Editors Blog

Will Baiting Bans Further Reduce Deer Hunting Participation?

Will the new statewide ban on baiting affect the number of gun-hunters who purchase licenses and harvest whitetails in Michigan (and elsewhere) this year and in the future? Only time will tell, but if history is an indicator, yes, it seems as though the Wolverine State is headed for further declines in deer hunting participation and deer harvest rates.

It’s not just Michigan. Deer hunting participation and harvest rates have been on a steady decline nearly everywhere over the past 25 years. There are many contributing factors, including cost, demographics and access to quality hunting land for participants. However, Michigan has already seen a 19.9% decline in hunter participation since 1999, and a 38.1% in deer harvest (gun-deer hunting statistics).

Why would baiting bans reduce hunter participation?

That’s easy. In states with such high hunter densities, like Michigan, hundreds of thousands of participants do their hunting on public land and micro-private properties. It is not uncommon in places like Michigan for a hunter to place a ground blind or tree stand on properties as small as 5, 10 or 15 acres and harvest deer with the aid of a few gallons of shelled corn, apples, carrots, beets and other food sources.

As for hunter declines, for comparison purposes, we will look at gun-hunting statistics only, because bowhunting (including crossbows) makes up a relatively small yet stable percentage of both hunters and harvest rates in nearly every state.

For example, Michigan had 350,000 bowhunters in 1998 and 325,000 in 2018. Those archery hunters killed nearly the same amount of deer (121,000 vs. 112,000). Wisconsin showed even more stability, with nearly the same amount of bowhunters (250,000) across those 20 years and also the deer harvest (91,937 bowkills in 1999 vs. 87,629 in 2018). Wisconsin went all-in with crossbow inclusion in 2013.

I digress. Back to the topic at hand.

Declines in deer hunting participation among gun-hunters

Gun-hunting is wildlife management’s “big hammer” in that it keeps deer populations in check from a state level, a macro level, and a nationwide level. If you just add up the four big deer hunting states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Alabama, we have lost almost 700,000 deer hunters since 1999. That’s just four states, and an estimated $1.2 billion annually in economic impact.

Of course, there are a whole lot fewer deer being put in freezers, too.In 1999, gun-hunters from those four states killed more than 1.73 million deer. In 2018, they took home just over 923,000 deer — 53% fewer deer harvested. 

Editor’s Note

The following statistics are courtesy of Deer & Deer Hunting’s annual Deer Hunter’s Almanac® (only available on newsstands). We have been publishing this book since 1992. The state section includes the most accurate historical deer harvest figures available. For background purposes, we have both worked with and fought with state agencies each and every year to gather the most accurate harvest and hunter participation numbers for each state with white-tailed deer. One thing we have not noted in the past is that many state have altered their figures (censored is a better word) to help control the message they have presented to the public. Because most states no longer require in-person harvest registration, many of the numbers have been manipulated after the fact when they were released to other news outlets.

GUN-DEER HUNTING STATISTICS

MICHIGAN

YEAR         GUN HUNTERS          GUN-DEER HARVEST

1999          721,980                         402,280

2010          593,074                         295,119

2018          579,000                         249,049

*Michigan recently passed legislation that bans the practice of baiting during deer hunting seasons throughout most of the state. Michigan also has about 322,000 bowhunters whose 5-year harvest average is 118,000 deer per year.

WISCONSIN

YEAR         GUN HUNTERS          GUN-DEER HARVEST

1999          694,712                         528,494

2010          621,094                         253,038

2018          619,938                         247,614

*Wisconsin has been slowly outlawing baiting for the purposes of deer hunting throughout the state. Wisconsin also has about 253,000 bowhunters whose 5-year harvest average is about 87,000 deer per year.

ALABAMA

YEAR         GUN HUNTERS          GUN-DEER HARVEST

1999          225,000                        372,000

2010          213,500                        309,900

2018          212,173                         163,238

*Alabama recently passed new rules that allow for baiting during deer hunting season. Alabama also has about 72,000 bowhunters whose 5-year harvest average is just over 41,000 deer per year.

TEXAS

YEAR         GUN HUNTERS          GUN-DEER HARVEST

1999          431,927                           561,415

2010          559,357                        1,099,532

2018          658,819                         800,178

*Texas has allowed baiting of deer for hunting purposes throughout the entire 20-year history of these statistics. Texas does not differentiate between gun-hunters and bowhunters in their population demographics. However, the 5-year harvest average for deer killed with archery equipment in Texas is just over 68,000 deer per year.

PENNSYLVANIA

YEAR         GUN HUNTERS          GUN-DEER HARVEST

1999          1,050,000                       429,078

2010           689,000                        239,220

2018           689,000                       263,971

*Pennsylvania does not allow the baiting of deer for hunting purposes. The state has about 740,000 total deer hunters, but this includes archery hunters. Pennsylvania also has about 265,000 bowhunters whose 5-year harvest average is just over 106,000 deer per year.

Conclusion

Pennsylvania has gotten by without allowing hunter to bait for years, but then again, they’ve lost almost half of their hunters over the past 20 years. There’s strength in numbers, and hunting’s community needs those numbers now more than ever. I’ve heard all of the arguments against baiting (none of which, by the way, are rooted in sound science). And none of them cancel out the fact that without baiting, thousands of hunters can, will and do quit hunting.

Don’t believe me? Just watch happens in Michigan. I hate to be that guy, but I’ll be the first one in line to say, “I told you so.”

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