If you ask any avid duck or goose hunter about hunting pressure, they will certainly agree there are more hunters afield than ever before. But, how is it according to the USFWS, are there less Federal Duck stamps being purchased each and every year since 1970?
I have heard from hunters, biologists and USFWS employees as to why the data is seemingly so skewed. Some say that many hunters would purchase extra stamps each year, perhaps to collect or pass down to their children or grandchildren, and are no longer doing so. It could possibly be from bird conservationist that are trying to help do their part to help preserve habitat for all forms of birds across the country, thinking beyond the duck stamp.
Is it that now many of these folks are simply purchasing one duck stamp or none at all if they don’t hunt waterfowl? Or are people tired of the jam packed boat ramps and overly crowded hunting areas and have decided to give it up altogether?
According to USFWS, when Federal duck stamps were first required in 1934 the sales were at 500,000 or so. The peak sales of 1970 were a shade under 2,500,000. The latest data from 2019 shows roughly 1,500,000 Federal duck stamps were sold.
So the glaring question is how is that possible when every boat ramp and field are lined with hunters and overcrowding is extremely evident at every public area that can possibly hold birds?
When the Harvest Information Program (HIP) went nationwide in 1998, the goal was to try and actively collect data from hunters to tally the amount of hunters afield. But, as we all know, it is a flawed system at best. The person at the counter or online asking the questions is relying on the hunter to be truthful. I have heard some hunters say they intentionally tell them 0 on all accounts to try and keep people away from their area or even state. Others may tell them they didn’t hunt at all. But there is no way this data is remotely accurate.
Reports from HIP show a slow decline in active waterfowl hunters. The 2019-2020 season showed there were 989,500 hunters which is slightly down from 1,090,000 in 2018-1019 season. Is this due to incorrect data? Fewer people actually hunting? People lying on the HIP questions?
What is the solution? How do we compile more accurate data? I certainly don’t have the answers, but Ray Charles can see that there are far more people waterfowl hunting than ever before. How many guide services have popped up in the last 15 years? How many waterfowl hunting stores are now mainstream? Being a hunter has never been cooler than it is now.
I understand that at some point we all will have to hang up our waders and calls. But until then, I will gladly buy my duck stamps and HIP register to try and help out my kids and future grandkids to ensure they have a place to hunt as well.