Sunday, September 26, 2010

Turkey hunting popular, but may not be for long

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Turkey hunting is growing in popularity at a time when participation in most other hunting pursuits is in decline. That's the good news. The bad news is the trend may not be sustainable.

Every five years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service compiles a report called the National Survey of Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife Associated Recreation. The last was done in 2006.

This year, it took some of the information within that document and used it to create the first-ever "Wild Turkey Hunting Addendum." It's a look at turkey hunting across the nation between 1996 and 2006.

One thing the addendum showed is that turkey hunting grew by 15 percent during that decade.

Pennsylvania shared in that. The report says the state has 369,000 turkey hunters — though that counts both spring and fall turkey hunters as separate entities, when in fact there is assuredly some overlap.

But at a time when the number of rabbit, pheasant, grouse and squirrel hunters has fallen precipitously, spring turkey hunter numbers are higher now here than they were in 1990.

"After talking to turkey hunters, I really attribute that increase in participation to increases in the number of birds," said Anna Harris, an economist with the Fish and Wildlife Service who authored the report. That's spawned an economic boom. The report says turkey hunters spent $1.6 billion, generated $4.1 billion in economic impact and supported 37,000 jobs in 2006.

Look deeper into the report, though, and you find some disturbing numbers, too. It shows the greatest percentage of new turkey hunters are coming from the ranks of sportsmen ages 55 to 64. The second-highest rate of growth is among hunters ages 67 and older.

Participation nationwide among hunters ages 16 to 17, 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 actually decreased. Could that mean the boom in turkey hunting is going to disappear as quickly as it began? Sure seems like it.

Statistics show that most hunters start to drop out of the game when they hit 65. If that's true, we're going to lose a lot of turkey hunters within the next 10 years. Will we have enough young guns behind them to keep numbers up? Maybe, Harris said. The report showed a 25 percent increase in turkey hunting among those ages 18 to 24, and participation rose 27 percent among women.

"I think that's mainly because a lot of organizations have targeted women and targeted youths and sort of become mentors to them," said Harris, who hunted turkeys for the first time this year.

Let's hope they continue, or the good turkey times may be short-lived.

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