WASHINGTON – Sales of hunting licenses have fallen steadily in Maryland in recent decades, a decline in a traditional sport that has also led to a drop in revenues for state wildlife programs.
“It’s a downward trend over the last 20 years,” said Bob Beyer, deputy director of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Division, which gets almost 70 percent of its budget from hunting license sales.
The state sold 195,000 hunting licenses in 1975, but in 1998 the number dropped to 135,000. Estimated revenues from license sales fell about 16 percent from 1988 to 1999, Beyer said, meaning less money for program management and wildlife research and fewer employees doing fieldwork.
The number of licenses does not exactly represent the number of hunters in the state, since landowners can hunt on their property without a license, said Beyer. But he said licenses are a reliable indicator of the number of hunters.
The drop in hunting is blamed on fewer hunting areas in the increasingly urbanized state, fiercer competition with other sports and leisure activities, and lack of time for hunting in modern lifestyles.
Lack of time is one of the reasons Derwood businessman Bill Schell quit after bow-hunting deer for five years.
“There are incredible magic moments when you sit in a tree like an owl waiting for a mouse,” said Schell of his hunting days. But after bagging a deer, “all of a sudden you just created yourself a bunch of work.”
Beyer said lack of hunting space is also a factor. While Maryland offers more than 300,000 acres of multiple-use public land for hunting, private hunting acreage has been decreasing due to suburban sprawl, he said.
That means more people are hunting on public land, which is “getting kind of crowded,” said Schell. He said a day spent hunting in the 2,000-acre McKee- Beshers Wildlife Management Area near Gaithersburg reminded him of a war.
“I sat there afraid to move,” Schell said.
The drop in hunting license sales is also a national phenomenon, according to a 1998 National Shooting Sports Foundation report. It said that license sales have declined nationally in eight of the last nine years. In 1998, the report said, license sales dropped in 32 states and increased in 18.
Hunters nationwide also tend to be older, according to the Leisure Trends Group, a private research firm in Boulder, Colo. It says that 61 percent of hunters are over 35 and 39 percent over 45. Ninety percent are male and 87 percent white. Half of all hunters work at service or labor jobs and 23 percent are professionals or managers, according to the firm.
Beyer said the average age of hunters in Maryland seems to have increased, as fewer young people are hunting. DNR statistics show that about 7,000 people 15 or younger got a hunting license in 1998, compared to 20,000 in a typical year in the 1970s.
But Maryland Sportsmen’s Association President Larry Albright, a fourth- generation hunter, does not worry that the tradition is fading. Albright said there are still lots of opportunities for hunting in Maryland.
He attributed the drop in license sales to the fact that for past several years Maryland has not had a season for Canada goose. More people are introduced to the sport by hunting Canada goose than by deer hunting, and numbers will increase when the goose season opens up again, he said.
“Hunting is very strong and alive and well in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore,” he said.