The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has completed a national study on the outdoors and outdoor activities, and it shows a 9 percent growth nationwide in hunting license sales from 2007 to 2011. That reverses a 25-year slide.
In Alabama, the number of licensed hunters also has seen an increase, up from about 423,000 in 2001 and 391,000 in 2006 to 535,000 in 2011.
However, the increase in numbers might not give the full picture. The state changed its license structure a few years ago, selling a combination hunting and fishing license. Those sales are tallied as both hunting and fishing license sales.
"We have seen natural growth in our licensed hunters since 2006," said Gary Moody, wildlife division chief of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. "It's encouraging to see our numbers and the national numbers increasing. Hopefully, it's a trend that we can see continue."
Hunting participation has been declining in the country for decades, said Bill Brassard Jr., director of communications for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
"I think after a long slide, we have finally bottomed out and the number of hunters is seeing an increase," he said. "We are seeing the fruits of years of recruiting efforts conducted by states. Alabama, for instance, has a very successful program that introduces outdoor activities to women. The state also has special youth-only hunts for deer, dove and turkey that attracts younger people to hunting."
"Becoming an Outdoors Woman" is the state's outreach program to women. Moody agreed it has been successful.
"If Dad hunts, then Dad hunts," he said. "If Mama hunts, the whole family hunts."
Nationally during the past 10 years or so, there has been an increase of about 42 percent in the number of women hunters, going from about 1.8 million in 2001 to 2.5 million in 2011, according to the National Sporting Goods Association's Annual Participation Reports. More women also are taking part in target shooting, the reports show. In 2001, about 3.34 million women took part in target shooting, compared with about 5.06 million in 2011, the report shows.
Getting women involved might be the key in keeping the number of hunters on the rise, said Jason Ellis of Prattville. He belongs to a hunting club in Macon County and said it's becoming routine for wives, daughters and sisters to make the trip.
"It's great to see families spend time together in the woods," he said. "And some of these ladies are very serious. You should hear the ribbing if a wife shoots a bigger deer than her husband. Of course since there are ladies around, us other hunters have to watch our language in how far we go in joshing with the poor guy. That's probably a good thing."
So if you don't hunt, why is it important that hunting license sales are going up?
For 2011, all hunting-related expenditures in Alabama for licensed hunters 16 and older totaled about $913 million, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey shows. That's good enough to put Alabama at No. 5 in the country in retail spending on hunting activities. The state ranks just behind other more populous states — Texas, Pennsylvania, California and Wisconsin.
Nationally, there were 680,300 jobs directly related to hunting in 2001, and the sport generated an economic impact of $87 billion.
Along with all those purchases, hunters generated about $11.8 billion in taxes in 2011, with about $6.4 billion going to the federal government and about $5.4 billion going to state and local coffers, National Shooting Sports Foundation data shows.