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Brad Dokken: New report sheds light on state, national hunting and fishing trends

In 2021, there were modest declines in license sales for both hunting and fishing after a pandemic-driven surge in 2020.

Hunting scene
A young hunter in the field.
Contributed / North Dakota Game and Fish Department
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Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken

GRAND FORKS – Math has never been my strong suit, but I’ve always been kind of a nerd for numbers.

Not complex equations, mind you, but statistical data, such as survey results that shed light on trends.

My nerdiness was piqued recently when Southwick Associates released a report on hunting and fishing license trends for 2021. The Florida-based firm specializes in hunting, shooting, sportfishing and outdoor recreation market research.

As expected, there were modest declines in license sales for both hunting and fishing after a pandemic-driven surge in 2020 that saw people turn to the outdoors as a way to cope with COVID-19. Nationwide, fishing license sales in 2021 declined 6% from 2020, while the number of hunting licenses sold dropped 1% from 2020.


No surprise, that.


“Heading into 2021, we expected that many 2020 hunters and anglers would not return,” Southwick Associates said in a news release announcing the report. “The 2020 surge was driven by people who had time to accompany others or invest in a new pastime due to the pandemic.

“As things began to return to normal in 2021, there was less time to divide between activities.”

A few highlights, as outlined in Southwick’s news release:

  • There was a 17% decrease in first-time anglers in 2021, especially among women (-23%) and 18- to 24-year-olds (-25%).
  • The number of first-time hunters saw a 9% decrease, also largely among women (-14%) and 18- to 24-year-olds (-14%).
  • Roughly 46.8% of 2020 fishing license buyers did not renew in 2021, a phenomenon known as “churn” in the market research world. However, nonresident license holders were more likely to renew than in 2020.
  • Hunting licenses saw a 27.3% churn rate. Similar to anglers, nonresidents and 55- to 64-year-olds had a lower churn rate compared with 2020.

The report also offered the opportunity to drill even deeper into the data with regional and state-by-state numbers from several state fish and wildlife agencies. The license sale dashboard is spearheaded by the American Sportfishing Association and updated every six months. While information on every state isn’t available, numbers from Minnesota and North Dakota both are included in the dashboard. Some highlights:

Minnesota hunting trends in 2021

  • Participants: 392,466, down 7% from 2020 and 13% from 2016. The dashboard goes all the way back to 2011, but I settled on 2016 for a second point of comparison. By gender, 54,101 women and 338,365 males bought Minnesota hunting licenses last year, down 7% and 8%, respectively, from 2020.
  • Percentage of female hunters: 13.8%.
  • New recruits: 8.2%.
  • Participation rate: 10.7%.
  • Churn rate: 20%.

North Dakota hunting trends in 2021

  • Participants: 123,042, down 4% from 2020 but up 5% from 2016. By gender, 18,865 females and 104,157 males bought licenses last year, down 2% and 4%, respectively, from 2020.
  • Percentage of female hunters: 15.3%.
  • New recruits: 14.2%.
  • Participation rate: 17.7%.
  • Churn rate: 25.9%.

Minnesota fishing trends in 2021

  • Participants: 901,784, down 7% from 2020 and 4% from 2016. By gender, 184,420 females bought licenses last year, down 10% from 2020; and 717,364 males bought licenses, down 6%.
  • Percentage of female anglers: 20.5%.
  • New recruits: 20.3%.
  • Participation rate: 19.4%.
  • Churn rate: 38.6%.

North Dakota fishing trends in 2021

  • Participants: 152,216, down 8% from 2020 and 4% from 2016. By gender, 33,714 women and 118,412 males bought North Dakota fishing licenses last year, down 9% and 11%, respectively, from 2020.
  • Percentage of female anglers: 22.2%.
  • New recruits: 21.1%.
  • Participation rate: 22.7%.
  • Churn rate: 40.4%.

The full report, including a link to the license sales dashboard, is available at southwickassociates.com/2021-hunting-and-fishing-participation.

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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