hunting under the supervision of a qualified mentor. Also raised from 10 to 12 the age at which a youth must take a hunter education class prior to hunting.
  • Louisiana: Created an apprentice-hunting license that permits experienced hunters to take newcomers age 16 and higher hunting for one year before completion of a hunter education course.
  • Michigan: Lowered the minimum hunting age for small game from 12 to 10, and for big game from 14 to 12. Also created an apprentice hunting license that permits experienced hunters to take newcomers age 10 and higher hunting before completion of a hunter education course.
  • Minnesota: Permits new turkey hunters to hunt with a mentor before completing a hunter education course.
  • Mississippi: Created an apprentice-hunting license that permits experienced hunters to take newcomers hunting at any age for one year before completion of a hunter education course.
  • Ohio: Created an apprentice-hunting license that permits experienced hunters to take newcomers hunting for no more than three years at any age before completion of a hunter education course.
  • Pennsylvania: Created a mentoring license that permits experienced hunters to take newcomers hunting at any age for deer, turkey and groundhogs before completion of a hunter education course.
  • Tennessee: Created a program that exempts newcomers age 10 and higher from hunter education requirements for one year.
  • Utah: Eliminated the age minimum for small game hunting.

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