October 17, 2023
If there was ever any doubt participation has been nothing short of spectacular for hunting and fishing activities across America in recent times, that fact was confirmed and then some with the release of the 2022 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.
The report, issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, found U.S. residents over the age of 16 took over 1.7 billion trips last year to participate in hunting, fishing, recreational boating, target shooting and wildlife watching, among other outdoor activities.
As impressive as that big number is, perhaps even more eye-opening is the estimated $394 billion dollars Americans spent on outdoors recreation in 2022 through outdoors gear and equipment purchases, travel costs, license fees and other monies associated with hunting, fishing and outdoors recreational activities.
Coming on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic year bump in 2020 when Americans had unprecedented time at their disposal and spent much of that year in the great outdoors, the 2022 Survey confirms that outdoors participation isn't slowing down much, if at all, now that the pandemic has moved off the center of the world’s stage.
In fact, according to the USFWS news release announcing the report results this past week, some of the numbers affiliated with the survey have never been better.
According to the USFWS, participation rates in the report—which was conducted by the NORC at the University of Chicago—show 148 million U.S. residents watched wildlife in 2022, while another 40 million went fishing and some 14.4 million went hunting for a variety of big game species, waterfowl, upland birds and small game.
The Service says that this means that “…roughly 57% of Americans 16 years of age or older participated in wildlife watching in 2022, while 15% fished and 6% hunted last year.”
Such trips in 2022 led to an amazing combined total of 14 billion days spent in the field hunting, on the water fishing and in the outdoors viewing wildlife.
If those figures sound like a lot, the USFWS confirms that is the case, and in fact, represent an all-time high. And according to Martha Williams, the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, that’s not surprising.
“Time spent in nature is an important part of the human experience and can provide lifelong memories, connections to others, healthy activities, and a sense of rest and healing,” said Williams, in a USFWS news release. “These numbers demonstrate how important our public lands and wild places are not just for the well-being of people who enjoy them, but as an economic engine that provides thousands of jobs and sustains businesses, economies and communities throughout the nation."
Despite the recent outcry that resulted from the White House cutting educational funding this summer for schools that had hunter education, shooting programs, and archery programs—and the all but unanimous landslide bi-partisan vote by Congress to overturn that controversial decision a couple of weeks ago—Williams credited the current administration for its conservation initiatives.
From this vantage point, it would seem that most everyone can agree on the idea that this week’s report brings good news in a day and age where that isn't always leading the headlines of daily news cycles.
While there are certainly other problems and concerns demanding careful attention right now, there is also the realization this week that the Survey, which is conducted every five years since 1955, is confirming that the pulse of America's outdoor heartbeat remains alive and well.
Better yet, that strong pulse will also bring more dollars to the table for wildlife conservation, resource managers, and America's long-standing outdoors recreational heritage, something that has been championed by hunters and anglers for more than a century now through the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.
This week's USFWS report should also lend more clout to voting hunters, anglers and outdoors enthusiasts as they navigate their way through the upcoming 2024 election cycle and seek to ensure that politicians understand their concerns and hear their voices. Especially when it comes to hunting and fishing legislation, providing dollars for critical habitat needs and programs, and making certain that wildlife needs, outdoors recreation issues and funding for it all finds strong bi-partisan support in state houses across the nation and in the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House.
Williams notes the Service is grateful that participants did their part in the 2022 Survey, which was the first national survey to utilize a "push-to-web" approach, which enabled respondents to complete the survey online.
In apples to oranges fashion, the Service does note changes in methodology make comparisons with previous surveys difficult to impossible to make. But it also reports the new methods in the 2022 survey did allow for more choices and increased convenience for survey participants this year, along with bringing recreational boating and recreational shooting sports into the survey for the first time.
The bottom line here is that in a world filled with sobering news right now, at least for the moment, there's some good news for those in America who like to hunt, fish, shoot and enjoy the great outdoors.
“We are grateful to the more than 100,000 survey respondents from households across America that took part in the 2022 Survey,” said Williams. “Because of this participation, the National Survey continues to serve as the nation’s definitive wildlife-related recreation database and a crucial source of information on participation rates and economic impacts of outdoor activities across the nation.”
As Director Williams pointed towards, for many U.S. residents—and plenty of Petersen's Hunting magazine readers over these last 50 years—outdoors recreation is indeed a lifestyle and a gateway into America’s wild spaces each year. And a pathway that gives hunters, anglers, and outdoors enthusiasts a strong and vital connection to the wild resources that we cherish so much here.
With all of that in mind, this week's report and all of the trips afield and expenditures that fueled its results, it’s safe to say that there are likely a few big smiles in certain corners of Washington, D.C. as well as in the heartland of America where the wild world and its critters remains of paramount importance in a changing world.
The same kind of smiles, by the way, and the kind of memories that Petersen's Hunting has championed since 1973, and the kind of memories and smiles that strengthens our resolve to continue doing just that in this space for the next half century and beyond.
To see the report in its entirety, and to look at addendum reports that will be added in future weeks, please visit the USFWS website | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (fws.gov)).