Number of hunters in Michigan, nation are declining

Crystal Nelson
The Alpena News

Alpena – Hunting keeps Alpena County resident Allen Shaw connected to family, as well as the great outdoors.

Shaw has been hunting for the last 16 years and remembers hunting with his father and grandfather.

Throughout the years, Shaw has hunted deer, bear, turkey, and small game. But, Shaw said, for him, a successful hunt isn’t necessarily one where an animal has been harvested. It’s more about time spent with his family.

“My favorite part about hunting is family time,” Shaw told The Alpena News. “Before I was old enough to actually hunt, I remember hanging out with my grandfather and sitting with him all day long when I was 8 years old. With the heater we had, we actually cooked soup on top of that for lunch.”

Shaw is one of 13,140 sportsmen who pulled permits to hunt wildlife in Northeast Michigan in 2019, including 5,348 in Alpena County, 2,418 in Alcona County, 2,321 in Montmorency County, and 3,053 in Presque Isle County.

That’s down from 2018, when 13,405 hunters pulled permits in Northeast Michigan, but that does not represent a clear downward trend in Up North hunting.

The numbers of Northeast Michigan hunters who have pulled permits fluctuated over the past 19 years. For example, 12,969 hunters in the four-county area pulled permits in 2000, while 14,895 did so in 2010.

Dustin Isenhoff, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said each hunter may pull multiple permits throughout the year, and may or may not hunt in the county their hunting license was purchased.

While the number of hunters pulling permits in Northeast Michigan varies from year to year, Holly Vaughn, another DNR spokesperson, said the overall number of hunters in Michigan and the nation are declining.

“For the DNR, fewer hunters means less money for wildlife habitat and conservation work,” Vaughn said in an email. “We depend greatly on hunter dollars to manage Michigan’s wildlife.”

Vaughn said hunters bring about $2.8 billion into Michigan’s economy through the purchase of hunting gear, hotel stays, fuel, and eating in restaurants.

Deer are by far the most-hunted species in Michigan, according to Isenhoff, with 91% of all hunters in 2019 hunting deer.

Statewide figures provided by the DNR show deer license sales decreased by 3% from 2017 to 2018, and by another 3% from 2018 to 2019. Vaughn said the decrease is likely because of a few factors, such as older hunters aging out of the sport and younger people less likely to take up hunting as a sport.

In Northeast Michigan, data from the DNR shows the number of hunters purchasing deer licenses in Alpena, Alcona, Montmorency, and Presque Isle counties has decreased between 10% and 20% from 2000 to 2019, with those license sales decreasing at a greater rate in Presque Isle and Montmorency County.

Vaughn said hunting is an important tradition and heritage in Michigan. She said it’s also an important management tool to help keep wildlife populations healthy and in balance with the land.

Ossineke resident Josh Lane has hunted for the last 23 years. He has hunted deer and bear in Michigan and has traveled to Pakistan and Bangladesh to hunt wild boar.

Hunting is about disconnecting for Lane, and putting himself in the perfect hunting position in a way neither a cell phone nor an app ever could. He takes pride in having the ability to provide meat for his family.

He also considers it a blessing to be able to do what he loves in the part of the world he loves the most.

“I’ve lived in every corner of the world and Michigan is a place of the world I continue to come back to,” he said. “It’s just captured me.”